October 1, 2011

Long Personal Statement

Filed under: — franamie @ 5:22 pm

MA Personal Statement


My fascination with grids has its origin in an idle moment many years ago when I smoothed out a sweet wrapping of silver foil, and meticulously folded it in half, and half again until I was left with a very small rectangle. Then, unfolding it all again, I saw a quadrilateral gridded rectangle.  The light played on the grid as I tilted it this way and that, revealing a wonderful network of horizontal and vertical lines and corrugations, planes, shadows and light. Colour reflections from my clothes and nearby objects and furnishings added further interest. A habit was born and has continued ever since with all foil sweet wrappings.  Every grid is different and some are inevitably more intriguing than others.  Every crumple, crease and fold recorded upon it like a memory of its use, traced into the foil surface.

It was not just the appearance of  these grids which was so interesting. I met grids again in my teaching career through the work of Gardner and his theory of multiple intelligences where he refers to grids as “frames of mind”. Grids have a very long history, and can be seen in rock and cave art[1] where they seem to have been imbued with mystical importance. Grids were also used as abelans – status  tatoos. I think this “power” of the grid was a recognition of its inherent nature and the persistence and importance of its presence in our cognitive function.  Endorsing this view, Higgins[2] has shown how, far from being, as Krauss has argued,  “ anti natural, antimimetic, and anti life”[3], grids have been the building blocks of civilisation and are being used now in ever greater complexity in the web.  She sees grids as, “an undulating net of desires, concepts and possibilities that structure every aspect of our lives.” Whilst the structure of the grid remains basically unchanged, grids are inherently adaptive in their use, and as Williamson has so aptly described, have been and are being  used by artists to, “express leading conceptions of man and world prevalent at the time.” [4]Photographs of my silver foil grids reveal more clearly why grids are so attractive and useful to the abstract thinker and artist, and why paint, for example,  lends itself to the creation of a surface which might call to mind the richness, depth and complexity of the fabric of life.  Therese Oulton’s early work[5] exemplifies this for me.  In complete contrast the work of Agnes Martin, so devoid of form can bring to mind the experience of the formlessness, silence and space of the spiritual.  So what do grids mean to me and in particular what is the rationale of the grids I have explored in the MA course?  These  questions  underpin my exploration of the grid.

The first drawings were blocks of tiny rectangles, meticulously drawn in white or black ink and laid upon a soft, brushed charcoal ground  which give the appearance of a textile placed on a dark ground.  The process of making, involving the intense, quiet, precise labour of  small scale woven and needlecraft productions of the art and crafts movement where the making is a labour of love, close to the spiritual, and where, in this case,the process informs the visual language and gives it its meaning: labour -  the labour of  woven textiles, patchwork and fine needle skills.  The tiny bounded spaces of the centripetal grid symbolic of the limited time and space which women make between their domestic duties for creative work.  Looser grids suggesting an easing of constraints.

I have always seen the grid structure as a metaphor for Society (or any organisation). The  rigidity of the grid reflects constraints and control.  A looser grid, suggests that the societal framework is more flexible and the individual has more freedom of action within it.  The tightness of the grid may also reflect the fixity of dogma, or the looseness, the uncertainty of changing ideas, and the questioning of dogma. Thus the appearance of the grid, its density, size, placement within a ground, whether it is centripetal (inside a frame) or centrifugal (unlimited in its outward movement) is for me symbolic of the social structure and movement (or not)  within it.  The individual units, because of their minute variations, symbolic of the individual and his existential position – the extent to which he, (or she), “fits” into or feels different or outside society. What lies behind the grid, or sometimes what is imposed upon it, is symbolic of prevalent sub texts of organisation, of control systems, of ideas, investigations and research adding change and complexity to the status quo.  Moreover the idea of opposition can also be indicated by distorting or subverting, or by revisiting past work and, drawing into it, for example. Reaching back into my past work and adding to it with grid components (work shown in the Parameters Exhibition), exemplified  that change can be built upon or within former structures – a realistic and practical approach confirming that change does not necessarily have to overthrow all of the past and that learning proceeds in a forwards and backwards motion – “reculer pour mieux sauter”. Whilst at the same time by deconstructing and reconstructing the grid as in the large narrative drawing, exemplifying that to a certain extent at the individual level we are free agents and can institute change in our own lives. The overall structure of the grid thus allows for scope in interpretation at both levels.


