Paint and information with Joanna McCormick

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I started to write this by first spending considerable time just sitting in front of the keyboard and screen thing and puzzled over how I could start an introduction to the article as I had prior experience of not trying to force it and that I should just wait until the words started to form in my head and when they did then I should be ready and eager to grab them and write them down quick before they disappear. That’s what they always do if I lie to myself about being confident enough to be able to do that by remembering and I disregard my continual disappointment of forgetting.

It was during a long talk with Joanna McCormick that we discussed this thinking phenomenon of waiting and allowing thoughts to happen that I was able to start writing a Joanna McCormick based article interview that reflected some of the points we talked about when I piled over to Peckham to see her in her studio.    

We talked about plenty of stuff, as you’d probably expect if you’ve arranged a meeting that ultimately spun out to three hours. Three hours of two people in silence could have been an art performance in itself but I figured talking was better as I am discovering that I quite like it because you find things out about people and you can swap ideas and everything and it’s all normally beneficial to those involved. The people that I’ve spoken to have always been nice too and I’ve never felt the need to run away for safety. 

I wanted to talk with Joanna about paint and it felt natural to steer the chat to that subject as we both like it.  I find the painting process mentally beneficial and especially the drifting off into the land of thought and concentration that you get when you start to put paint onto a surface. It’s quite nice when you’re painting a wall too although the scope for indulging your imagination is more limited with one colour and a roller. Sometimes my imagination only extends that far though and I’ve had to confront my shame about that and dispel it. By using different colours and surfaces like canvas and wood and paper Joanna evidently goes deep into it. Her paint work is wide and varied and each step is revealed to be thoughtful and considered. There’s a reason for each item and step and gesture in the overall process.

Joanna’s initial lockdown painting experiments involved repeated small mixed media abstract paintings with a feline focus using small cat images from a decoupage set and then allowing the daily constructed pictures to grow out from there. It goes without saying that I like cats but I realise that I’ve said it straightaway and now I wish I hadn’t. But I like them and I’ve spent most of my lockdown period in the company of one. Occasionally he’s been my unknowing muse but mostly he’s been asleep. But the cat subject was one reason I was drawn to these images. There were many in the series.  All different but collectively similar. The cat images gave the growing abstract designs something to cling onto and grow from and they provided focus and allowed each image to develop in its own right. 

While looking through the lockdown cat paintings Joanna mentioned the Fauvism art movement and style and as fauvism was a new word that went into my head it had nowhere to go when it was in there and so it came straight back out again in a sentence when I said what does fauvism mean?  From there the conversation developed and she told me about a new thing. I’ve realised that I am okay with not knowing something because then it makes you ask questions and you can find out. If I’d already known what fauvism was I might have just said yeah, which isn’t as interesting.  Sometimes you can also forget that you know things that other people don’t so it works both ways and I’m not just a knowledge vacuum.

Then I learned more when Joanna showed me some of her work with oil paint and I started to go a bit cloudy round the edges with the realisation that her work has the previously mentioned variety and you feel a bit like that when someone shows you loads of what they do and you find it all appealing and there were repeated ideas and motifs that she uses in her work, like the sea and fish and flowers and bees and words.  I was pulled towards and continually focused my eyes to Joanna’s use of words and poetry within the paintings.  The words used are sometimes drawn from other contexts and used in the paintings to aid the overall idea or are used to nudge your thinking and move you further towards that realisation that you get of the painting as a whole thought blanket that is bigger than the individual parts that go to make it up.  I like that the oil paint used in these recent works alters the time frame of the piece’s development. Oil is a slow drying medium and you’re forced to go with this timing when you embark on the project and have your thought process stretch out long which can bring new ideas you hadn’t thought of previous along the way. If you do it quick you’ll sometimes miss them. I have oil paints too but they just sit in the bottom of my paint box, suffocating with lack of use under my acrylic toys. From speaking with Joanna I feel compelled to pull them out and play around with them again. If only to have the smell of them in my vicinity. My impatience might get frustrated with their drying time as they laugh at me while I stare at them waiting.

The long slow oil based thought process then did a fade over chat into a similar slow thought process about lucid dreaming that was part of a lockdown course Joanna had taken part in.  My hearing went all very clear when she brought the talk round to this subject as I knew little so could say not much but was interested so I shut up and paid more attention as sometimes you just have to listen and ask a question now and again to make the information go in. 

We talked about hypnagogic and hypnopompic states of mind and to what extent we’d had common experiences, which weren’t many as I hadn’t really tried it that much apart from sometimes accidentally being in some weird state where I could hear myself reality snoring in my dream but all the monsters were telling me to be quiet and I could only do that by waking myself up.  Jo had practised techniques with the course to make it happen more often and had used imaginary items to concentrate on and just drift out of reach which could then be used to pull her straight into the occurring dream when It decided to form. I have spent a lot of lockdown time staring forwards wondering where it’s all going and if I can use this trait to benefit my mental health at the same time then I will listen and learn and keep trying to do it instead of just staring up at the darkness all night and wondering where the ceiling’s gone.

I didn’t know it was the end of the meeting until afterwards when I had left and seen it had finished and I was on my way home. While we were still talking it wasn’t the end.  We talked about varnish as another medium to create art and how Joanna has used it with her past work with insects and taxidermy and how I use it to finalise a piece of art to make it real and then the varnish must be similar to the full stop I’m about to use here to let people reading this know that this Joanna McCormick article is finished and any more paragraphs afterwards will be the beginning of a new one about something else.

Andy Rowe is a sound artist who lives and works in London. He has worked with sound in a professional and creative context since 1996 and gained a degree in Sonic Art from Middlesex University in 2009. He has displayed work in Coventry's Herbert gallery, London's Hundred Years, Raven Row, Chalton, Art and Escape, Horse Hospital, ToandFor, and Doomed galleries. His sound, music and performance project is known as the Slate Pipe Banjo Draggers. He has performed live at festivals and events in England, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands and Italy both alone and collaboratively

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