Doglegs, Chicanes and Beelines


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English artist Katie Pratt’s new show is curiously titled Doglegs, Chicanes & Beelines. The reason? The painter’s unique, splashy and abstracted style involves a definite process by which she seeks uniformity and pattern in the paint she has (quite literally) “slapped onto canvas”.

The doglegs, beelines and chicanes are part of an idiolect used by the artist to categorise the marks which emerge from the randomness of the paint she hurls around. “There’s an animal theme, they’re dogs, chickens and bees. It sounds a bit random but there is an underlying logic, an esoteric one, which is all about finding routes from one place to another,” she says.

Her technique is to daub paint around and then to make sense of it. “I deliberately make [the paint] runny, or gloopy or I use it straight from the tube. It can be matte or glossy, lumpy or smooth. I decide whether I want the brush marks to be visible, or whether I want to the paint to drip down. The paint, in itself, isn’t all that interesting to me as a material. After I’ve slapped some on I search for patterns, similarities and regularities such as round dot. It’s nice when I find there’s hair in it or something else that keeps reoccurring. I then work on the painting, joining all the dots from the top left-hand corner say, to enhance regularities that might otherwise be overlooked.”

Although abstract, there is a clear narrative to Pratt’s paintings. “Elyob” 2011 (pictured above), for example, is a bright splash of sunshine yellow offset by textural blobs of deep brown. The effect recalls fairies in children’s books with petal skirts and goblin faces. “Gomerillo” 2010 resembles the blocky shapes of cells under a microscope and the reaching lengths of underwater plants.

The paintings take time. The artist says one of her larger works, “Jemerera” 2011, took “hundreds and hundreds of hours” to complete. “I start off with a very loose idea. It might be to do with how a particular paint would react to being on a white ground. Or it might be a relationship, such as how an earth colour like ochre relates to a very chemical green or blue. I also consider how big a line should be or how much paint should be used in one particular colour. [After the initial stages] I stop and see what I’ve done and make evaluative decisions. The works are systematic, so I do have rules and plans for the next stage of creating them, but it’s partly evaluative too.”

Pratt thinks about politics and world affairs while she is painting which, she says, helps her to organise and categorise the marks which materialise. “I think quite a lot about adjudication in general and the problems of deciding where a boundary is. That’s interesting to me because it relates to not only the natural world, like the borders of countries, but it’s also sort of like anti-eugenics. There’s no pure specimen. But also it relates to law – a magistrate sitting in on a court may make a separate decision from another sitting in another court under a similar set of circumstances. The problem interests me rather than the actuality.”

Doglegs, Chicanes & Beelines at the Fine Art Society, London from 1 December 2011 to 7 January 2012,