Claudia Böse: Why the title ‘Through each Today’ for this show? You have got interesting titles for your work generally. Why the title ‘Through each Today’? Can you say more?
Marguerite Horner: I had this tune going on in my head and it was a song that we used to sing in kindergarten. I went to a convent and it was:
Lord for tomorrow and its needs I do not pray
But keep me, guide me, love me Lord,
Just for Today.
And when I looked it up online, they had replaced ‘Just for today’ with ‘Through each Today’, and I thought that’s a very succinct way to talk about the moment, and then I started to think about how, well, my work comes originally from a compelling moment, I see something in the world, its all from my experience, or even when I look at the images I collect, and I am going through them, it will be something compelling about that image that I will want to work with.
I started to think about things, I’d read about ‘the moment’, about eternity, about this moment being linked to eternity. I’d read it in books by C.S. Lewis, and only yesterday I was reading another book and they referred to Ludwig Wittgenstein and eternity. I looked him up yesterday, and I got the quote and it says (reading aloud):
“If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.”
And so I feel that there is serendipity of things coming together. That’s how I decided on the title.
CB: Quite compelling ‘Through each Today’, because when I first copied the title I thought ‘Through each day’, and I was wrong… ‘Through each Today’.
MH: It’s talking really about the present.
CB: That leads me to my next question, which is, how does the Church setting, the icons and the church itself, formally and conceptually affect the work for you?
MH: Until you asked that, I hadn’t really thought about it, I mean other people have come up and thought about it. I tend to be a little bit tunnel visioned. I only just see what I want to see. The surrounding is really out of my attention. So honestly it hasn’t really struck me personally.
CB: When I was asked to show here the first thing I did… I took the train from Ipswich, straight down here to this church to have a look, what the hell do they mean, I am going to show in a crypt… because my work comes from working with the daylight… and also I show my paintings just in the daylight.
How do you feel, suddenly you are going to show in a Crypt, opposite Madam Tussauds… did that have an effect on you?
MH: The most uncomfortable thing is getting here past Madam Tussauds, all those crowds, everybody, I felt even today you’re blocked, you’re frustrated, there’s a lot of people in the world. Coming here, where people come to contemplate, I see them go into that little chapel; it is an oasis of calm. People have put comments in the book about… they come in here to pray and they are struck by this. It is nice to get some feedback from people, because you do live and work a lot on your own,… in your own head a lot of the time and to see what other people see in your work is really encouraging actually, that they are bringing their own associations, but they’re also being affected, they’re getting a feeling.
CB: It’s interesting because when I got here two weeks ago, there was a couple with a Guardian guide in here and they had just come by train from Liverpool they read about your show and they were absolutely enchanted, it has the same effect, ‘wow its really quite something’ they didn’t expect this.
MH: It is nice to get it all out as a solo show. I’ve shown one or two pieces on their own, but to get them all together… you see a thread going through the work, even if you are not consciously aware of it there is a thread. For me it’s good to see it all out together.
CB: When was the last solo show you had?
MH: It was only last month, because it just coincided, I was allotted this time and I was already having a solo show near Oxford, but the thing about it being near Oxford its too far away for people to come. It was a very nice space, but they have let me have the work on consignment to put in this show so it made this a stronger show. It takes a long time to get a body of work together. I didn’t want to produce work specifically for this show I wanted to show work that was ongoing.
The first major London show was in 2012… that was in a public gallery but was in West London and a lot of what’s going on in London is in the East and somebody said if they went that far West they would get a nose bleed. So you really don’t get much serious footfall over there.
CB: So you’re nearing the East?
MH: People I feel are very prejudiced, especially being in a church, I think there is a kind of fear or something.
CB: I’d like to talk about the hanging of the show. Why are they hung in this sequence?… You start with a painting out there (referring to the corridor space)… and three works on paper, what made you decide to hang this work in this sequence?
MH: Well I put the one that was on the poster out in the corridor and then my daughter came and helped me and I asked her to arrange it. She has a great sense of style and I quite like curators to curate the show, its something I find very hard to make decisions about, and I like the way she did it, she said its absolutely obvious to put it like this, and I have to agree, I mean it’s very obvious to put these two (pointing to large canvases in the show) here anyway because they are the largest pieces, so I did renege responsibility.
CB: Are you enchanted when you see it hung by other people? Does it add something to it?
MH: Yes, it is like when someone writes about it you see it through their eyes and so I’m re-seeing it through their eyes, in a way, I mean, even with the other show I had, I let the curator take control and obviously they will say, if you’re not happy you’re not happy, but I am happy too. My main worry, or my main focus is getting the work done; you know everything after that it is… I’m finished.
CB: How is it now your daughter has hung your work instead of a curator?
MH: She is studying at Wimbledon Art College so she has a good eye. She’s quite decisive in this way.
CB: You agreed with the way she hung the show, it jelled?
MH: I think so.
CB: Some of your paintings are framed and some are not. Because I don’t frame my work I wondered why some are framed and some are not?
