Roy Amiss: Putting painting back in the picture

The British artist tells us why innovation and painting are not antitheses ahead of his new show at the European Patent Office in The Hague.
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The Independent Culture

In a booklet accompanying his latest exhibition, British artist Roy Amiss ponders on how it is possible, in this age of the computer and the internet, for painting to be anything but redundant. His paintings are, he states, various attempts at “refuting the postmodern idea that painting is dead.”

The exhibition of which he is speaking, titled The Logic of Appearances, opens tomorrow at the European Patent Office (EPO) in The Hague – an institution where new ideas are rubber stamped and sent off the conveyor belt toward innovation. The appropriateness of such a venue for an artist whose metal is in ideas surely cannot be lost on its attendants. Sadly for the public it is only open to EPO employees.

Below Amiss reveals, in his own words, the reason for the exhibition and some of his ideas, inspirations and motivations:

Click here to view highlights (in pictures) from the show

Logic and appearances

The social organisation Amicale of the EPO organises cultural events such as exhibitions for its 6,500 employees. One of its representatives was introduced to my folio and was very impressed by its quality and was very enthusiastic about the work. Consequently they invited me for a solo exhibition there.

The great attraction to my work by the EPO is that they see my work as invention –embracing both art and science, and view me as real artist like Leonardo da Vinci. The patent office where inventions are patented, is therefore a fitting place for an exhibition of my work.

The Dutch are also very fond of artists who explore new materials in their art-making, and thus my layered nylon net optical paintings which I call hand-painted holographs and my Tower of Babel installation made of 850 glass bottles, are particularly relevant. I also work with bacteria, but this project is on hold at the moment.

Beautiful ideas

I have called the exhibition the logic of appearances as I’m exploring and experimenting with the way things appear to be, and trying to articulate what the senses can be made to deliver by creating unique optical painting that are figurative. I have written a booklet for this exhibition which will be avalailable shortly.

I’m motivated by the possibility of discovery and invention of what I describe as the beautiful idea. This is an intuitive concept, but I believe one that is commonly pursued by scientists, mathematicians and artists. It is a guiding force that directs one to action, E.g. Inspired enough to pick up paintbrush and make a painting. It is more than inspiration, but is a fundamental aesthetic intuition where something is apprehended and expressed with great insight. We call this great art or music or whatever, thus it can take many forms whether that is from nature, cinema, photography, writing, or music.

While I have made works about science, a lot of what I have done recently in art is actually real science and involves a fair bit of research, mathematics and scientific experiments. Two areas where I have specialised in are: the physical measurement of reflectance; and the growth of photosynthetic bacteria. The moiré effect I have also researched and have developed some interesting invention mathematically on paper but yet to be realised.

An important aspect to my optical paintings is to reject the postmodern idea that painting is dead by re-inventing painting and making it relevant again. I do this by re-presenting photographs and past in a new way, using paint and other materials.

Another reaction to the relativism of postmodernism is my tower of Babel – a glass tower of 850 bottles each filled with water and reflecting portraits of philosophers through the entire history from ancient Greece to the postmodern era. The tower’s stubborn insistence on staying upright due to the laws of nature, its mass and the rule of gravity- the tower is entirely supported by its weight (approx. 850 Kg) with no fixtures (rather like a stack of cans in supermarket or a deck of stacked cards).

Celebrity culture

The current obsession with celebrity is also reflected in my work. I could not help but reflect it; but on my own terms combining it with a scientific and mathematical approach to create a perverse hybrid of hi and lo art, often using patterning and people from popular culture. Cheryl Cole is depicted on steel mesh – she looks somewhat sad. The image was captured from footage of the X-Factor. For the poster and cover of my booklet for the exhibition, I used a Madonna image which I always liked for its expression of joy, happiness and optimism – I like to focus on the positive when I can! There was a whole Madonna series using this single image. Cloning Madonna –will be shown at the EPO – the idea of this painting was really to illustrate a polemic, I painted two of the same image (cloned) – and leave you with the question – if we had the choice, would you clone Madonna? Would we want more than one? Thus is the dilemma of cloning technology.

The surreal

There is also a surrealist element in all this, particularly in my early work. It is a marriage of reason and the irrational. I see the irrational as a method for discovery. Often I have worked without any preconceived ideas about what I was making and let it evolve. The optical paintings on canvas originated by chance, when I encounter an old metal grill that i got from a local excavation and thought I might be able to use it. It was lying in my studio for ages and one day I had a moment of insight – the beautiful idea, and immediately conceived how I could the use the grill in combination with an idea of perception that I knew.

Early on, whilst at art college at Cheltenham, I was using a technique of transferring photo-images onto canvas so that they were integrated into the painting more completely than collage. However, out of this grew the idea of losing the image completely by dissolving its boundaries and interlinking the space between disparate photo-images using oil paint. This resulted in the creation and perception of a new object! I call them anti-paintings and they form a collection I call the Tapestry of Vision. Examples in this exhibition are Boundless Interiors and Camouflage.

Roy Amiss The Logic of Appearances opens at the European Patent Office, The Hague, Netherlands opens tomorrow 11January until 3 February, 2011