The artists I admire across Painting’s long history are those who invite viewers to enter a space of sustained visual engagement and curiosity, one where everything outside the painting falls away, and what’s left is absorption into the act of looking. My first crush as a serious student of painting was Abstract Expressionism, and being a painter is for me still about that kind of in-the-moment engagement with a developing image, where the possibility of radical re-envisioning is welcome, and ever at hand. I love what’s involved in painting representationally – the close observation and calm concentration required to translate looking, through paint, into a record of having seen. But I also like to vex the picture plane. I concoct spatial problems that I don’t know how to solve, and figure out ways to solve them. These dovetailings are what my paintings are about.
I’m also currently making photographic works focusing on painters and painting, which are purposefully non-technical in terms of their photographic qualities. Projecting digital images of portrait paintings, I’m bringing artists from other centuries into my studio, spending time with them, and taking their pictures. The shadows my body makes while taking the shots in front of the projector fall across the portraits, obscuring details that might site these sitters in their own centuries. What I now see are faces, people untethered from the past and brought to life as though relatable and – reversing the usual temporal set-up – I’m the shadow occupying their space.
For my first subject I chose the little-remembered 17th century Dutch still life painter Maria van Oosterwijck, who in 1671 sat for a beautifully painted portrait by her friend Wallerant Vaillant. How many times, I wonder, have I stood in a museum in front of such a painting while fellow museum-goers streamed by on their way to must-view canonical works, asking myself: What would it take to make people want to stop and look at this painting?
In the dark of my studio Maria stops reading as an emblem of 17th-century female propriety and becomes instead a woman, a woman painter, a person worth wondering about. I know what she does and how she spends her days, because that’s my life too. The materials and practices, the smears and smells; what it feels like to make the first stroke, and the last… we share these things. Everything has changed since she made the painting that first made me notice her, and hardly anything at all.