MH: I was intending to frame them all, and then I didn’t and also some look better unframed, some do look better framed, it does contain them. I was once in a joint exhibition and I brought the work along and the other artists asked the curator to ask me to take my frame off, because it made it look more contemporary, and I don’t mind. I’m easy going if people want to reframe them its up to them, I had my very first two framed by a very good framer and I used that as a pattern, because I want to spend as little attention of my time on that side of things. Francis Bacon always had two sizes of canvas and the ones for the portraits were exactly what fitted in with the face on the larger canvas’s and I have tended to stay with this format of framing to keep life simple like that, it means when you have a flow going you are not interrupted by these more prosaic or mundane kind of decisions, which for me are more decorative.
CB: That was another thing that interested me, to see that they are all square.
MH: Yes, I thought to myself did I do that because I wanted to get rid of anything that referred to the photographic format, and I realized a long time ago I had a dealer who was doing a show called ’20:20’ and that’s the size of all the images and that’s the first time I went to a square, and I was working on something at the time, I work on small size and then it will probably get bigger, and so I had to resize this work to make it 20:20, it was interesting you know. It actually got a lot of attention, it got into the newspapers, so after that when I order my canvases in, I just go with the same format.
CB: Have you since tried other formats, the rectangular format?
Circles or triangles?
MH: No, I used to in the early days, but after my masters its to do with practicability of scale, of storing them, transport, and when putting into shows, just to keep the over heads down, you want to be able to move them around quite easily. Works that sold, like the smaller versions of these have sold (pointing to the large canvas behind her head) and when I had a solo show I wanted to show them but they had gone, I wanted to put them in this solo show, and it’s a different way of working when I am painting bigger, I really do like painting bigger, but sometimes I get so involved in the smaller work, I am thinking, unless it is really important it going to stay there at that scale.
CB: Are you saying ‘In the middle of nowhere’ and ‘Help’ used to be smaller… that there were smaller versions?
MH: Smaller version and they got into the Royal Academy Summer Show and the Threadneedle show and they sold and so very early in my career. This one in particular is a very significant move away from what I was doing, I liked it so much I…to be honest I put some work into the Threadneedle and a friend of mine, who is a film director, had seen this painting and said that’s your strongest piece, which is why I didn’t want to sell it, I liked it, wanting to hang onto it and he said but you should put that in and I had already put the titles in, he said just swap it around, so I just swapped the titles and it ended up with the title ‘Help’ but its original title was ‘Only material things’ and I was thinking about something my mother was saying when she was dying about ‘only material things’, so we shouldn’t fight over the house. So this is like the house and everything just going, and the car and there’s a kind of ephemeral quality about it, fragility about the world, but that is what that image is to me.
CB: It is different to your other paintings.
MH: There’s a couple before that, again that had the house, that I had done quite big and they sold before the financial crash in the London art fair, quite a lot of people wanted to buy this big painting that has gone now, both versions of it have gone.
CB: As a painter it is very interesting to me because I don’t do this. How is it, what’s it like copying yourself? Copying a painting of a painting it’s a very special thing to do.
MH: Because of my previous training at the BBC that’s what I had to do. I had to copy old masters. I had to copy Matisse, Cezanne and I‘d work a lot from painters when I was working in advertising and magazines. I learnt a lot about them through copying them, its an old tradition in your practice as a painter to copy others people work, because you really engage with the mark making, and so its not a problem now, I mean when I was younger I‘d be really… its a discipline, everything is a discipline, you make yourself do things, you don’t always do what we want to do.
CB: It affected your practice, having had that background.
MH: Yes it gave me the confidence, once I knew what… The hardest thing is getting the image in your head, this is why once its worked out small, once I’ve decided its worked on that scale, after that it is just a process, an interesting process, because you are just interested in the mark making but you know where you are going, so there is none of this tentativeness of your mark making, the paintings can be fresh, I mean you can always scrape all the paint off. I’ve spent a lot of time before, going down blind alleys, just learning how to paint, not knowing about painting sinking, not knowing about keeping the paint really thin, if you look at old masters the paint is really, really thin.
Peter Doig for instance paints really thin, you think they might be thick but there will only be thick paint in places, so it gives you a lot of air. I have painted very stodgy paintings where it is all on the surface, so you are trying to figure out how they get this luminosity. I have done a lot of studying about how to paint, I’ve studied books on perspective, and I’ve talked to older artists.
When I was at the BBC there was a whole team of artists from another generation from the Royal Academy. They put me onto the books they learnt from which were out of print, I got a book out of the British Library and photocopied the entire book on perspective, it’s now been re-printed, it’s not so expensive … I used to use a job which I did commercial work for sometimes as a way to learn some of the things I’d learnt from books, like how to do a Vermeer floor that goes off into perspective, I don’t actually use any of that now, but the thing is I’m not hindered by not knowing something. I mean when I was in my twenties and I was at college and I would want to learn something I’d ask a teacher and their response was ‘is it relevant to your work?’, well I don’t know.
