Research - Deconstructing Canvas - Part 2 / by Ally McGinn

In an earlier post, I began to deconstruct canvas in the paint workshop. The resulting creations (mixed with various mediums) are still drying a month later. The results of this experimentation are going to continue, and the deconstruction itself has proved to be more useful, so far, than any resulting materials or objects.

 Ally McGinn (2017) Workshop documentation. 24.10.17.  The experiments begun in October are drying, slowly. This result, combined with the cost of the mediums and the practicality of deconstructing canvas in this way lead towards a rethink about the potential for this process as large-scale sculpture. 

Ally McGinn (2017) Workshop documentation. 24.10.17.

The experiments begun in October are drying, slowly. This result, combined with the cost of the mediums and the practicality of deconstructing canvas in this way lead towards a rethink about the potential for this process as large-scale sculpture. 

Canvas is a traditional material in painting, although that is not where it originated (I'll come to that later, and has been a part of art culture for centuries.)

A functional material used in the creation of paintings, canvas has traditionally been an unseen support of painting. Clement Greenberg's theories of the pure truth of the flat surface of painting codify canvas in Modernist thought. (Greenberg, 2008) Any deviation from its function renders it a failure, within this perspective. A perspective that post-modernism and contemporary developments have rendered mostly moot. Painting is more than the flat surface it often retains, a stance explored by artists like Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Ryman, Fernanda Gomez and many, many others. We are seeing more often the canvas itself as the focus of the work, or at least it is no longer the hidden structure but a canonically validated artistic material in its own right.

In art, the word ‘canvas’ has two meanings. It can be described as both the fabric used over a stretcher, or the painting surface combined (including the stretcher, fabric and often primer). Canvas is a tool to be used by the artist, and increasingly an ideal to be subverted.

Tracing the roots of canvas through history leads to shipbuilding. Canvas was used in shipbuilding before it was used by artists. The most common canvas is ‘cotton duck’ which can be anecdotally back to its use as a sailcloth. (Please note, this information comes from a conversation with the, extremely knowledgeable, paint technician at Bath Spa, Tim Davies. This information cannot currently be referenced, but I trust the anecdote and am working on a reference for this information.)

I have been working with canvas, as a material and subject, in the studio. Working with it in this way it becomes something more than a hidden foundation of work. Using canvas in alternative ways diverts its purpose.

 Ally McGinn (2017)  Cubes - form 4.  Canvas, with various marks, on wooden cubes. Size varies  Wrapping canvas around anything that is not a stretcher (tube or cube) challenges modernist theories of flatness, which in this case is in counterpoint to the chance surface that invokes abstract expressionism.

Ally McGinn (2017) Cubes - form 4. Canvas, with various marks, on wooden cubes. Size varies

Wrapping canvas around anything that is not a stretcher (tube or cube) challenges modernist theories of flatness, which in this case is in counterpoint to the chance surface that invokes abstract expressionism.

 Ally McGinn (2017)  Fringe collection . Canvas with pigment. Size varies  Physically deconstructing the canvas transforms it into a state that both references and rejects its creation.  Kept from returning to its useful state, and stopped from it's intended use as a painting surface, the canvas questions what, and why, it is.

Ally McGinn (2017) Fringe collection. Canvas with pigment. Size varies

Physically deconstructing the canvas transforms it into a state that both references and rejects its creation.  Kept from returning to its useful state, and stopped from it's intended use as a painting surface, the canvas questions what, and why, it is.

 Ally McGinn (2017)  Pile  [Ongoing performance]. ‘Found’ canvas. Size varies daily  While piling or shaping the canvas challenges both our reading of ‘painting’ and notions of value in painting.    By exposing the canvas to a non-permanent form we question its value as an object. Performance without the artist.

Ally McGinn (2017) Pile [Ongoing performance]. ‘Found’ canvas. Size varies daily

While piling or shaping the canvas challenges both our reading of ‘painting’ and notions of value in painting.  

By exposing the canvas to a non-permanent form we question its value as an object. Performance without the artist.

 Ally McGinn (2017)  Studio.  Installation test view. Canvas with collected marks, stretchers, masking tape, acrylic paint and chair, size varies  Forcing the viewer to walk on the canvas, by placing it on the floor in a way that doesn’t allow any alternative, questions the value of the work, the moment of finishing and the way the viewer sees and interacts with the work.  Each use, or misuse, of canvas invokes a different conversation about the same subject.

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio. Installation test view. Canvas with collected marks, stretchers, masking tape, acrylic paint and chair, size varies

Forcing the viewer to walk on the canvas, by placing it on the floor in a way that doesn’t allow any alternative, questions the value of the work, the moment of finishing and the way the viewer sees and interacts with the work.

Each use, or misuse, of canvas invokes a different conversation about the same subject.

I hope this post shows the ways that subversion can be applied to an element of artistic practice to form new conversations and perspectives on the things we assume or otherwise take for granted in art.

Bibliography

Marriner, R. (2015) Making and the Contemporary. Bath Spa University. October-December 2015.

Greenberg, C. (2008) ‘Modernist Painting’. In: Harrison, C and Wood, P. eds. Art in Theory:1900-2000 An Anthology of Changing Ideas. 9. Blackwell: 773-779