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