Art and Art History Presents: Allyson Clay

Art and Art History Presents: Allyson Clay


John Armstrong: –distinguished artist in Vancouver where she lives and she has shown across Canada, and internationally. Allyson received her BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and her MFA from the University of British Columbia. Her work resides in several collections, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, Vancouver Art Gallery, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, The Banff Centre, and the Art Gallery of Windsor. She has numerous awards including senior artist grants from the Canada Council, the Mexico-Canada-US artist exchange residency, and the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Residency Program. She is a professor in the School for Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver and is represented in Toronto by Katzman Contemporary Art, where she had an opening this past winter [laughs] had some really wonderful text and design paintings that reflect in various ways on the position of abstract painting in Canada, and at that opening–in order to get there you had to go through a blizzard, so it was a very interesting experience moving from the white world into more chromatic world that Allyson presented. So please join me in welcoming Allyson Clay. [Applause]
Allyson: Thank you very much, John for a nicely pronounced introduction– and thank you for hosting me here, and nice to see an audience. So, I thought I would talk about, as John said–we have a friend in common called Lucy Hogg who– she used to live in Vancouver and now lives in New York and she said she was wishing she was here because ‘I have some explaining to do’ she says, and the explanation is why I’m currently making paintings with text when I spent quite a few years before that using photography in my work, making video and installations, and moving slowly back towards painting through a collage– collaging steelworks together. Maybe that’s enough of an explanation for Lucy but I will go into detail here. I’m not sure if I can explain why, but–partly I think that for me my practice in photography became to be too distracted from my manual experience making work and I really felt like I’d like to have that time in the studio again–instead of just doing all my art by phone and email, and– also because I began to enjoy the idea of text in art more and I wanted to find a medium that I could use that would be interesting–an interesting–have an interesting relationship to actual words and letters, and I think painting because it’s kind of contrary to text, works well for me. Anyway, so this talk I’m calling ‘Liquid Spatial Evocations’ and it’s actually a quote from Roald Nasgaard’s book on Canadian abstract painting and he–and this phrase is from his description of one of Milly Ristvedt’s paintings called ‘After Rameau’s Nephew’ from 1978 and I’ll come back to why I’m interested in Roald Nasgaard and that kind of phrase–and I thought I would start with just a recent text work which is a digital print that I did in honour of Jeannie Thib who is an artist who passed away this year–actually last year, and it was based–we were asked to make a work based on one of her drawings–patterns–she works with patterns, so this is the pattern here. And I like to work within a frame–tight frame because of–I’m still suffering from conceptual training hangover from NSCAD years. So, this is “leaf, leafing, cut, cutting, fret, fretting, trace, tracing, fold, overfall, sunfalls, lacefurls, blossombarrier, litornament, shift, shifting, leaves, leaving” so that was for Jeannie and it’s a very small print–8 by 8 inches. And then I’m going back to very early work from 1988, when I first began–began to be interested in text. This was a show that I did at Artspeak Gallery in Vancouver, which was formed by a bunch of artists that came down from a university in the interior which was closed down by the right-wing government because there are too many lefties in that town and a lot of artists and writers came down and started Artspeak Gallery in Vancouver. So what these are– on the left hand side are four paintings that are 1 foot square each, you’ll recognize the tight form of the square and on each of these I made a painting by mixing my own paint and using what I thought were kind of abstraction tropes and–and then across the room from these paintings were for descriptions also closed in as close as possible to rectangles or squares, which describe the art making process, and at that time I was reading–actually it explained to you how to make one of these. So the idea was that this is for you to make, this is an example of what you can make and these are the instructions, so this is a recipe. However, the recipe was interrupted by subjective musings so you couldn’t just do the straight recipe without hearing my voice in your ear–and it was accompanied by a little art book and the show was called “LURE” so–and so the book actually presented the text against–each text– so the instructions were the same more or less except there are different images and–but I still varied the kinds of instructions, like what kind of wood to use and how to mix your paint et cetera, and then each–each subjective text had a different kind of interference with another narrative and this one, because it was–it had something to do with the image so this–I got that little thing here–so because it was a strip across I just did a–I did this strip of text which kind of described a political Irish event–someone whose son was murdered in the strife–‘the troubles’ as they called it. Anyways, um, there’s too much to describe for these works. The next series I did were paintings of labyrinth so I kind of expanded into–exploring abstraction more–these are 2 feet by 2 feet square and it’s oil on linen and there’s also an accompanying text for this. And I also was still strongly rooted to my conceptual foundations and I didn’t choose the colours in a subjective way I actually took a design book and picked two colours that were put together in this design book and then went to the art supply store and bought the paint that was closest to those colours and just made–made the painting. And I made the painting with– without tape so I had to turn it around because it’s easier to paint straight lines by painting up into them so I did a line and then a line and a line–it was wet into wet, so it has a nice kind of tremor to it while still being very formal and I also saw the labyrinth image as being narrative image because your eye can take you around the painting to the center and back if you want to spend that time doing that. And the book that accompanied this–it was called “The Stories” and each abstract pattern–so I made ten of these–had a story accompanying it–and the story was about walking in the city so I took the idea of labyrinth as a kind of icon or trope of the city’s map and–and I wrote stories about–small stories, very very short stories about wandering in the city and I’m actually in the process of putting these to music. I’m going to be working with a person who plays accordion and we’re going to make songs out of them.
