Robert Sherratt completed a MA in painting at Chelsea School of Art in 1998 and his BA (Hons) in painting at Norwich School of Art and Design in 1996.
He currently lives and works in Norwich.
A discussion between Robert Sherratt and Lawrence Leaman.
Lawrence Leaman. Your paintings are the result of a controlled process ˆ you spill some paint ˆ each spill is recorded and archived ˆ individual marks are picked out of your library for use in a painting ˆ those marks are copied precisely on to the canvas. How did you come to work in this way?
Robert Sherrat. I think because I wanted to make paintings which did everything. I wanted them to be crafted in a precise and restrained way but I also wanted the opposite of that, a certain material turbulence and dynamic immediacy.
LL.When did you first start recording instances of spills, splashes, drips, etc?
RS. 1995! I was interested in the marks as physical phenomena, existing outside of art as indexes of forces like gravity, speed and different degrees of liquidity. I started painting copies of these marks as a way of challenging their causal history and concealing craft beneath the look of random material behaviour.
LL. Do you feel you‚re able to express yourself through your paintings?
RS. I'm not really sure that I'm trying to express myself in the vehicle paintings so much as communicating ideas about expression and visual language. I feel I'm able to express myself to myself through some of my paintings. There's a definite emotional freight in some of the room paintings I‚ve made, but whether I express that to the viewer is another matter.
LL. The field of Painting, within Visual Art has had its up and downs recently ˆ it went out of fashion and is perhaps seeing a revival. In the face of new media art do you think painting still has a place or a future within Visual Art?
RS. I think painting is perhaps one art form that gets strategically ignored every so often by curators and critics at a certain level. But the thing about any art form that gets sidelined is that it regains a kind of political currency through being considered Œmarginal‚ and returns to the centre. I don‚t think there‚s a Œrevival‚; painting like other art forms carries on regardless, the focus of critics and curators shifts around. The strength of painting as a medium is that it isn‚t used for anything other than art; it has its own context.
LL. Your practice involves modern technology ˆ the digital recording and archiving ˆ is this a conscious attempt to modernise painting in your own practice?
RS. No. I use some basic software sometimes to stretch a mark or put it in perspective and yes, the archive is now digital, but technology is simply a tool to get the image I want. It‚s just an augmentation of the process I was already using.
LL. Your painting questions some of those romantic images of painting that many of us still entertain (e.g. Pollock splashes paint around) ˆ Do you feel we need to move forward our understanding of what constitutes painterly expression?
RS. Things have moved on a little since these debates were first had. Slow, controlled, self-effacing brushwork has always had an association with craft and the artisan and so in recent art history it has been looked down upon. I sometimes wonder if there is a reflection of the British class system at work in the denigration of what might be called craft; a residue of the notion that upper and middle class people work with their minds and working class people work with their hands. It‚s perversely interesting to apply this to Pollock, who of course wasn‚t British, but in his case the viewer is asked to valorise direct expression apparently from the mind to the canvas without his hands even touching the surface. It‚s posited as pure expressive intelligence with no dirty work involved.
LL. Could you make abstract paintings by the same process? Or is the figurative crucial to your paintings?
RS. I think if I were making abstract paintings now using the same means, they would foreground the process too much and would come perilously close to being conceptual one-liners. Figuration gives the marks something to do; the image acts as a framework to contain or release the energy of the marks. I‚m also very interested in motifs which are ubiquitous or overly familiar being put through a material process which disrupts that familiarity.
LL. Do you have a favourite mark? If so, do you have a name for it?
RS. Yes, there‚s a mark I‚ve had for about eight years; so long in fact that it‚s had several different names. Its now called ‚Hooky‚. It‚s shaped a bit like a shepherd‚s crook and appears in most of the vehicle paintings. Some marks are much more versatile than others and this one has the perfect mix of line and membrane-like areas.
LL. It strikes me that the process by which you paint could be looked at as a formalised version of the processes by which the majority of painters work: they make a mental note of marks that they would like to use in their paintings and/or reuse the same marks in different paintings ˆ they learn to make an abstract mark, which in a certain context looks like a forearm, for example . Would you agree?
RS. Yes, essentially what I do is to focus on that conventional aspect of image making through unconventional means. A tutor on my degree once told me that he thought my work could be seen as ‚some bizarre form of research‚, but I think what I do is what most painters do only, as you say, in a more formalised or conscious way.
LL. You mentioned that this exhibition would offer some kind of closure on the specific experimentation present in the paintings that you‚re exhibiting at OUTPOST. Where do you hope to take your practice next?
RS. I have a kind of soup of ideas at the moment. Over the past 10 months I have experimented with three dimensional works and attempted to continue painting disrupted rooms using the same process. None of the room paintings I made in that period gave me exactly what I wanted, so actually I will probably keep trying because it‚s annoying me. There‚s a lot more I want to do with colour and also expanding the language with the use of Œreal‚ spillages and pourings in conjunction with the simulations. This will cause further trouble for the conceptual logic of my paintings, but that will be very interesting.