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Between Somewhere and Nowhere

According to the legendary painting contest between Parrhasius and Zeuxis, we might assume the ultimate objective of representational painting is to deceive. Or better put, to assert sufficient mastery over the medium of paint, in order to conceal its own material reality behind an illusionistic curtain of representation. So convincing that veneer of realism can be, as to delight us with its unsettling powers of deception. Of course, it was Parrhasius’s remarkably lifelike painting of a curtain itself, that won him the fabled contest. For, while Zeuxis succeeded in fooling a bird to peck the grapes he painted, he was himself fooled in turn by Parrhasius’s painting. As he attempted to pull back the curtain covering it, he realised his fingers only scraped hopelessly across the surface of the painting. It is easy to imagine the disorientation Zeuxis must have felt in that instant of sensorial confusion. An aesthetic experience we might file somewhere under ‘The Uncanny’. But a different kind of uncanny experience can be induced when the painting deliberately pulls back that curtain, distresses the veneer, by plainly and honestly spilling its material innards, all whilst maintaining an illusory dimension. The image may appear to emerge, only to collapse again, like hallucinations, back into the murky fog of material sludge from whence it came. It is within this realm of visual experience we find ourselves cut adrift in Patrick’s paintings. 

Suggestions of structural form provide an important architecture in Patrick’s work, both visually and metaphorically. They become reference points for our entry into, and partial orientation of her paintings, protruding from distended frontiers of abstraction. But their indeterminacy leaves them shrouded in mystery. They may seem domestic or industrial, functional or abandoned, large or small, familiar or unfamiliar. At times they may seem a confusing mixture of these things. Their ambiguity is a reflection of the working conditions Patrick creates for herself. Meticulously sourced from sprawling internet searches, imagery is selected for its ability to rouse within her faint embers of memory. For her, they should feel like tantalising fragments of maps to unfindable places, futile attempts to know the unknowable. But they may not always be real memories. It’s no surprise that after a career of over twenty years, the boundaries between real and constructed memories become blurred – something Patrick is acutely aware of: “In a media-saturated world it can be easy to encounter uncanny memory triggers that you can’t fully locate and end up wondering if it’s even real.” It’s important the paintings derive from images she experiences in this disembodied way, rather than real places she’s physically been. The distance she’s able to maintain from the image allows her to, as she describes “enter the space in an imaginative and explorative way, as if for the first time.” That imaginative exploration is an intrinsic part of the making, in which she gives painterly shape, as well as temporal dimension to the found image. The alienation attached to that experience enables her to hold back in her description of it, to understand how to say just enough but not too much, maintaining the delicate balance between fluidity and solidity. But it also means she is always a stranger to the work she makes. Patrick links the significance of this process to her emigration from New Zealand to Britain as a young child, never again to return to the places she no longer fully remembers. The continuing sense of loss, dislocation and disorientation, finds expression here in her method, and is necessary for her in processing that form of trauma. 

The architectural vignettes provide vague suggestions of context through which the more heavily abstracted flourishes are woven. It is within these abstractions that tensions located in the fissures between the painting’s surface and depth are so delicately balanced that we find ourselves restlessly oscillating between the image and its material scaffold. And it is the medium Patrick increasingly turns to in exploring these tensions. Rather than seeking mastery over her medium, she sees her process as a collaboration with the materials; less a battle to bring strict representational regime, than a consensual dialogue, in which the will of the paint is given agency. There is magic embedded in the unpredictability of that process. Paint will do what the paint does. And if the medium itself has some degree of creative agency, this serves to further problematise Patrick’s authorial stake in the work. These small authorial abdications all contribute to the destabilising place Patrick is compelled to inhabit when she works. 

If we are to understand the word medium as ‘a state between two points’, then the medium of paint in these works is precisely that; in a persistent state of flickering between-ness. These are pictures that exist at the very brink between somewhere and nowhere. Between someone and no one.