The paintings in this module, whilst still exploring grids, seem in stark contrast to the early  drawings in ink.  The latter give a sophisticated reading, they speak of  a  process of careful consideration, of a clean, quiet exact placement of each mark, of a “micro” process, whilst in contrast the making of the painted grids was a spontaneous process of trial and error, of ongoing evolution, of using the accidental, of responding emotionally and often gesturally and energetically to the paint. Energy in the painting is laid down by the process of making just a surely as process lays down the visual language in the drawing to give it its subject and painting inevitably speaks of the process of its making.  Whilst this might seem obvious it is interesting to read Timo Valjakka’s essay, “Painting has a body”[6], on McKeever’s night painting.  He pointed out that it was only in embracing the physicality of  painting by painting in the dark, and having to use the whole of his body to feel his canvas and his process of making, that McKeever truly became a painter and proved (in contention with Greenberg) that we see with our whole bodies, not just with our eyes. I think that it is in the embracing of this idea that animation is brought to the work. Clearly, painting presents a different set of problems than those encountered by pen and ink,  graphite or charcoal in drawing. The challenge before me was how to progress my work – that is, how to use paint to explore the grid further.

There are many many examples of painted grids. I had been looking in the previous module at the work of Per Kirkeby, and his strata paintings of landscape.   Paul Klee, whose small paintings of quadrilateral grids are wonderful studies of colour taught that, “to paint well is simply this: to  put the right colour in the right place.”[7] As Kudielka points out Klee uses devices such as darkening the edges of his images and places bright colours and smaller rectangles centrally to good effect. But then I felt that my work was not essentially about  either strata or colour per se although I had much to learn about the latter.

I turned then to the work of  Vieira da Silva[8] whose work I have long admired and whose abstract urban landscapes were much in my mind.  The problem with that was that my painting then spoke too much of urban landscape!  A second painting inspired by her ‘Big Building Site’ and derived from one of my own photographs of the scaffolding around the Sagradia Familia in Barcelona was also unsatisfactory.  These early attempts were demanding from me the need to assert the individual and personal in the grid and I turned to the photographs I had taken of my silver foil grids.    I have always felt closest to the work of the Abstract Expressionists -  like Nicolas De Stael, Hans Hofmann and Willem De Kooning for example but the challenge is not to imitate, but to identify such aspects as process and device which can inform and extend the development of one’s own visual language.  Applying Hofmann’s  “push – pull” theory of perspective[9] led to some progress and my understanding of it was extended by realising that the tension of push-pull could be derived not only from layers of colour which gave a perspective but through binary oppositions ( two opposites) within the painting. Hofmann uses flatness and depth.   (Similarly, prize winning artists in this years Open Exhibition used binary oppositions to good effect). The binary oppositions I employed were structure (organisation) and spontaneity.  To combine the structure of the grid with ‘unthinking spontaneity’ is to create a dynamic which energises the painting and then to make the grid emerge from within the paint edges is to assert the grid from within the paint.   At least such was my hope. At this time I was intrigued to read  Richard Wollheim’s critique of  De Kooning’s abstract paintings.  Regarding him as the greatest of the abstract expressionists Wollheim wrote of  how de Kooning, “sets up a drama between the edge and the mark.”[10] I found this to be a useful way to think about creating a painting and turning also to the work of Mali Morris for example I began to see that the grid is always inherent through edge and surface.  It is these which give unity to the apparent chaos in Cecily Brown’s paintings for example.  It is not necessary therefore always to make the grid overt.  It is always there – always implicit but it can be reasserted through responding mark making which I suggest is what some of  de Kooning’s work showed.

I came to the MA wanting to progress my work and thinking I would focus on drawing and print.  Instead through force of circumstance I have returned to painting.  If I asked Paul Klee for advice on how to paint well – he would speak of colour selection and placement.  But it is also interesting to read that in a letter he wrote to Lily, his wife, analysing his process of making visual art[11] he declares that visual art “never begins with a poetic mood or idea but with building one or several figures, with harmonizing a few colours and tones or with calculating spatial relationships etc.”

I recognize in this my own process of making. If I ask Hofmann the same question he would say “plasticity” and he would speak of push and pull.  Cynthia Goodman[12] explains: ”A work of art is plastic when its pictorial message is integrated with the picture plane and when nature is embodied in the medium of expression.”  For me, this seems at least in part to be saying that the work must be true to the subject and true to the medium of its expression.

