Robin Neate

Recent exhibitions
A Winter Exhibition - Group Show

Robin Neate / The Other Yesterday: Hamish McKay Gallery, 11 May – 2 June, 2012

A conversation between Robin Neate and Hamish McKay

Hamish McKay: Your recent paintings are a shift from the Picassoesque work you were making not so long ago.

Robin Neate: Yes, they are. I think those works were my attempt at a retour à l'ordre. At that time I very much wanted to make work that was out of time. To somehow isolate myself from the mainstream and from what I had previously been doing. Something pre-modern, in that I was essentially borrowing from Picasso’s Blue and Pink Periods. They also allowed me to re-investigate the basics of painting. My new paintings have a more intuitive basis. I have a sense of what I want but I’m never sure where they are going to end up.

H.M: Your new paintings remind me of a lot of other paintings but I can’t quite place them.

R.N: Yes, I think that’s right. They are reminiscent of a lot of paintings but somehow they aren’t like any in particular. Mind you, I think that’s the legacy of painting now. Its history is so dense and subtle. Paintings always remind us of other paintings; it’s how we negotiate our experience of them.

H.M: How did you start these paintings?

R.N: At first I was just trying things out, pushing the paint around to see what formed or where it took me. That’s why the paintings are all quite small; I was just trying out some possibilities. A lot of the paintings are paintings over paintings. It was only after I had completed a few that I saw how they were beginning to relate to each other and how I could extend them toward a small series of small paintings.

H.M: Apart from reminding me of other paintings there are direct references to other painters in some of the titles. Were you seeking similarity to these other artists?

R.N:No, not directly. Previously I had been looking at the late work of Edvard Munch as well as work by Asger Jorn and even the drawings of Victor Hugo and Antonin Artaud. When I began painting I had no idea what I was doing or what was going to happen. For instance, I began an early work after I saw some early evening orange-red clouds like brushstrokes across a grey wintery sky. I thought maybe that could be a starting point. Perhaps it subconsciously suggested the sky in Munch’s The Scream. I worked on the painting a while and it wasn’t going anywhere so I put it aside. A few days later working back into it again it still wasn’t happening so I just kind of threw these random yellow brushstrokes across it and suddenly it began to work. I thought the yellow brushstrokes remind me of a van Gogh so I called it Arles Revisited. Again, with the Breakfast at Redon’s paintings it was only after I had finished them that they reminded me of Odilon Redon’s paintings. Once I began seeing things like that it gave me a way to make the others. Then I began making lots of little watercolour and gouache sketches so I had stronger starting points for the paintings.

H.M: What about the Monkey in a Cage paintings?

R.N: A few years back in Trapani, Sicily, I wandered into this little tiny park near the centre of town. When I say park it was more concrete than grass but there were a couple of dried-out raggedy palms. It was really run down, dilapidated and deserted. In the middle was a small dark wooden box with a monkey inside it. It was alive so somebody must have fed it. It was one of the most depressingly inhumane things I’ve seen. Its always stuck in my mind. I initially tried to contrast Mediterranean colours and the feeling of heat with dark shadowy forms but it didn’t work out that way and the paintings become something else. Something better. Someone who saw the paintings took them very literally and said, “I think I can see a monkey in there somewhere but I’m not sure.” I said, “Maybe the monkey painted them.”

H.M: So some of the paintings have an autobiographical basis?

R.N: Well, they say at some point all art is autobiographical and that even fiction remains at least emotionally autobiographical. I think my paintings are at least fictions and that memory and association in some way drives most of what I make. St. Anne’s Lagoon is a real place and so is The Three Sisters but often titles are just suggestions while others may be deliberately deceptive.

H.M: What about the two larger Van Gogh’s Girl paintings? They seem very intentionally titled.

R.N: I have always liked the series of paintings Francis Bacon made in the 1950s based on Van Gogh’s The Road to Tarascon. I was reading Van Gogh’s letters and in one he describes to his brother a painting he is going to paint of a young girl and he outlines the colour palette. I don’t know what painting it eventually turned out to be but I thought perhaps I could follow the colours Van Gogh listed and make my own painting. Of course all the colours and their combinations and their complementaries shifted as the painting formed but it was an interesting way to start a painting.

H.M: The titles and the look of some of the paintings seem to reference nature.

R.N: Yes, I see them as sort of nature paintings in a poetic sense like the Romantic poets or those images you get reading Ezra Pound or Walt Whitman. Still, I’m never sure about titling paintings. I guess titles can be evocative; a way into a painting for an outsider. A cue. I often wish I could get away without titling them. Still, for practical reasons you need some way of identifying them. I could just date or number them but, in a way, even that becomes a title.