>>Audience: Are you going to sing?
>>Allyson Clay: Ah– [laughs] I think that would be a little problematic. [Laughs] I don’t know what’s– maybe she’ll sing, that’ll take the burden off. Um, then I went on to further paintings where in fact instead of just using the guideline for colour and actually painting it myself, I hired people to make my paintings–to paint them and–but I did choose–and I wrote the text myself, so I wrote–and again they’re very small stories and this left-hand panel here, I–all the–I sent 20 panels to a company that does false surfaces for wealthy people’s houses. So this is a copper sur–surface–where did my thing go–yeah, and–and that person I hired to paint this was recently graduated from Emily Carr and needed a job and I thought he was a pretty good painter so I said okay I’d like a night sky, and I’d like a storm, and I’d like this and I’d like that, so he just went along and I accepted them. I did paint a few of them myself so just because I thought I should. This is not one I painted myself–and these are all stories about women in the city so I was beginning to be more interested in gender and the city and how the–the subject in the city who was the peripatetic(?) [laughs] perambulator person– was always a man and so I thought okay I’m gonna see what–I’m going to write stories that suggest a woman in the city or a woman taking action making things and–and just turn it around a little bit– the female ‘flâneur’ I was interested in. The flâneur being this romantic idea of a guy who–slightly separate from society but walks around among and observes and writes about what society is–the outsider. So I’m also out-siding– out-siding by being the female flâneur and I made two series of paintings–this is– this is one, and then I made this next series of ten works and these were done with photographs on canvas and then the right-hand panel I did–I painted myself– of skies, and the process for the text is screen print so these were screen-printed on also and so I would work with the screen printer situating the text on the–on the painting and I wrote the text et cetera, so this is ‘The dreams I’m having affect my speech’ and then a kind of separate– “The novels she was reading began to affect her daily routines. She walked with determination and took unfamiliar routes. Her appearance and her voice changed. She was promoted at work.” I was going through tenure at this time–tenure review. And then around this time also I was experimenting with other media printmaking and so this again was a screen print that I did on the dollar bills that were going out of service at the time so I bought a bunch of dollar bills and I made a series of works on them so on one side it says ‘blemish’ and on the other side it says…
>>Audience: Abrasion.