My MA journey has been,”a ticket to ride.” The grid has been a portal which  has led me to the heart of painting where, during the journey, I have clarified some fundamentals of abstract painting and re -confirmed, where I belong.                                                           © Frances Desforges

[1] Lewis-Williams, D.  The Mind in the Cave, Consciousness and the Origins of Art. p.259.  Thames & Hudson,

[2] Higgins, H. The Grid Book MIT 2009

[3] Krauss, R. The Avant Guard and Other Modernist Myths, p. 9 MIT 1993 (1985)

[4] Williamson, J.  The History, Use and Meaning of the Grid. P.30 Design Issues, Vol 3, No 2 (Autumn,1986) pp15-30  MIT  [online]

[5] Therese Oulton Recent Paintings 7 Feb-9 Mar. 1990 Marlborough Fine Art catalogue

[6] Valjakka, T.  Painting Has a Body pp.13-18 Catalogue Essay in

Paintings 1990-96 Ian McKeever Angel Row Gallery, Nottingham

[7] Kudielka, R.  The Nature of Creation in Paul Klee p.32  Hayward Gallery 2002

[8]Rosenthal, G.  Viera da Silva p.72 “Memory” Taschen 1998

[9] Goodman. C.  Hans Hofmann p.30 Whitney Museum of American Art 1990

[10] Wollheim, R.  Painting as an Art pp. 348-350. Thames & Hudson 1987

[11] Kudielka, R.  Colour and I Are One p.32 in Paul Klee The Nature of Creation Hayward Gallery 2002

[12] Goodman, C.  Hans Hofmann p.30 Whitney Museum of American Art Prestel 1990






Ashton, D.  Cecily Brown  Gagosian Gallery


Borchardt-Hume, A. Per Kirkeby  Tate Modern 2009

Elkins, J.  What Painting Is Routledge 2000

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Gilmour, P.  Ian McKeever Colour Etching Alan Cristea Gallery 1997

Gooding, M. Abstract Art  Tate 2001

Goodman, C.  Hans Hofmann Whitney Museum of American Art Prestel 1990

Gohr, S. On Per Kirkeby  Hatje Cantz 2008

Havertz,Y. & Konze, M. (Ed.)  Vieira da Silva Taschen

Higgins, H.  The Grid Book MIT 2009

Hornung D. Colour – A Workshop for Artists and Designers Laurence King

Krauss, R.  The Avant Garde and Other Modernist Myths MIT 1993 (1985)

Kudielka. R. Colour and I Are One in Paul Klee the Nature of Creation

Hayward Gallery 2002

Lewis – Williams, D.  The Mind in the Cave, Consciousness and the Origins of Art Thames and Hudson  2002

Livingstone, M. & Alfrey, N.  Maurice Cockrill Merrell 2002

Lloyd, J. Ian McKeever Alan Cristea Gallery 1998

McKeever, I. In  Praise of Painting. University of Brighton also [ Ianmckeever.compdf]

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Williamson, J.  The History, Use and Meaning of the Grid Design Issues Vol 3, No 2 (Autumn 1986) MIT [online]

Wollheim, R. Painting as an Art  Thames and Hudson 1987

Zeki, S.  Inner Vision An Exploration of Art and the Brain OUP 1999

Artists Works on Line

Paul-Emile Borduas, and the Rise of Abstract Art  Accessed on 7.10.10  available at

Paul-Emile Borduas  at Mira Godard Gallery Accessed on 7.10.10. available at


Mark Bradford Artwork Accessed on 3.10.10 at

Brady, V. Inside Abstract Art Lecture [on line] Accessed on 7.11.10 available at

Accessed on 7.10.10.

Joaquim  Chancho Accessed on 21.12.09.

Joaquim Chancho: Painting and Works on Paper available at

<art>Accessed on 20.1.10

Cornall, J As Long as it Takes and Mali Morris Review Accessed on 3.12.10 at


Cath Ferguson  Accessed on 22.11.10 at


Marcelle Ferron available at htttp://  Accessed on 7.10.10.

Louise Fishman accessed on 7.10.10 at

Mark Francis accessed on 10.10..10 at Francis

Alistair Frost Accessed on 22.11.10 at

Bernard Frize Accessed on 22.11.10 at

Hans Hofmann Accessed on 20.02.10. at

Per Kirkeby Accessed on 20.11.10 at

Klein, M. Nicolas de Stael: paintings 1950-1955 Accessed on 03.04.10 at

Joan Mitchell Accessed on 7.10.10. at

Mali Morris accessed on 30.9.10

Mali Morris Biography Accessed on 30.09.10 at

Mali Morris Current Research Accessed on 30.09.10

Mali Morris  Essays accessed on 3.12.10 at


Mali Morris Paintings 1977-1989 Accessed on  3.12.10 at

Mali Morris Paintings 2009-2010 Accessed on 3.12.10 at


Mali Morris Press Comments Accessed on 22/10/10 at

Mali Morris UnderCover Painter accessed on 3.12.10 at


Jean-Paul Riopelle Images Accesssed on 07.10.10 at http;//


Nicolas de Stael Accessed on 03/04/10 at















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