Process: Dou­glas Sitch­bury


MORE THAN ANY­THING MY WORK has been in­spired by scenes from nov­els, and 1970s sci­ence fic­tion has been my most sig­nif­i­cant source of in­spi­ra­tion: writ­ers such as Stanis­law Lem, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Boris and Arkady Stru­gatsky. What draws me to these writ­ers is their tal­ent for re­fram­ing well-worn philo­soph­i­cal prob­lems in a way that’s both ex­otic and com­pelling. They open the pos­si­bil­ity for new per­spec­tives by push­ing the reader’s imag­i­na­tion with thought ex­per­i­ments pack­aged as nar­ra­tive. While dis­arm­ingly ab­surd or im­prob­a­bly spec­u­la­tive, the best of them fin­ish with crit­i­cal po­si­tions on con­tem­po­rary is­sues in a way that only sci­ence fic­tion can de­liver. I’ve of­ten cho­sen to in­ter­pret some of these nar­ra­tives through paint­ing, both as homage and a means of re­think­ing these sto­ries. Il­lus­trat­ing a sci­ence fic­tion novel of­ten presents unique chal­lenges – much of what is de­scribed sim­ply does not ex­ist. Since I paint in a fig­u­ra­tive, re­al­is­tic way, this can be quite dif­fi­cult with­out a ref­er­ence. Ini­tially I ei­ther Pho­to­shopped pre-ex­ist­ing im­ages into col­lages or built card­board models, but these in­volved sig­nif­i­cant lim­i­ta­tions in what I was able to make or the im­ages I was able to find. In or­der to bet­ter sim­u­late a fic­tional re­al­ity, I re­alised I had to first cre­ate it from scratch. So I taught my­self how to model in 3D to pro­duce phys­i­cally ac­cu­rate, pho­to­re­al­is­tic ref­er­ences for my work. While this took a cou­ple of years, dig­i­tal mod­el­ling is al­most un­lim­ited in flex­i­bil­ity, speed and power. I’m able to ren­der the phys­i­cally im­pos­si­ble with re­al­ism, and con­trol scene as­pects (light­ing and ma­te­ri­als) in ways that would be im­prac­ti­cal in the stu­dio. It not only helps to repli­cate worlds but helps to imag­ine them: with a small amount of cod­ing it is pos­si­ble to build ob­jects through a gov­ern­ing sys­tem of pa­ram­e­ters, some­thing I find very in­ter­est­ing be­cause it is these gen­er­a­tive pa­ram­e­ters that also can lend log­i­cal con­sis­tency. In my most re­cent ex­hi­bi­tion many paint­ings fea­tured el­e­ments that were “col­lab­o­ra­tively” de­signed with soft­ware.

Though crit­i­cally aided by soft­ware, many of my models have spe­cific ref­er­ences in the real world; in some cases, 3D models are sculpted af­ter real ob­jects or places. While read­ing a novel can be a vivid ex­pe­ri­ence, the ac­tual de­scrip­tions are sparse on de­tails. I of­ten look for other sources to flesh out the specifics of a par­tic­u­lar ob­ject or scene. Us­ing ob­jects that ex­ist, or have ex­isted, out­side of the nov­els I am il­lus­trat­ing gives me a way of con­nect­ing dif­fer­ent events and ideas to the nar­ra­tives. These ref­er­ences may be ar­chi­tec­tural. In the case of ‘The In­sti­tute’ (2017) the main build­ing is a re­mod­elled ver­sion of the Pepsi Pav­il­ion at the 1970 Osaka World Expo, de­signed on prin­ci­ples pop­u­larised by the ar­chi­tect and sys­tems the­o­rist Buck­min­ster Fuller, an in­flu­en­tial utopian thinker with a fraught re­la­tion­ship with cor­po­rate in­sti­tu­tions. Other times I’ve ref­er­enced im­ages/ob­jects from ad­ver­tis­ing or fash­ion, the works of other painters, or sim­ply those that rep­re­sent out­side ideas rel­e­vant to the sub­ject. Some­times it is to con­tex­tu­alise the time the novel was writ­ten, other times it can be to layer our in­ter­pre­ta­tion of it. I’m a big fan of stack­ing mean­ing and ref­er­ence into paint­ing, most of which is hid­den or un­no­ticed. These con­cep­tual webs are a game for me to play through­out a paint­ing or ex­hi­bi­tion. While the sci­ence fic­tion nov­els are en­joy­able in their own right, it’s also in­ter­est­ing to con­sider them cul­tural ar­ti­facts, of­ten writ­ten di­rectly in re­sponse to, or in eva­sion of, many con­di­tions or events of the time. Paint­ing is mostly done in black dry-brushed oil on li­nen, which is partly in­spired by Joan Miró’s raw li­nen paint­ings and bru­tal­ist ab­stract paint­ing of the 1960s, and also the black dry-brush tech­nique of the Swiss artist Ju­lia Steiner. I en­joy the colour and ma­te­ri­al­ity of li­nen in con­trast with de­tailed tonal paint­ing. The ar­ti­fi­cial depth and re­al­ism of the paint­ing makes for an in­ter­est­ing con­tra­dic­tion in re­la­tion to the un­fin­ished fab­ric. I pre­fer to paint at the scale of the ob­ject de­picted, and when pos­si­ble to paint at scale. Once the paint­ings are planned on com­puter my typ­i­cal paint­ing sched­ule is nine hours per day, five days a week. These paint­ing blocks are of­ten bro­ken up by other projects, such as pro­duc­ing an­i­mated video pieces, mak­ing cat­a­logues, and so on. When the op­por­tu­nity arises, I like to go on res­i­den­cies, as I find that I am more pro­duc­tive in un­fa­mil­iar places. The way that noth­ing can be taken en­tirely for granted in a for­eign coun­try, and how the small­est tasks can of­ten in­volve de­tec­tive work on the fly, are ef­fec­tive ways to get dis­tance from my work and pre­vent repet­i­tive habits. It’s this same sense of sub­tle disorientation that I aim to come through in my work.

I have a typ­i­cal paint­ing sched­ule of around nine hours per day, five days a week. These paint­ing blocks are of­ten bro­ken up by other projects, such as pro­duc­ing an­i­mated video pieces, mak­ing cat­a­logues, and so on.

01 The Re­turn, 2017, oil on li­nen, 65 x 90cm 02 Zone Suit, 2017, oil on li­nen, 60 x 85cm

Cour­tesy the artist

03 The In­sti­tute, 2017, oil on li­nen, 100 x 60cm 04 Au­tomata Boots, 2017, oil on li­nen, 44 x 60cm

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