>>Allyson Clay: Abrasion, thank you. [Laughs] So just down–a little side story, my interest in text was also an interest in theory and literature and books. I was interested in how books in fact are physical objects, not just theory and books are beautiful to hold and you know paper is good to feel and–and when you’re an academic sometimes you get too many books and you feel the heaviness of theory and you want to let it go so I wanted a kind of an urban event where I– this was a building I was living in but I doubled the photograph so that the building, which is a very urban modernist building, goes on forever and there’s me there a couple of times so I have some kind of companionship in this activity– and I threw out books and so obviously this is photoshopped because you wouldn’t be able to–I had to do a lot of photos to catch different books in different forms so they are photographed but not all on the same photograph so I added a few books–and this was from a commission that I did for Presentation House Gallery in–in North Vancouver and it was a long painting like this because it was meant to be the same size as you put on the side of a bus as an advertisement and it was also the same size as the ads in the bus station so–it was an ad. Now, unfortunately this went up in September 11th and–what year was that? 2001? what year was that? 2001?–Yeah, and there was a person that was really upset by it–but just one person because this reminded them of bailing from the two tow–the Twin Towers so that was an unfortunate coincidence and a sort of silly anecdote. And then I went on to make large photographic works about flying books– again, just enjoying the beauty of them. So I had my husband who was really good at baseball when he was a kid–he chucked books and I photographed them and these are not–they’re only photograph–they’re only photoshopped because I had to take out some shadowing from capturing a slight movement in the air but otherwise they are against the sky they were in and I wanted them to look more stationary and frozen. So these I showed at Leo Kamen gallery about 2005 or 2006. Okay, air to water–I thought okay I want to look at books that are being destroyed underwater and I liked looking at them– they’re beautiful shapes so I actually took books that had some significance for me– my own catalogues–a book by an Italian critic who’s called Achille Bonito Oliva and he wrote about this art movement called Transavanguardia– Transavantgarde–and– just books that had some kind of significance and I destroyed them. This particular book is called ‘The Pornographer’s Poem’ and it’s by Michael Turner–I don’t know, he’s a writer in Vancouver–and I won this actually at a–at a fundraising event and the Artspeak Gallery and he signed it for me–but he did spell my name wrong. [Scattered laughter]
Oh–anyway, so after that was drowned I thought what am I going to do with this book–I dried all the books and I still have many of them just kind of bundled up and curled up and dried so you can still read them–I think one of these books was also an October magazine– different theory and art writing–so I thought I would just do–re-stage them as a kind of an event–post event flurry in a space which is also in that building that I was throwing books out of– So this is ‘The Pornographer’s Poem’–a critique perhaps. Unfortunately, for this artwork I cannot find the original film so–to date–so I have a photocopy scanned image of the–of the centerfold of a catalogue of my work and so it’s a little hard to see because the line down the middle is distracting but this is going back to my interest in the city and activities in the city and expanding my interest in being a female flâneur and flâneurs–and being a voyeur, I guess, if there is such a term. And so, I make these videos from my rooftop in Vancouver looking into other people’s windows but I made them into little tiny projections–again thinking about book size and storytelling size and made these stands and–where’s my little, there it is–okay, so there’s a small projector and glass and then a stand and then there’s these–you probably maybe don’t even remember these things but these are VCRs. So there are five of these and each one with running a loop of an image that I had taped from looking in windows from my rooftop and–so this is an example of one of the loops or one of the images–it’s still. Every so often in the audio–the audio i remixed to mix more street sounds–and every so often you would hear a gasp [imitates gasp] and then–then maybe later you might hear nothing ever happens–so that was the audio for these works. I can tell you about things that I was reading at the time but maybe you know it–I was reading Michel de Certeau’s ‘The Practice of Everyday Life’ was a big influence on me and probably still continues to this day. These hang around in my brain for many years–and yeah, so this was actually an empty apartment and–and I was looking–I had my camera trained on it and nothing was happening and suddenly this guy popped up and he was a painter I guess, he was wearing painting overalls and he went and took a swig of a drink and then he went back and disappeared again, so I did get one person. This is actually another building where interestingly there’s a person here and there’s a person here, and they’re both cooking in the kitchen so what these also reminded me of–in particular this image here, are paintings like Vermeer