Years later I found this one particular teacher didn’t know, and so she then asked me… I told her I’d found this book, would I tell her this formula for how to do ellipses. I do feel there have been a lot of things that have been lost and… David Hockney when he was at college they were quite proud that generation that they weren’t going to paint from the model. I’ve talked to them and they did exercises like… they had the model… they had to run up stairs to draw her… an exercise for their memory, and what underpins their work is that strength… and we are loosing a lot of those skills. We are very wrapped up with theory and the conceptual side of things and I’ve spoken to people who go to those colleges and they say they have brilliant ideas and when they try to execute them, they are so disappointed with the results because their ideas and results don’t correlate.
CB: All this absorption of knowledge underpins your work too.
All this and passing it on.
MH: Yes. Painting a big huge canvas 30-40 foot at the BBC every day for 3 years at the BBC, you have to learn to make one mark matter, because you have got a whole 70ft to get through, so you get a kind of, a bit like suppose the Chinese painters, the brush means something when you put that mark on… to do a drop shadow, the paint has to be a certain consistency and that’s passed on by being shown by somebody else, you can’t get it… from reading a book.
CB: Apart from the underpinning of knowledge and connections you made with other artists over your previous work… of copying painters and working quite fast, and learning how to make marks, what inspires your work? It is quite a specific subject matter. What are your inspirations?
MH: Well… the moment is triggered… I am probably in a state of reverie… I am dreaming or I am thinking about something and its… usually there will be something out there… will almost sum up what I’m thinking, or feeling, and because of modern technology now, I used to make a note but I now record it somehow… modern technology with iPhone or anything… I can just very quickly take a photograph of that… as an aid memoir, and then I will just sit on those images until I come round to making some paintings.
CB: These are images for now, but you manipulated them.
MH: Yes, I spend a lot of time going through them making them into little files going through them again, but of course, when I come back to them again I’m a different person, so the person I am when I come back to them, when I put myself into the mode of working, I’ll maybe choose a different set to work on, at the time that will be relevant to the things I am thinking of then, or feeling then.
CB: Of course you’ve got feeling of the fifties and sixties.
MH: I am not aware of that, but when somebody was talking about the cars… when I resize them it has the effect of making a generic car, because they are slightly stretched or squashed and that’s kind of got rid of anything that speaks of… contemporary… I am really talking about a timeless time, about my interior life really, or thoughts or thoughts that are not really of the material world,… I’m not trying to depict something out there.
CB: I want us to talk about the images themselves. Do they happen a lot on journeys, on train, bus journeys? I feel you must have been sitting on a bus, in a car.
MH: Yes, in a train… and I think that’s the time when you are off the planet aren’t you? You are not concerned with achieving or getting somewhere, or getting the shopping or ticking a list off, you’re almost going back to being like a child where all those things are taken care of and you’re in a state of wonderment.
CB: And transient… That word that is used by people writing about your work, it covers transience… in between.
MH: In-between states, yes I mean I don’t set out to do anything consciously, I do work intuitively, and I just trust that. I’m often full of doubt in everything… when you set yourself to be an artist ‘What do you paint’ that is the biggest question and slowly from a state of doubt and doubting the doubt you just get something. I was told when I was doing my masters ‘ we need to see it on the canvas, its no good having it in your head, we can’t criticize, so it is when you have got ideas it’s finding a way of giving it form and then other people can critique it.
CB: So how does that happen, because we keep going back to talk about painting, so how are you actually putting down the first mark, have you got a guiding principle, some rule, some way of putting the first mark down on the canvas?
MH: No, I just I do an awful lot of preparation, a lot of time on the computer for preparation and that’s part of it, and taking things out and re-sizing things and re-cropping things until it feels right.
CB: On the computer?
MH: Yes on the computer, then after that it’s a matter of getting it started on the canvas, and then I work on several at the time.
CB: How do you start with that…do you mix your greys?
MH: Although these (pointing to paintings in the show) are different shades, I only use two colours, a brown and a blue, they are Sennelier colours from France, they are quite buttery and they produce the right quality of tone. If I use Winsor and Newton it doesn’t produce the same colours for some reason. And I got that from reading about Whistler, he used these two colours and I was experimenting with other people’s grounds and colours and also talking to other artist about the way Lucian Freud worked and how his paintings are so enigmatic because he uses warm and cool tones. This person had been to the Slade and Euan Uglow had explained to him about warm and cool tones. I had never heard about this, so the warm of one colour – the brown, and the cool blue they operate together to give a neutral but they can separate. And when I am doing a painting, I mix up enough for the whole painting, and I keep it in a jar of water so it doesn’t go off and so if I have to come back and do different layers they are all compatible, otherwise it wouldn’t work and then I use colour as a glaze.
CB: Do you start in one corner and do you work your way, how do you start?
MH: It’s haphazard actually.
I just start all over.
CB: You start all over, at once?
