The curatorial and editorial project for systems, non-objective and reductive artists working in the UK

Website: Chestnuts Design

Patrick Morrissey interviewed Jane Bustin

September 2014

PM    I was at your recent show with Lina Lapelyte at Austin Forum in London, and at the time I asked you several questions about the significant influencing factors that motivate your work. I would like to re-visit that conversation in order to relay your thoughts on the materiality of your paintings. You referred to an interest in the Italian Renaissance paintings by Masaccio and, I think, some examples of 17th Century Japanese ceramics, and our conversation then touched on your concerns around colour, facture, patina, and other physical phenomena. Would you agree that this materiality has a primary function in the intention behind your work? Do you see this approach changing in any way?

JB Yes, I think I am primarily interested in the material quality of the surface and how this has the ability to evoke and transcend beyond its actual physical properties. I do not necessarily see this approach changing, as my interest and access to materials is endless; however, I am interested in developing a more interactive relationship with the work, addressing the encounter with the audience, perhaps through sound or movement.

Tablet 4 (diptych) Acrylic, oil, paper and latex, 28cm x 43cm, 2014

Christina (triptych), Nylon, chiffon and oil on wood, 28cm x63cm, 2014

Christina the Astonishing VI, Acrylic on gesso on wood with copper, 40cm x 35cm  2014

JB    This is always the most difficult question - the 'spiritual' aspect to making abstract art.  ‘Spiritual’, ‘sublime’, ‘ethereal’ are all terms associated with art that cannot be neatly packaged into a succinct movement, and which therefore can easily be dismissed as insignificant. I make work that uses paint, material and colour to make constructions that create a unique sense of balance, grace and contemplation for the world that we live in. I want to address the emotional content that can be found within the language of abstraction.

PM Thank you, Jane Bustin

PM Broadly speaking, artists working within the context of formal abstraction are usually aware of the ‘baggage’ of art history, and may strive to de-clutter, and create their own language, however impossible that might seem. I’m not saying that there is a standard art-school / chronological template of an artist’s development from figuration to abstraction; individuals arrive at abstraction by many means.

But apart from any religious or spiritual / art-historical contexts, and your earlier personal references, are you aware of any spiritual or transcendental experience in the creation of your work - something that is difficult to express in written language, but nevertheless a sense of creating or participating in the production of an object that functions almost in a mandala-like way, something that induces a state of meditation, reflection, and focus. Is that the over-riding final experience that you hope to achieve for yourself and for the viewer, to go beyond the constraints of the accepted language of formal abstraction?

PM Do you think that text should play a role in presentation, either in the form of a written essay, for example, to physically accompany the paintings, or even in the titles of each piece? Or is it enough that the work relies on being accessed purely in terms of visual language, its context within formal abstraction and its signifiers?

JB As I said before, I am happy if some viewers want to respond just to the physical visual properties of the paintings as this is their primary function. The titles and accompanying texts are there as documentation for further interest or research and will offer a 'branch' to viewers who require an understanding of the paintings through other means.

PM You have made reference to music, science and theology as being fundamental intellectual components in the development of a piece of work or a series. How do you think you succeed, or interpret this? Do you think the viewer might instantly recognise these references, or is that secondary to the final outcome? Are the influences simply triggers that initiate a thought process around the ‘making’ of the final object?

JB Exactly. I feel the references are important to me, as this is how I trace the origins of my work. I do not feel it is imperative for the viewer to know these origins, but I like to offer links to the references, either by the titles or catalogue documentation. This enables the viewer to be a part of the working practice and gain greater insight into the final outcome of the paintings.

PM You have used the term ‘Haptic’ in regard to your approach to work. In terms of scale, proportion etc., there are many historic conventions and didactic systems of rules which have developed to enable artists, architects and designers to achieve ‘correct’ proportions. We are familiar with systems that explain concepts such as the Golden Section, but in your own case, how do you define this perfection? Does it have a reference, or is it a case of what looks ‘right’ in a composition, irrespective of convention?

JB I was taught in part by the constructivist painter and theorist Jeffrey Steele, and found these theories hugely influential. However, I did not feel this particular 'system' approach to making paintings suited my way of working. I do work with a certain amount of structure, based on proportions which come either from the materials themselves or are linked to the subject matter, but I do not like to be restricted by these 'rules', and will respond intuitively to the appearance of the work. Interestingly, I usually find there is a mathematical balance that coincides with the final aesthetic; I loosely refer to this as a 'significant geometry'.

PM I note from closer examination of your paintings that the support, whether it be pre-prepared wooden panels, canvas or combinations of materials, seems to be revealed within, or integrated into, the final statement, rather than subsumed or hidden in a conventional way. You achieve this by adding pigment or material to the sides of the made object or painting, thereby tilting the viewer’s experience of the piece as a ‘painting’ towards something more akin to a triptych or diptych. The work operates in contravention to the supposed signifiers of a ‘painting’ and focuses more on the piece as something to be observed in the round. This is an intriguing aspect of the work for me, and suggests that it is perhaps referencing an installation/architectural context, as in, for example, the paintings of the stations of the cross in the Roman Catholic church, where each ‘station’ is usually incorporated physically into the architectural scheme. Did that factor in your planning of the Austin Friars show, or does that architectural context feature in the planning of your work generally? Can you elaborate on your reasons for developing the work in this way?

JB The paintings have developed in this way in order to insist on the paintings only being experienced, and seen, completely, by the viewer who is physically present. I feel that painting's power and future lies in its inherent physicality and is only complete in a 'face to face' encounter . Architecture is paramount, in that I assume it is obvious that most recent paintings rely on white walls and a natural light source as the optimum conditions in which to view them. I consider the work has failed to communicate this when I find the work has not been hung in these conditions.

PM Expanding on the last question, can you describe the broader source material and intellectual influences that you draw upon in your work, and what specifically interests you about these subjects or influences?

JB Influences come visually from 14th Century frescos, 15th Century Northern European painting, iconography, modernist architecture and design, fabrics, books, hardware stores, Japanese ceramics, neon signs, cosmetics, sweet wrappers…. and intellectually from Modernist literature and poetry, music, theology. I am particularly fascinated by the Modernist philosophy: instead of painting what I see, I paint what it feels like to see.

Tablet 3, Acrylic and gesso on paper and wood, 20 x 25cm, 2014

Tablet 2 Acrylic and paper on wood,  20cm x 15cm, 2014

Christina the Astonishing, Oil and acrylic on gesso with copper
35cm x 40cm, 2013

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.