paintings or Dutch paintings of interiors, they’re about light–of course they don’t have the detail but the kind of light and the kind of mundane activity was interesting to me–so that’s the video. Okay, photography and photography in painting–way back in 1995 I was in the US and on this Mexico-Canada exchange, and I was at Irvine University and if you ever lived down there for a little while you’ll know that people drive around a lot, so everybody who taught at UC California, Irvine lived in Los Angeles and they might also teach if you’re a sessional–you might also teach somewhere like at Cal Arts which is like way north and you drive way south so you do a lot of freeway driving and I did too because I always wanted–I was staying in Irvine but I always wanted to go to LA to see shows and things. Anyway, so I–you know I was kind of for many years I was thinking about how can I do work that’s about driving that might interest me and–in the meantime while I was there, I rented a little airplane and we went and flew around over Los Angeles and the environment around Irvine–and I took photographs. So, somehow it just came to me like in 2008, [laughs] this is what I’m going to do and these were based on this one photograph I took of a mall near Irvine which is actually a circular mall and–so you can enter from anywhere and there’s all the–you know the shops, big-box stores, and stuff and there are movie theatres and stuff–but when photographed from the air, of course, you get perspective and the circle is not a circle it’s an ellipse–and another thing I did with this image that I really liked was I didn’t get the whole mall in in one shot so I thought I don’t care, I’m going to finish the mall off by using the end of one– of one end and reversing it upside down and sticking it on to the other end so the photograph is actually altered also, and I kind of altered it some more–there was one building that had a swimming pool on the top on the roof and so I kind of multiplied that a few times and so–if you do end up looking at the photo while you’re looking at the piece you will see these quirky things. So these are steel ellipses and so the photographs are mounted on these and then these other ellipses I painted by spray-painting car paint on them. I made an edition–two editions actually– this one is the black and white edition so it’s kind of a Silver City edition so it has colours that are you know car colours–silver colour, black, kind of maybe brownish gray, things like that–so, this was the Silver City one. After that I thought I want to paint more but I don’t want to paint with car paint because I nearly killed my assistant and I didn’t want his mother to find out what kind of work he was doing for me even though he doesn’t–didn’t care–so I thought well I’m gonna paint but where do I paint like what do I do and I thought I’m going to go back to those labyrinths and test them out–make them 3d, so I did that and I made a bunch of paintings that nobody’s really ever going to see except when I do talks. [Laughs] They’re oil on linen, they’re about 3 feet and I kind of use this axonometric perspective to bump up the– the labyrinth so there was another spatial element there–and also the–they were dysfunctional labyrinths so this is probably maybe one of the more functional ones but sometimes I chopped off the edges and made them really ambiguous in terms of the suggested real space. Then, I made these works which were shown Leo Kamen, and they’re tiny works, they’re collages and again you can see the relationship between these works and the– the ellipse–the exploded ellipse. These were photographs that I took in 1997 and I was playing–I had a stereo camera and my brother gave it to me to use while I was in Paris at the artist residency there and so I went around with this camera not exactly knowing what I wanted to do and found myself at the new library–it’s the national library there, and it had a really interesting–has really interesting modernist architecture–it has these towers that are meant to look–remind you of books at each end and then in the middle there’s a large wooden Plaza–so I looked at these I thought aha books. So I use these as the basis to make these–again, thinking about the 3D-ness of the–of the labyrinth I kind of use the stereo image to make a puzzling photographic image. So this is–again, these are metal and they actually hang on the wall with magnets. [Whispers] I’ll go fast. [Laughs] I should hand out free coffees for my talks. [Clears throat] So, here’s another one and– yeah, so they’re collaged, so there’s one form that’s this shape and then there’s aluminium form glued on and then these forms are glued on each separately and painted separately so it’s a–it’s a physical collage and steel. And I don’t know–you know, I really don’t know how readable these images are if you don’t know what they are but the one thing is there’s two book images happening here– this looks like the centerfold of two pages being open and then these are repeating kind of book images here that are a modernist version of the book and this suggests another kind of architecture. The subjectivity that I was interested in earlier where I was interested in inserting my voice or talking about the female flâneur or flâneurs– is I thought replaced or put back in with the brushstroke of the painting so I was happy with that being the physical presence. Now, that’s quite ambiguous because