MH: I’ve tried, when I first left my masters I did very big paintings and I would have to clear two days without anything happening, at least a whole day, a long day, like 12 hours, because I would try and finish it all in one go to keep the paint going. Sometimes I would come back the next day to do the other half and it just didn’t match, so they were very intense. And I was used to that way of doing intense work from working long hours on big back cloths, but when you are doing something like a water colour wash but with oils, then it has to bleed, then its like one mistake with that brush as its going across and its over, so I was putting something rather stressful on myself, and then I got over that, I’ve moved away I’ll allow another layer and another layer and I’ll build it up, but… the early ones I wanted this translucency, and I would use the white, and I still use the white of the canvas as the white, and also the white of the canvas to come through the layers, because that’s how paints work, that is how you get air. Because I used to have trouble in the early days if I painted a black, the black never had any air in it, it was dead, so then I would go and look at old masters, and if you go really close you find you can see the grain of the canvas its actually put on very thinly, the thickest part of that canvas will be the white highlights, if you look at Vermeer… these little blobs of white.
CB: What does it mean when you say the air?
MH: Chromatically the light is hitting through to the canvas, through the paint onto the ground and coming through and that’s… if you put so much paint on you can’t get to the ground, you now made the paint sit on the surface and you brought it into this world, like emulsion on a wall, by keeping it thin with a medium the light can get through the particles of colour and so there’s more of a sense of going past the picture plane into the another world and that is why… paintings have this enigmatic… oil painting particularly, as opposed to acrylic even, watercolours a bit , but that’s why paint, as opposed to inks and printmaking, have this quality of being alive, and its also organic, where printing inks aren’t. I couldn’t understand why a print of something had a dead feeling, where as an oil painting has a life you can go back to and still it will be intriguing, I think it’s that.
CB: You talk about the moment and this is matter, the canvas is .. its matter, also I think the way you treat the ground… making a symbiosis with the ground by just letting the back breathing through… it sounds as if you are really interested in getting a dialogue going between what you put on and the ground itself.
MH: I mean I did experiment with… when I was at the BBC we would always work from a dark, then use a mid tone and then a light one, it’s a very quick way to get an image…old masters were a bit like that, we had colour hands they would put in the sky and we would airbrush it so it went back to the horizon, we would start with a Shepherds Bush brown, which were your shadows and then put on your mid-tone… and then your lights and that’s also what old masters did… they had a dark ground… whereas watercolours would have a white ground, because watercolours are translucent, and because I want the white to be the brightest thing there, I work the other way round. I did experiment with coloured grounds it just doesn’t suit what I am doing now.
CB: It is really interesting. It’s very complex what you are talking about and it throws up this question for me, when you talk about the old masters and your strong perseverance and focus to keep going in the 21st century, with the sort of paintings you do. Can you say a bit about this, what keeps the fire going… what keeps you going?
MH: It’s an expectation, I mean since I was 5 years old, it was just what I did, and even if you have things that come in the way, like family and work, every spare moment I would be painting, even when I took the job at the BBC it was just to get down to London, then I would go home and I would be painting, even when I was at art college I would be painting all day and I would go home and I’d have another painting on the go at home in my digs, so it was just something I took for granted, I just couldn’t imagine not doing it in a way, I just expect I will be getting round to it . When I first started… it was… everything was abstract… every college was doing abstract work. I had to find one college that would actually allow you to paint figuratively… that encouraged painting and was supportive of it and when I came down to London, everyone was doing conceptual and minimalist work, they were being dictated to… they had to fit into that… I mean painting is coming back… Peter Doig… a lot of Romanian Cluj Artists… its now accepted you don’t have to fight your corner before you do figurative work. I mean David Hockney he started… as well, but he was considered a draughtsman… he’s not really a painter said some of my earlier tutors when I was at college. Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud were the early painters that affected me… I think one of the first paintings I saw was Lucian Freud’s painting of Francis Bacon on the cover of a book. Art books weren’t so prevalent then, and then I thought well here’s somebody painting figuratively in a very interesting way and… I’m talking about his very early work, which was very finely painted… I was always intrigued… how did he get that paint to look like that? And when I was at college people would point me towards Edward Hopper and Andrew Wythe, but Andrew Wythe was a bit dismissed as a bit illustrative, but as a young person I liked him and again someone like Salvador Dali is someone they sniffed about, but it was intriguing… how did they create that illusion? I was more interested in the illusion than the meaning behind the work in my youth.
CB: The process of making an illusion?
MH: Yes, how do you make something look like something?
CB: How do you decide a painting is finished?
MH: It just feels finished. It doesn’t disturb me in a way. In someway I keep wanting to put more paint on this one (pointing to the painting ‘Help’) there’s just something I would probably add to it.
CB: It’s in flux?
MH: It’s in Flux really, the one painting that it comes from was probably more finished or it has more qualities in it, that I haven’t quite managed to catch on that scale. But most of the time I just think ‘ok that feels complete’.
