Playtime/Worktime

Artists, art writers, psychologists and others spend a lot of time contemplating the idea of ‘art as play’. It’s an idea put forward over 200 years ago in Friedrich Schiller’s Letters Upon The Aesthetic Education Of Man (1794). He considered that only art could reconcile the opposing aspects of human nature – body & mind. By 1938, Johan Huizinga was arguing that as well as ‘homo faber’ (Man the Maker, humans controlling fate and environment through the use of tools), we could be considered ‘homo ludens‘, Man who Plays. We assume children’s art is somehow pure and free, while adults’ art loses this as we become rationalised, limited, grown up. We spend time and angst trying to recover this childish play-state. We try, but get tied into what we feel we should do, ideas of quality, product and so on. We care what other people think.

I certainly don’t pretend to have achieved this state – I’m often lured towards intricacy and precision at the same time as wanting my work to be freer, more open, more vulnerable. I try to accept this urge-to-accuracy (typically expressed via ink drawing) while freeing my approach in other pieces through various materials and techniques that don’t accept control as readily as a fine-tipped pen. I have a strong interest in Anthropocene-related art, and I focus heavily on the (re)use of waste materials, seeing myself as a junk-artist. Imperfect surfaces, lumpy household paint, using what I happen to acquire. There is both constraint and freedom in this.

Recently I started exploring drip-art with Shedding, and have since produced two more, Playing and Working. They involved dripping, throwing, flicking, splashing and so on, but they are not truly free. Each splat and blob lands where it will, but there is considerable control being exercised – which part of the surface to aim for, which colour, which direction, a little or a lot. The more I practice, the more I play, the ‘better’ I get at aiming, producing ‘interesting’ forms and textures – and so the less free it becomes. The pun (Playing is painted on piano components) is thought through. The piece gets a title, it’s media are listed, its dimensions given. Play becomes work. Once we are no longer naive, maybe our art can’t be either. Maybe freedom is, in part, acceptance of this.

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Playing (2020). Mixed media on piano parts, 35 x 124 cm.

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Working (2020). Mixed media on board, 53 x 124 cm.