Deconstructing Canvas

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

Research - Deconstructing canvas - Post 1 by Ally McGinn

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

A material found commonly in painting studios, and a few others. Traditionally associated with painting this material is more than its function. A post concerning the conceptual meaning and ideology of canvas is planned for in the coming weeks, for now....

.....a physical deconstruction of canvas.

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

These stages of exploration were undertaken in the paint workshop.

Beginning with a pair of scissors, i had to cut across the weave of the fabric, in small sections, to best ensure the chances of the material separating. 

The resulting pile was run through a blender, a tiny section at a time worked best in this case. 
The blender had to be manipulated and turned on sporadically to allow the material to spread and not gather at the bottom. 

The resulting deconstruction is surprisingly fluffy. I could not remove all threads, so initial tests were done with these still inside. I am currently searching for more effective methods of reducing the fabric. 

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

Some of the deconstructed canvas was placed into the milling machine overnight to see whether the ceramic crushing would help reduce the material further. It was predicted that it would begin to felt the material back together. The above image shows the result. On the far right is the 'lump' that came out of the milling machine in the morning. 

Upon consideration there is a chance that adding less into the milling machine might yield different results. which is something to come back to later as it is unlikely. 

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

The next stage was one of my primary interests, attempting to turn canvas into something that can be either painted or sculpted with. 
Initially it was mixed with Alkyd Resin and a small amount of turps, in a pestle and mortar. 

When mixing paint in this way we are looking for the dry element to absorb all the moisture of the medium and then become suspended within it. In this case we achieved a small degree of success but not particularly encouraging that we would make a successful paint. 

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

We tried a small section of that mixture with a beeswax/damar resin mix (50:50). 
Using a mulling plate (with a small amount of blue pigment residue on the surface, which is where the colour has come from. Something i personally love) i mixed the paint with a palette knife and time. 
The mix of beeswax/damar to alkyd/canvas did not appear to make a difference at this point, it might when drying. I would predict that it will take longer for the 70/30 mix to dry, given the slow drying qualities of beeswax. 

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

The final mix in this first round of testing was the fibre mixed with stand oil (which is given its name due to the process of leaving it to stand in large trays during production) and a small amount of siccative (for its drying qualities).

This mix is the most promising, in terms of sculpting. I made two batches, one formed into a ball and the other into a cube shaped 'mould' made from greaseproof paper. 

Drying time.....

Im going to be testing a few other ways to reduce the canvas fibres. Putting them in the milling machine was promising, a small amount of dust was produced - which is what we would ideally be looking for. 
The difficulty of this process is its authenticity. Once we get to a certain point with mediums then the material created may be a vehicle that contains canvas, as opposed to the preferred, canvas made into something else. 

I will be continuing my experiments making paint from unwanted 'things'. Begun last year with paint made from studio dust.  Initially i plan to collect dust from the three studio bays at Dartmouth Avenue to examine the differences in colour once processed into paint. 

Bibliography

Nothing this time, other than the research goldmine that is the paint workshop at Bath Spa and its technician, Tim Davies.