CB: The other thing I feel when I look at your work, there’s sort of barriers across the picture plane, a window frame, the frame itself is a barrier, the tree, that big tree trunk. What function for you do these barriers or these lines here, quite abstract barriers, what function do they have?
MH: It’s totally intuitive, to be honest I wasn’t aware I was doing it and I read stuff about it and I’d say yeah I mean people would say ‘you are so brave to do that’ and I’m thinking ‘what?’
CB: I like that painting over there. That big green mark across that painting.
MH: Yes, it’s just that well the thing is, when you are transcribing something, I was probably very much more aware of the arrows, to me in fact it… reminded me of another time when I was somewhere I’d have a dream, I had a dream about some arrows on a road actually, at a time when dreams were coming up. I was more thinking about the idea of going forward in your life … but then I didn’t realize that I was putting those big barriers as well, I was more concerned in trying to get that green but, then when I realized what’s … maybe… I’m thinking of that, other things are coming out despite… I’m not even questioning it, it’s just there.
CB: It’s got to be there in order to make sense?
MH: Well it’s not even conscious to me, that’s to be honest I’m not, I don’t think ‘Oh I’m going to put a barrier here’, or that, in fact I’m not even aware I am putting a barrier here, that’s what’s so, I don’t know, surprising to me, its like someone pointing out some habit you’ve got that your totally unaware of.
CB: The other element that’s obvious to me is the sort of intrusions of colour you have that grey and suddenly you see a little bit of red here, a little bit of blue here, a little bit of green. How does that come about?
MH: Well originally when I was painting the cars they represented people to me there would be a person I knew had a red car or a person who had a blue car and to me they were those people.
CB: Like a portrait?
MH: Yes, that represented them to me, and then I realized that red is a very powerful thing, there’s this idea that if you’ve got a red in a painting it has this compelling quality about it, so more recently I’ve added red in a more deliberate way, just to break it up a bit, and the yellow, again just to give it a bit of liveliness.
CB: Your inspirations… Francis Bacon, his highly figurative fleshy bodies of work and you mentioning now the cars might be people and you have also some lonely figures in there, key figures in some respect do you think? This painting has quite a big figure in between the trees. Do you feel interested in doing figurative work at some point?
MH: Well I have done a few of people who I have just caught. I have struggled with a couple I have never exhibited, they just didn’t work, I’m not closed to anything, it’s just whether it crops up.
CB: I can see for some people they might be a metaphor, I can see, there already portraits.
MH: Well all these are a metaphor for something else, I mean my daughter is in those pictures and there is one in the Royal Academy called ‘The Adolescent’, and I was thinking of her in that picture. I’m often thinking of situations to do with my life and the paintings happen to be coming out of that time, so they are like metaphors. When I did a house I had someone point out to me that the house was the Jungian symbol for the self… I was unaware of this, but once she pointed it out I started to think ‘well maybe wow! Maybe that’s what this is all about’. I was doing a house a long time ago and so I am kind of intrigued by the whole Jungian idea about the subconscious, these are subconscious pictures of my subconscious, I‘m perfectly happy for other people to bring their associations to the pictures, I agree with Walter Benjamin that painting is where you contemplate, you bring our associations to them and that’s what art is… it a place where you can find more about yourself… and that the moving image… stops contemplation… it’s a distraction, and an awful lot of our time is, you know… I don’t want to spend time with someone I don’t like, so I don’t want to be alone, so you are… distracted from this thing of not wanting to face your demons and face the uncomfortable things.
CB: The moment?
MH: The moment yes, if you’re going through tricky time and you don’t particularly like yourself.
CB: As a painter it is very interesting, I can see you know if you work really intuitively and just trust it and [have] always trusted this. How do all these clever and learned art historical comments about your work affect the making of your paintings now, knowing what a house means to Jungian thought, talking about barriers, talking about use of colour, and you as a maker do you feel much more affected by it. Does it contaminate it?
MH: Well the very first person to write about my work was Julian Bell. I did spend a long time talking to him and so he knew pretty much what was going on in my head and then I noticed that subsequently people would read what he has written… I think what journalist tend to do is they take the press release and just re-arrange it, cut and paste in a different way, and then… one journalist did send me what they had written and asked for my opinion and I don’t like to interfere with what they have written, but I had to correct somebody on their assumptions and they did actually adjust it to… In a way I’m not a very succinct writer but they are very good at putting words together and say what I want to say in a more succinct way, but I don’t want to stop them bringing something. With Marina Vaizey I spent a long time telling her a lot, but I said I’m telling you everything but I don’t want this in print, you know, so because it’s your private life and… people involved in your private life… you don’t want that in the public sphere. She has written something that alluded to it, but was enigmatic, but kept it to the sphere of art historical context or art theory and these things tend to feed whoever writes about my work. What I’ve found about it… is that it gave me more confidence, because I was totally in the dark. When the works first comes out it is a complete stranger to me, I have no idea if its any good, or what it means or if it’s a huge embarrassment, so to have a curator come along and say ‘I really like this work’, my first instinct is to think ‘why are they saying that, why do they say they like it? No… its terrible’, that’s my first reaction, but I don’t say that… I’ll just trust them and eventually, it takes maybe a year, six months at least, before I see what other people see in it, because I can’t see it as a stranger can see it,
CB: I think that’s a really interesting relationship with your audience you’ve just expressed. What are your plans what are you hoping to do next, what’s lined up?
