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.
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.
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.
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