By Daniel Rapley | 03 Dec 2023  | www.danielrapley.co.uk

Collaborating with the Paint

I hadn’t seen one of Fleur Patrick’s paintings in person before I visited her studio this summer. When I did, I found them to be best viewed up close. When you move away from a work, she explained to me “it becomes just an image.” Up close, you become aware of its overwhelming materiality. Of course, there is a pictorial element to what she does – each painting can be said to be of something, normally a faintly rendered, abandoned interior space – but, looking at them more closely, I became interested in those elements of the artwork that do not serve a representational function, where the artist is, in her own words “collaborating with the paint”.

Fleur Patrick: Collaborating with the Paint
Detail from A version of a thought (2023, oil and graphite on panel, 25 x 25cm)

At the centre of Patrick’s practice is a negotiation between image and materials. In each painting, she negotiates between representing her subject and embracing the unpredictability of her medium. Where many painters simply use paint as a tool to portray their subjects, Patrick also allows it to obscure them. “The paintings become a record of a battle,” she tells me: a battle between portrayal and distortion. She exercises limited power over the latter, meaning that she can never be quite sure how a painting will turn out until it is finished; “I relinquish control and allow the paint to behave according to its own material tendencies.”

Fleur Patrick: Collaborating with the Paint

Again, and yet again, we looked backfor example, contains in its top right corner a relatively uniform and hard-edged grid, reflecting the shape of a large atrium. My eye starts here and is drawn clockwise around the image as this form falters and, eventually, lapses completely. The bottom portion of the painting is a mutiny of pink, blue, lilac and orange. The layers of oil paint, though thin, overpower any intentional structure that might lay beneath them. 

Fleur Patrick: Collaborating with the Paint
Again, and yet again, we looked back (2023, oil and graphite on panel, 80 x 99cm)

The objects, photographs and artworks on Patrick’s studio walls reflect this battle between calculated figuration and unfettered abstraction. There are photographs of structures like those in her paintings, and rulers and rolls of tape that help her to render them faithfully. There are also small studies on paper that bear no reference to her figurative subjects, instead containing constellations of purely abstract form and colour. These works, which she calls the Remains of the Day series, are the products of experiments that she conducts with the paint left on her palette at the end of each day. These experiments – mixing, pouring, dabbing and scraping paint, pushing it in a certain direction or letting it run free – inform the paintings on panels hanging on the opposite wall of her studio. “You always need to play,” she assures me, “it’s vitally important.”

Fleur Patrick: Collaborating with the Paint

She starts each painting on panel by tracing an outline using a pencil and ruler. In order for this bottom layer to function as an image, rather than a more comprehensive representation, it is important that she is not too familiar with the space that she is drawing; otherwise, she says, the artwork will become “overly descriptive.”

Fleur Patrick: Collaborating with the Paint

She then uses Liquin, a medium that increases the transparency of oil paint and allows it to flow more easily across a substrate, to create translucent layers of colour over the top of the drawn structure. She applies and removes paint with a brush, cloth or pipette. She sometimes works on the wall, where it drips down the panel, and sometimes on the table, where it pools in dark spots. The liquin-diluted paint dries quickly, meaning that there is limited time to contend with each layer before it becomes entrenched. Patrick seems comfortable with the fact that “part of the process is understanding that some of them won’t work.” This is, after all, a collaboration, and she can’t expect to get her way every time.

Fleur Patrick: Collaborating with the Paint

Some of the paintings’ underlying structures are rendered almost invisible by the layers of paint on top. In others, they are easy to see through the haze. Always, they have a nebulous, hazy quality, like half-forgotten memories. They are as much about the process of making them as they are about their subjects; they are about ambiguity and uncertainty. Patrick’s methods don’t lead to a controlled and easily-legible outcome, and that’s the point. “The minute you get comfortable,” she tells me, “I don’t think you’re fully engaging.”

By Phin Jennings | 30 Aug 2023 | Rise Art