MH: I am going to get on with lots more work and on the back of this I’ve been offered a small show in Clerkenwell around Frieze week next year, and a residency in Ireland and I’ve been asked to apply for one in Katmandu. I have had work selected for the Threadneedle prize exhibition, opening next month.
CB: Lots of things are lined up for you.
CB: At this point I’d like to open our conversation up to the audience.
Audience: I was thinking about talking about the BBC and mark making and the size of your work and then looking at this and thinking to myself what a discipline it must be to come down to this scale. I was just wondering if you ever long for that large scale again, and if you’ll ever do that. With the same delicate intricate, do you know what I’m saying?
There seems to be two different ways of working…perhaps there isn’t… I don’t know.
MH: This is much more intense. When you paint bigger there are certain marks that have to be spot on, and then the rest can be quite loose, I see that in Peter Doigs work actually, I think he spent a time doing scenic art, so I can dissect his work and think, ‘Ah I see what he’s done there’, its clever. And they are really effective because when you get something big and you reduce it down, which is how most people see it, in reproductions it looks really tight, but there is him and Adrian Ghernie, he’s another artist, they paint quite big and Jennie Saville she paints quite big and the marks are really like slapped on and they tighten up… you can really have a lot of fun painting big, its not a problem, I mean everything is worked out, the problem is getting the image… the initial image at a state where its resolved, then it’s a matter of process, and its interesting to paint it bigger because you can make different marks… make a more interesting painting in terms of mark making, which if I had the opportunity to do I’d probably love it.
CB: You would?
MH: Yes, I would, at the moment its just not practical for storage reasons and also for exhibitions, the reason why people did big pictures, like Frank Stella was because the American government were behind all that and it was museum work, it… we are discovering things about how the CIA put a lot of money behind those artists like Jackson Pollock and that they didn’t come out of nowhere and Peggy Guggenheim was behind it too and they were more or less manufactured, you don’t carry on doing something without encouragement and finance, and I spent a lot of time doing commercial work with the aim of doing this work… I’ve been very careful with the opportunity to make money quite easily… So that I could finance myself, otherwise you’re all the time draining your energies doing some job of work and it’s a stop- start thing, even when I did my masters I started off part – time and my work went (gesticulating and up and down graph) and everyone who did the one year full time their work went (gesticulating an upward graph) so I decided to invest in a year and got a nanny for the kids and did the one year and [with] that day to day focus suddenly I got over this hump of doing it, now I will take breaks , I will take breaks from painting and I will…is it like this thing… called ‘The Artists Way’ you go through a time of taking in things and you just let it lie, and its part of the creative process, and then it bubbles up and then you feel ready to go again, then you do a period of producing work and then a period of marketing work and a period of withdrawing from the world and allowing… giving yourself to the enterprise… as the professor of my last college used to say, because all you’re doing is acting as a conduit in some way as an artist.
Audience: I guess my question was really about this one painting at the back of you here. If that could be translated onto a large scale, your work would really change wouldn’t it? If you went to a larger scale, you couldn’t really translate that could you? You’d be in the danger of being super realist, car that big kind of thing… these are very intimate.
MH: I wouldn’t want to go much bigger than that (referring to the size of 100x100cm) otherwise you’re in danger of doing a backdrop… I still use some of the techniques, whether I want to or not.
Audience: This is the largest you would ever go then?
MH: For this kind of work I think it works ok at that scale, I don’t think there is any point in going bigger.
Audience: I agree with you.
CB: It’s interesting this idea about backdrop and painting, you see them as two very different things?
MH: Yes, I mean there is this thing where you have the power of the scale, and I mean some of the big abstract painters wouldn’t work unless they were big… you see a lot of them on a small scale in a book, but when you see them in real life they have a huge affect on you… a visceral effect on you. Sometimes I get so involved in this smaller scale I wouldn’t want to have to go through that intenseness on a bigger scale, you just think I want to do something else, that’s why I would make myself do it because there would be a reason to do it, because I want to present it in a show for instance, (pointing to ‘Help’) this has been sold, so its gone, so for me I’m making it again, because I want it.
Audience: You mentioned Whistler and inspirations on the colours and Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper but I see a lot of Gerhard Richter in here, which is why I asked that question because he does work on a larger scale, almost painting the photograph, makes the painting look like a photograph, and so it was just a comment but I see a lot of him… Being an American I don’t really see Edward Hopper, but I see a lot of Richter especially this one (referring to the painting ‘Help’ in this show) that you want to finish again.