if you are interested in gender in painting, it’s really a masculine gesture historically but I realized that it’s not going to become feminine gesture of empowerment and less women keep painting, so there you go. Then I thought well to hell with imagery at all and I’m going to make these shaped steel paintings that are monochromes and that still have some relationship to the idea of the city, so boundaries was interesting to me and these are probably–this one’s about 3 feet–roughly 3 feet around and again they hung on the wall with magnets. This is a smaller one and I did some in wood–I made wood–small studies too so this one–actually I named them after suburban kinds of things so this is called “Crazy about the new spring fashions” –this is called “Shade parking”, this is called “Golf on Rodeo Drive.” Okay, jumping back to a new moment–or forward to a new moment–I was also–I read a lot and I like to think about feminine subjectivity in many different ways other than just painting and photography and I was interested in trying to do a video about this notion of talking to oneself in one’s head, so I don’t know how many of you have these conversations with yourself–on different levels, some are quite overt. For instance, if you like– my friend Michelle Gay, who’s working on the computer at home while I’m staying with her as her host–she’s my host–she talks to herself all the time on the computer and I think she’s talking to me but she’s not–she has big problems that she has to voice them out loud but that’s kind of like inner thinking, but then there’s inner-inner thinking where it’s not so articulate, you’re kind of in conversation with yourself almost unconsciously. It so happened that a friend of mine, Lisa Robertson–poet–who now lives in France was also thinking about the same thing and we decided we would collaborate on a work and we invited–Natalie Stevens, also known as Nathaniel to join us and be the poet and the listener–and we made this video. So Lisa wrote a script for this and I retreated–I was going to write something actually for a couple of years, I was trying to write this and I was too bored with my own writing and I thought maybe I’ll ask somebody who’s a good writer to do it and that was Lisa. So, maybe I’ll just read from my notes here– I’ve been interested in urbanism, feminist subjectivity, the everyday rupture, abstract form, poetry, and inner thought, so it is inner thought which produces the exterior voices in my earlier work so when I inserted subjective text, those are inner thoughts–they’re not kind of asking you for a response. Inner thought needs a critical look as Carol Becker says in her essay on micro utopias. Now many artists fear that the world has become too interior focused and that private space and identity are all there is, even in the public arena. Most significantly those personal issues are rarely linked to the greater social context that could help frame them, isolate their origins, and catalyze their resolutions. So I wanted to re-look at thought, the activity of the thinking that goes on while thinking or doing something else in a critical way. So I worked in collaboration with two poets–Lisa Robertson, which is here–she’s there, and Nathaniel Stevens–here. I played the shadow character, I kind of turn up in the mirror–this mirror every now and then, and we did it as part of the media residency at the Western Front in Vancouver. So here’s another still– I hired a photographer too and the photographer just traipsed around the whole time during the video and you could hear the click of the camera and the feet going and then he’d pop in every now and then to get a closer shot so he was kind of another, you know–a Brechtian kind of moment or part of the video. And in the back I projected this film which Lisa introduced me to– this French filmmaker called Jean-Claude Rousseau–I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of him, John. He’s a wonderful filmmaker, he makes beautiful, beautiful, beautiful–achingly beautiful films–so this is from a film “Jeune femme à sa fenêtre lisant une lettre” which–excuse my pronunciation– so it’s based on the idea of a Vermeer painting but the camera is just so gorgeously–the camera more listens than watches and it moves around and listens to the interiors and the exterior, the window et cetera–it was made in–in the early–mid ‘80s. In my mind this video was about painting and how inner thought is like a cog that moves the paint. Carol Becker also says “art is often a kind of dreaming the world into being, a transmutation of thought into material reality, and an affirmation that the physical world begins in the incorporeal in ideas” –incorporeal. So this is–this is the text– another text that Lisa wrote in relation to this and it’s called “The Setting.” I’m just showing you a scan of the–where it was printed in the catalog, and it’s written interestingly where she’s looking at different paintings in the national–in–what would be called, the National Gallery in London?