Process: Rod Holdaway
I like what Philip Guston said about wanting to see the world through fresh eyes as if he was “a caveman … when nothing had existed before. But at the same time (he) knew a great deal about the culture of painting…” Similarly, we see in Cezanne that the painting is not so much about what he saw but how he saw it.
There is a personal philosophy underpinning my art practice. I aspire to see clearly the way that elements of form, colour, space and depth interact and to represent something of the human psyche in our time and place. An interest in social behaviour and psychological states can be seen in my drawings and paintings. I think that realism necessarily includes the perceptual processes of the artist – so the art combines the energy and mood of place, people and artist.
I have been making sketches of what I see on the streets around Sydney as part of my daily routine for about 8 years now. My drawings are based most often on fleeting observations of people on the street going about their everyday lives. The drawings show figures standing on street corners, in shopfronts, by brick walls, and in the streetscape. By drawing quickly and moving on to something else, adding to the same drawing again and again, I am attempting to express something of what is real at any given point in time and to express something universal, about what life is like on the street in Australia in the 21st century.
In recent months I have been making drawings using a stylus on an iPad. Prior to using the iPad my daily drawings were with pen and pencil on paper. I began drawing on printed iPad drawings on archival paper. I use a high quality bubble jet printer and then draw again over each of those prints with coloured pens. The pens I use are Indian ink. The inks are light, fast and permanent.
The places created in the drawings and paintings are constructed. They are not places that you can go to – they are improvised compositions, inspired by a mulitude of places. I often select the elements from what I see on the street and play with them. A musical analogue seems apt: here are the notes, base and treble, the scales and the arpeggios, key registers, and time signatures. Here is the horizon and here are the vanishing points that provide guidelines for the picture plane. I attempt to place forms in space in a way that is both authentic and inventive.
Perceived information comes into the brain via the senses, is infused with emotion through the amygdala and processed in the brain. In the act of recreation and transformation it becomes knowledge. It is exported via the hand and stylus, pen or brush onto the screen, paper or canvas. This process involves symbolic thinking and at its essence is nonverbal. For me this process is both a discipline and liberation. When I am ‘in flow’ painting allows liberation from words, from thinking with words, from hearing words and of course from uttering words. Cezanne is reported to have said, “I paint, I work, I am free of thought.” Acts of creativity mirror processes in the mind and can open up windows into the mystery of what consciousness is, the biological and neurobiological processes of perceiving, thinking and learning.
There is an invisible but potent web of interconnectivity between people and other people and objects. This web is made of attraction and gravity and is discernable to the observant. The scaffold in the pictures allows me to paint the implied web of energy and interconnectivity.
In composition I imagine a sculptural
There is a moment when the ‘chemistry’ of paint and canvas, form and colour is satisfying and exciting, when the parts are transformed into a unified whole.
armature or scaffold that supports figures and describes the space around them. I am excited by parallels that I see in the works of some of my friends who make welded steel sculptures. I also love the surface qualities and colours of steel when used sympathetically by the sculptor. Likewise in painting, the texture of the canvas is important. I don’t like to have too much paint on the surface resulting in the texture of the canvas being hidden. In my work the matt surface – the bite of the canvas and the way light is absorbed and reflected all come together to create a finessed surface. There is a moment when the ‘chemistry’ of paint and canvas, form and colour is satisfying and exciting, when the parts are transformed into a unified whole. I like the modernist assertion that a painting may represent something of the world and also be a world in itself; hence the emphasis on materials.
My paintings do not leap out at viewers and scream for attention. They are paintings that open up to viewers over time. They are subtle paintings that reward viewers who come back for subsequent viewings. Full meanings do not become apparent immediately. After all if viewers get all there is to get in a painting on the first viewing – what is there to come back to?
The process of human observation is not entirely objective because perception is shaped by emotion. Our state of being affects the way we see and understand what we are looking at. I like it when figures and architecture merge in the paintings because it reflects the reality of our bonds with places and architecture both emotionally and functionally. The urban landscape is a predominately human creation.
There is a social meaning in my paintings. In addition to the broader brush approach to the cityscapes referred to above, my paintings allude to the social contract that binds us all in the action of our lives. The process of drawing and painting over-layers creates improvised juxtapositions and merges bodies with other bodies adding verisimilitude, complexity and grit and adding personality to the figures. The people in the pictures are amalgams rather than particular individuals. This allows for universality rather than specificity. This in itself is liberation from the constraints of portraiture because I can play with representations of body language, personal space, dress and colour without worrying about the reaction of any particular individual to how they are being portrayed.
01 The Road 1, 2013, oil on linen, 38 x 51cm 02 Rod Holdaway in his studio, 2014.
03 Figures on a Sydney Street, 2013, 71.5 x 51cm 04 Divergence, 2014, oil on linen, 50.5 x 38cm
05 Six Figures and Child on a Sydney Street, 2014, iPad print, indian ink pen & gold on archival paper, 21 x 29cm 06 Rod Holdaway’s studio Courtesy the artist and Stella Downer Fine Art, Sydney