MH: Someone has said that about Gerhard Richter… the way he gets his sense of movement is he paints it and then he goes over with a soft… probably a badger hair brush… and I don’t do that, I use that technique if say I was doing marbling, so I know about that technique If you are painting something and its not quite correct, the easiest way to make it look… well… it’s like doing a charcoal drawing. ’Oh it’s totally not correct but if I do his (making a gesture of smudging) it doesn’t look too bad’, (laughter) but I don’t do that… the mark is actually there.
Audience: You’re not suggesting he does that? You are being taped. (laughter)
MH: I’m not suggesting what?
Audience: That he is covering up mistakes.
MH: I did do him for my dissertation and he did say he wanted to paint reality but he hadn’t been taught how to, only people like Lucian Freud had.
Audience: How interesting.
MH: He decided he’d paint the reality of a photograph, and I think the interviewer said that’s not reality, that the reality of basically emulsion on paper, and I don’t think from my transcript that actually Gerhard really understood what he was talking about. I understand there is a reality out here, when I’m painting from life or drawing from life its really complex, I mean because I’ve had to paint from photographs for work, it just makes it very simple you know… more… a lot of the decisions have been made. And when my first training as an artist you were encouraged not to work from photographs… You don’t have understanding, you only have understanding when you are painting from life, so I do a regular life class. I have been drawing from life for years and years – life classes which I really enjoy, but to do these images I don’t have… I wouldn’t have the time to sit and do all that, and when you look at old masters they all used optics, Vermeer used optics… half those things wouldn’t be possible unless you use optics and the use of a single vanishing point, and if you paint from life you will be there for days deciding what is important, because I did think, Lucian did paint from life but I wonder if he ever used photographs in his early work… maybe Alex Katz paints/draws from life because there is a wonkiness as well, that looks like it’s done from life.
Audience: Would you ever consider having an exhibition of all your photographs?
MH: Well in my head I thought these were not far from the photographs, but when I showed the photographs or print outs of what I use to Marina Vaizey, when she was talking to me, she said they are nothing like them but I am using a perception of it… makes you realize… ‘what am I seeing that somebody else isn’t seeing’? Our perception is very subjective, that is why it’s interesting.
I put my subjective pictures out here… other people, are they seeing, what I am seeing? You know, does everyone see red in the same way for instance… it’s a kind of phenomenology thing. In some ways in paintings I am almost intuitively making marks of things that are just peculiar to me, that are not in the photograph. And even when I was at college the first time in my twenties, I would take photographs… I would print them, and as I developed them, I would think that’s not what I saw, its nothing like what I saw. I realized what I saw, what I perceived was something completely different, a photograph almost gives you too information, you are all the time being very particular about what your looking at, so in some ways even when I am using them as an aid memoir, I’m still bringing something obviously to my pictures that is a mystery to myself, and that’s what’s interesting about doing painting, it’s ‘whoa, what’s this going to look like’, its like having a baby ‘whoa what’s this going to look like’ you know, ‘I know its from me but how did it end up looking like that?‘
CB: Have you considered, as suggested, showing these photographs with your work together in an exhibition?
MH: No, I wouldn’t, they are just transitory things, I would just throw them away, they are finished with, and they are not as interesting, I don’t think.
Audience: They are a form of note taking?
MH: Yes, it’s like a form of note taking. I used to feel rather bad about it, or people tried to make me feel bad about it, then I realized the world’s moved on, the younger generation have absolutely no… they… borrow… with the post-modernism thing anything is usable. I found that very hard with my earlier training to get my head around the fact that they…well you’ve got permission to do what’s ever necessary, and its also very liberating, you don’t have to take a defensive stance… if it works it works, if it resonates with people you’re winning, but if doesn’t resonate, then it doesn’t resonate, that is why I think its interesting… I put my work into shows to different submissions of different people, and the encouraging thing is, that if they get in… something is resonating with somebody out there, who is an informed eye, somebody who has studied art, as opposed to … Everybody has an opinion about art, but its only from their perspective, from their knowledge base, so to get really upset because your brother or sister or, you know, Jo blogs doesn’t like what you are doing, its only because they think art should be a certain thing and that’s just the limit of their knowledge. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but it’s best to have an informed opinion to have any value; otherwise it’s just someone wanting to have ‘a go’ or ‘knock you’ off… destructive personalities.
Audience: Have you ever worked in full colour?
