Recap - The time we went to church
16 feb 2015 by Ashton Chandler
Last Wednesday, we went to 'church' with London-based contemporary artist Tim Lee. Our visit was much less traditional as Tim gave us a tour around the church-turned-artist residency of the Florence Trust. We caught a glimpse and insight into 12 different residence artists' studios, ending the evening viewing new ink paintings by Tim himself.
For those that missed it, we're sharing impressions from the evening as well as a short interview that reveals the layers of Tim's ink paintings and practice.
Ennui Fountain the Whore, 2015, ink painting, 25 x 30 cm, image courtesy of the artist.
AC: While your works may almost appear like heavy oil paintings on canvas, they are actually ink on rice paper. Can you lend insight into your technique and chosen medium?
TL: Rice paper painting is one of the earliest forms of art, which predates oil paintings by hundreds of years. I’m drawn to the fragility of the paper and also the traditions and philosophies that belong to the material.
The rice paper I use is fragile and delicate and as a result, requires you to be present and aware of your actions as it tears easily. I won’t bore readers too much with technique but my ink paintings go through numerous stages of pasting, flattening, mounting and overpainting. It’s a tiny miracle that they reach their end state.
Overall the history of ink paintings hasn’t been subject to as many major movements than its western counterpart - for example, in the last 500 years oil painting has been through The Renaissance, Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism to name a few, while ink painting has remained fairly stagnant in its entire 2000 year history. I'm not trying to reinvent or revive ink painting or fool anyone into thinking that they are anything else. Simply put, it’s an ongoing exploration of material and ideas. My work seeks to question the agency that tradition holds on painting and art as a whole.
AC: Your paintings depict forms of still lives and portraiture, yet they are not portraits and still lives in a traditional sense. Will you elaborate on your subject matter in more detail, who these figures represent, and how they and the floral arrangements are conceived by purely using memory as reference?
TL: At present, I am in the midst of a series of works that can be loosely described as still lives and portraiture, yet they are paradoxical in nature, whereby they contradict their given terms. They are not approximations of real-world objects or rendered to a true likeness of certain individuals. I am more concerned with the sensation a work of art has, as opposed to its representational qualities.
I depict loaded figures like the Pope and Nazi officials mainly because they elicit an interesting response from the viewer, even when I abstain from painting their features. For me, this highlights the potency of symbolism, hierarchies, ideologies and the vulnerability of the human condition to such things.
The floral paintings operate on a different level yet my approach to them is the same. I am constantly questioning what gives a work meaning or if there is meaning any at all.
Life is transient and constantly in flux. Meanings change. Perceptions change. Therefore when painting from memory and experience, that sensation I speak about, is given room to surface.
The Gallow Idol, 2015, ink painting, 34 x 40 cm, image courtesy of the artist.
AC: We did spot these loaded figures conveyed through your ink paintings at our event, in particular the Pope. How was working in the context of a church as part of your residency at the Florence Trust influenced your current work?
TL: I think it has. Whether consciously or not, the church has had an impact on the art that everyone on the programme makes. There are 12 artists in total and you will have seen the diversity in our practices. Some of employ traditional media and others new media, the Internet and installation.
Personally, I feel the church setting has polarised each artist's practice. It asks us to question whether our works embrace the connotations of the building or reject it.
My work already carried elements of religion before I started at the Trust, but I believe the environment and the structure of the residency has in some ways allowed me to refocus and get to the core of what I feel is vital in my art.
AC: By looking back at your early practice to now, your ink paintings seem to become more colorful and looser. What you can tell us about this new direction and the evolution of your work, and perhaps the direction your practice is moving in now?
TL: I’m glad that you can see progression in my work. It is a cliché but new possibilities and thoughts arise from constantly working; you start to realise when things get repetitive and this causes you to examine and explore different avenues in the way you approach the work. I don’t really have any idea where my work is going to head to next. I’m only speaking for myself here but I think painting isn’t an orchestrated endeavor, so it's futile and contrived to plan ahead since you are negating being intuitive with the work and open to new possibilities.
Many people would agree that my more recent work seem brighter and looser, though its not something I can explain as it doesn’t flow from a lucid stream of thought or guiding idea. Again, I don’t think it really matters how bright, tight, loose or detailed a painting is; its still all about trying to find a tone and sensation for the work.