THE WHOLE POINT OF NO RETURN
an essay for the catalogue Clare Price selected works 2008-11
How much is too much if ‘too much’ is precisely what you’re trying to create enough of? Clare Price’s art thrives on excess. Her large, exuberant paintings seem to be the products of rapidfire explosions of energy, of speed and freeform experimentation. They pack a lot in to the confines of the canvas. But never, I’d argue, too much. Price is expert at judging the internal harmony of her paintings, at knowing when to throw down and let loose, and, critically, knowing when to stop.
There’s actually a considerable amount of light and space in Price’s paintings, despite her technique of cramming the canvas, edge to edge, with a skewed grid of zooming lines which, she seems to imply, might just continue forever. The lines are first rendered in an outdated digital drawing programme, then magnified and transcribed in pencil onto the canvas. They form a structure which she fills, judiciously, with the most tonally and chemically toxic substances she can lay her hands on: car paints, metallic sprays, garage door paint, Japlac high gloss enamels, Hammerite, Japanese acrylic gouache, lacquers, aluminium paint etc. In some areas, her brushwork is flat and exacting; in others, she applies solvents, thinning the colour to the complexion of watercolour, or holds the spray can at a distance so that the canvas is barely dusted with paint. Elsewhere, she uses spray-paint in the manner of a midnight vandal, covering as much wall as is possible in a five-second burst. When her hand moves too slowly, the surface tension collapses under the weight of wet paint and drips run down the painting. Despite his reputation as master of the drip, Jackson Pollock never exploited its versatility in the way that Price has. Her drips can be short and frenetic, wet and meandering, flicked and staccato, viscous and swooping or soaked and bleary, like eyeliner in the rain.
A drip is, in most circumstances, an indication of a breakdown of one kind or another. In the most prosaic sense, it reveals the point of failure in an attempt to make something new through the application of a flawless coat of fresh paint. But drips are bad news in most other areas too: leaking bodies, wet homes, incontinent engines, containers or even skies are rarely seen as positive conditions. Price’s use of thick, pixellated lines reflects this quality of corruption. These days, the only time most of us are aware of the shape and dimension of pixels is when technology is malfunctioning – revealing the Sublime chaos of its mathematical interior. It is significant that, in her professional experience with digital video, Price has spent much of her time working at the limits of compression; pixellation, like dripping spray paint, occurs when the content is too heavy for its structural support.
The Romantic movement was notable for its embrace – or at least its confrontation of – such instances of breakdown, and it is unsurprising that Price often hears her paintings described as Romantic. Paintings such as Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah (2010) or Gonna fight and tear it up in a hypernation for you (2010) are reminiscent of the apocalyptic absorption expressed in certain landscapes of John Martin or J.M.W. Turner, particularly in their attention to what appear to be atmospheric conditions.
What is significant for Price, however, is not so much the apocalyptic side of this comparison but that of absorption. She uses phrases stolen from songs she is listening to at the time painting the works for their titles. Being wholly ‘in the moment’ – a more natural state, perhaps, for musicians than for artists – is important to Price, and to the creation of her work. Many painters today see themselves as torn between an oft-proclaimed position of freedom (anything goes, everything is possible) and an anxious, even neurotic, awareness of history and unspoken taboos (expressionism, sincerity, naiveté, indulgence, to name just a few). For Price, the late work of Patrick Heron has been an important touchstone – the last, loose paintings of an old man who had always walked out of step with the contemporary art establishment – but so have the paintings of Albert Oehlen, an artist whose oeuvre was by turns cynical, ironic and painfully conscious of its historical context. These two artists represent the poles between which Price – alongside many of her peers – currently orient themselves. That her work often feels like it is abandoned, teetering at the point of its own collapse, is testament to the scope of Price’s restless ambition.