–and–and she was looking at how the descriptions of the paintings–the title cards–and she was copying them, and so basically her poem is almost a direct copying out of those description cards, and it becomes like an assemblage of beautiful images that are all about 17th century paintings about society so I was very influenced by that. I won’t read it out, you can maybe just glance at it for a bit, it’s just too much reading–but this painting–this painting explores different degrees of fear and those things are you know very evocative– and–yeah, so because I teach painting and I don’t teach painting a lot in my SFU program, we have a very condensed program and we have one painting class that somebody can take twice so basically you come out of our undergraduate program with the ability to do everything and almost nothing–but really smart people– and we have people going to or just graduating from NYU and people graduating from Oslo Art School and Piet Zwart–so it’s not like we don’t educate them, it’s just they don’t get like a good technology education, they get grounded and everything. Anyway, so for this painting class I thought okay I’m just going to hand out–I’m going to write descriptions of paintings and just hand them out. This was my abstract painting section and so I wrote descriptions of very abstract paintings and I got a lot of the images I was writing about from Roald Nasgaard’s book on abstract painting in Canada so I chose those paintings that seem like they’d be easy to write about so that you could imagine what I was–you know, the work from me writing about it and you can make a work. I forgot that- you know–why could I forget this, how?– that students are so smart that they can actually find some of these things online even though it seems anonymous so–checking for updates– Um, [laughs] workin’ in the background–but anyway not too many people did that but some did unfortunately. So I kind of–I kind of thought of it as a kind of Coles Notes version of how to learn abstract painting. I wrote 20 descriptions, handed them out and got a bunch of paintings made, and unfortunately I don’t have images of them–I didn’t get permission from my students so I won’t be able to show you them yet–but this particular description is of Elizabeth McIntosh painting so–I got a very strange interpretation of this, and it was–made an interesting painting so you get interesting renditions of other people’s paintings. And so, while I was reading about these paintings I couldn’t–you know, I couldn’t help looking–reading, as well looking at them in this book, I–I realize that I was very attracted to how abstraction was written and– Roald Nasgaard has written a very useful book going over historically and also regionally in terms of abstract painting and–and he–he loves painting so he’s really into making these sensuous descriptions of trying to evoke what it feels like to stand in front of one of these paintings and look at it. So here’s an example of his writing, “Deep eruptive textures were created by dragging saw blades across the surface, paint was pulled into ridges and smudged into crevices”–anybody, who is that ‘Ewen,’ does anybody know? He’s like an Ontario guy. [Laughs] Paterson Ewen–okay, here’s another page and my underlining–so you can see I’ve been influenced a lot by thinking along with Lisa Robertson about you know what–how painting is written about and she was interested in society– high society paintings from the 17th century and I was, you know, suddenly interested in abstract painting. The painting we see part of on the left is by Douglas Haynes and called “Bonzo’s Last Stand” 1978. The text that I’ve scribbled on is actually by Harold Feist–so shapes flutter and dance–I don’t know, I think it’s great writing, it’s very poetic. I also wanted to kind of get you–to let you know that all throughout my adult–even young adult life–I’ve been interested in poetry and was very influenced early on by this poet called Carmina Archilochi(key) or Archilochi(kai)–I’m not exactly sure how you pronounce that–“The Fragments of Archilochos” and they’re fragments of survive– surviving fragments of Greek poetry and–so you get these texts and shape things that–you get text–you kind of get an idea boiled down to just fragments that were there before. He’s the earliest known Greek author to compose almost entirely on the theme of his own emotions and experiences so again, I didn’t know this when I was, you know, 16 years old but it makes sense now reading that–that it’s influenced me all my life. He lived around 480 BC. One author calls his remaining poems “table scraps” which actually was the name I wanted to give to my cat but I wasn’t allowed to buy my husband. So here’s a–you know, scan of one of the–of two pages of the book and you can see these very evocative things happening, “In copulating one discovers that.” And somehow they become really meaningful. “I knocked him out the door with the vine-stump-cudgel.”
And to put them in perspective I also–being a student at NSCAD, I was very influenced by the work of Lawrence Weiner who is–who’s an artist–have you guys learned about him in any of your classes? He’s an artist that paints mostly on the wall–he doesn’t paint– it’s actually stencilled or now it’s actually a linotype, et cetera–but his artworks are statements and words–and I have a deeper understanding of modernist sculpture because of him amazingly– He came and did a talk at Emily Carr many years ago and I was pretty young then also–not a–I was a graduate student at the time– and he said that modernist sculpture is about moving one thing from one place to another place and I thought about that for many years and the more I’ve seen a modernist sculpture, the thing–more I understand about art in the 20th century and the language that the kind of paradigm that I’m still living in within.