MH: Yes I did… I did a lot actually… I was always struggling with colour and when I went back to do my masters I’d spend spent a whole term doing two paintings in colour, and because the college I was at was very supportive, it wasn’t at all kind of critical, it wanted you take responsibility for your work, find your own way without making you defensive or reactionary. I was quite surprised; I couldn’t get a response in that environment. There was one tutor who was part-time who I plucked up courage to ask him to give me a tutorial, he had been taking us around all the East end galleries… that you’d never come across unless someone took you. He was doing photo-realist work, very small photorealist work that was conceptual of spaces where he’d have an exhibition… where there would be famous paintings… and his name was Andrew Grassie, a very nice guy and sometimes he’d get a review as if that actual fictitious exhibition had existed and it hadn’t. So he came into my studio and he saw this work and he said ‘This work would be great if it was ironic, but I think you mean it, and I was going yeah, of course I mean it’, so I felt like Rip van Winkle gone asleep… having a family, come back, to find they had brought in post modernism and irony and I was still working in my old way of trying to create meaning. And then he said something like, that my paintings were like, the colour was like… very sophisticated Sunday paintings, well that was like the kiss of death, that and as was to call something illustrative like that. And he wasn’t being mean, wasn’t being cruel, he was trying to give me some feedback. And other painters, another painter there… Michael Buhler, who came in one day, trying to help me with stretching a canvas and he said I’m not allowed to talk to the MA students and teach them, only the BA students, he was old school and I was struggling with these paintings and he tried to talk to me formally about what wasn’t working and then eventually another person said you go to this weekend away where you can study colour.
Colour doesn’t actually exist, it only exists in relationship with each other, so I did this weekend course… colour wheel and I realized, like when you have your colours done for clothes you can get a bunch of 32 colours and they will all harmonize with each other, and in each other and it requires a lot of cognitive thinking to paint like that. I am an intuitive painter so it would be really slow for me to paint like that. And then I would always start a painting with an under painting, I’d get the drawing out as an under painting, and then one day one of the tutors came in and said ‘leave that, like that’ and I was going, “but its not… I’ve only just started’, but it had a freedom of mark making, that very much got what I wanted to put down, and so because I had been in such a vacuum, I hadn’t been looking at contemporary painters, I couldn’t see what they could see, I can see now what they could see, they could see Luc Tuymans, they could see… referencing to these artists I hadn’t discovered yet. I started to just do that, I left it like that…
These (gesticulating to the work in the exhibition) are in fact just sophisticated under paintings, but with more layers on. It means the gesture of the mark making was remaining there; it wasn’t going to have another layer of stodgy colour.
Audience: So the colour doesn’t get in the way?
MH: It’s almost irrelevant. If you look at old masters there is very little colour, colour only came in with the invention of colour and then it was all about colour, it was about…the impressionists were using… How do you make a yellow stand out? You put a purple, its complementary, next to it. They were all fascinated about how you make form out of colour. Matisse did a great one with that face of Madam Matisse, where if you look at it he created a form with no tone, its just the tonal value of that cool colour that’s bringing it back and this warm colour coming forward, and its intelligent, a very well worked out painting. But I’m not working in that way. I’d love to have that facility, because I think colour is a powerful thing. But the other person I talked to about colour was Mary Feddon, and she had taught David Hockney. I didn’t realize actually that she was a contemporary of Calder, she had a Calder in her place and Ben Nicholson’s wife, Winifred Nicholson, was her friend, and I think Frink, so this little lady who lived near me… I bought some of her works so I was only going around to get a receipt… and I brought some of my work around I’d done. I was doing still life and she said to me something like ‘I think you’ll be really good when you use the imagination I’m sure you’ve got’.
I asked her about colour and she told me, you use one dominant colour in your picture. I’ve looked at her work since. She did stage sets… she is a designer. She uses the rule of threes; you’ll find threes going on in her work. Somebody will give her something… and she’ll just think about it and she then she does it… and there is a pattern, she ended up with in kind of a way. So did Francis Bacon, there is a pattern to his work, and… he did interior design, so… his colours were amazing. He could be painting something incredibly gross, but you love it, you love it because he’s got this beautiful pink or purple next to this other beautiful colour. He knew how to use colour to seduce you, seduce you so that you stay with that ugly mess in the middle, which is like someone’s head chopped off, and you are thinking ‘God yeah, but why do I want to love this painting’… and its the colour.
Feddon gave me a lesson on colour as I walked from her studio to her house which she lived in on the river in Chiswick… old boat houses, she lived in them… kind of dilapidated, and she’d been married to this guy called Julian Trevelyan, who was a very well respected draftsperson and printmaker. Her drawings were amazing but what I loved about her work was her colour and they were simpler than her drawings, her drawings were incredibly intense, and she said ‘Look its all there Marguerite,’… the leaves… were on the floor and ‘there is all your colour palette… just there, you should take it from nature, nature tells you everything’… if you want a colour palette just… I mean even if you photograph nature the colour won’t be the same as studying nature… taking the colours directly from the way they go with each other. So it never… who knows… I might be able to get… but I don’t feel it at the moment. I think it’s really great to be able to do that. And I can’t believe people quite like these colours… these lack of colours… that they are getting the response they are getting.
CB: It feels to me you are seducing people very successfully in your way
Audience: You are using colour in a masterful way
MH: Maybe that thing of Mary Feddon saying just use one colour has gone in?
Audience: Using colour in a succinct way
MH: Maybe it’s more dramatic because there is so little colour?
CB: I wonder if we should stop at this point… unless you’ve got any more questions about seduction… whether it is so successful because you use so little. I really want to thank you for being here and you also for…
MH: Thank you Claudia.