So, this is an interesting example of his work written on a brick wall–“One quart exterior green industrial enamel thrown on a brick wall” –so that’s an example of one of his statements and they’re almost like instructions for works so you can do it yourself and that I guess had influenced me in terms of making those square paintings with instructions that went along with them. So, I–it just–I’m also–over time I’ve been interested in the tone of language of the everyday, the cryptic bits of text that one picks up walking past people in conversation, shortcuts in saying things, and the drawl, prosaic being ordinary or unimaginative, the dull, the mundane. This photograph is by Richard Landry and it’s a text from an artist book Lawrence Weiner that I happen to have in my collection. Another influence was this book–and actually it wasn’t the book, it was–I went to a reading by Auden– the poet W.H. Auden in 1971 in Manchester, England where I started University at University of Manchester. He came and did a reading and I was extremely influenced by this–these short poems and it’s–it’s from a–they were from a book that was recently published or about to be published called “Academic Graffiti” and I memorized this poem–and that’s about the only thing I’ve memorized in my life that stayed with me–even though we had to memorize a sonnet by Shakespeare every week in high school, I only know this poem–so “John Milton never stayed in a Hilton Hotel”–oops– “which was just as well” and–there’s another subtext to why I like this–just a quick subtext–when I was in high school I went to Rome–I lived in Rome and one of the classes I took was on City Planning–the history of City Planning in Rome and we would have to walk around Rome and look at a 17th century map and do some explorations and write some papers on some buildings or avenues and there was always like 6th, 5th tore up part of Rome to make pilgrimage routes and–in the 17th century–late 17th century, and always at the end of every street where it landed at the church you were supposed to go to, there was an obelisk so that you knew–it was kind of like a compass handle–this is–you’re going in the right direction. So, there was one street in Rome though that–it was actually built before that in the Renaissance and if you stood at one end and looked at the other end you could see up on the hill– on the other side of Rome–you could see the Hilton Hotel and–I liked that. There was no obelisk. Here’s another one, “Good Queen Victoria in a fit of euphoria commanded Disraeli to blow up the Old Bailey.” My other influence is Christopher Wool–this work I have a poster of that hangs up at home, I read it every day–it still takes me a while to figure out what the next word is going to be. I like that it slows down reading and I think it is a sad piece in a way. It reads, “The show is over the audience gets up to leave–to leave–their seats time– time to collect their coats and go home they turn around no more coats and no more home.” I think it’s just a beautiful beautiful piece–so it’s enamel paint on aluminium and you can–this one exhibition I was in–in Europe and I picked it up and I’m glad I have this–it was–they were take away– really big poster. Also things that I find are interesting to me–this is a little list that I picked up off the street near me–floral dress, Hunter boots, chartreuse scarf, aqua cardigan, grey heart cardigan–this is colour–this is somebody–I don’t know if this is what somebody wants to wear one day or what but it’s short, poetic, and every day. So then I–this kind of influence–this painting called “Slap Chartreuse” and it reads “tinged with crimson crazy eye-popping viscous orange flux” so some words that I find lying around chartreuse turn up again in other works. I also want to say that some of my influences come from students and these are two works by a graduate student that I had called Anna-Marie Repstock and she had an undergraduate degree in English and was doing this graduate work– English and then an undergraduate–she had two undergraduate degrees, one in–a BFA in painting and then she came to study with me because somebody told her I worked with text and these are two paintings that she made and she was–she’s a very very bright person and we have amazing discussions about poetry, text and painting. So she has a very strange style, it’s very eccentric and–but I choose to support it even though I don’t know where it fits in painting land but this is–these are kind of channels that she makes and then the paint kind of builds up on the sides of the channels and it’s kind of like–it’s like a picture of what paint does when you just make a stroke and you don’t care about the edges so she was working with that idea and enhancing it. So this says “OH” and the other one says “Sundown.” And these are some images to kind of give you a sense of the show that I did at Katzman Kamen gallery in February and I think people who came to the opening should all be given medals because the weather– [laughs] I’ve never been in such weather–yes, so it was snowing heavily all day and then it switched to rain and then there was thunder and lightning– delightful weather in Toronto. So these paintings–again, so what they’re doing is– I’m taking these sections out of the Roald Nasgaard work and I’ve um– reshaped–I’ve remade–I’ve made them into my–I’ve made my own word compositions and stuffed them into difficult shapes as part of a canvas space so you can see I have all sorts, we’ll look at those and probably this one was the first one, “What a furore”–I don’t know how to pronounce that word–“What a furore what passion in these irregular lines” and this one is “Ice slick green slapped over and over hot magenta so flat.”
I wanted to use really heightened colour because I’m not so good with being subtle with colour but as you can see I’m trying to teach myself that later on–recently I’ve been trying to do that. And I really thought the brushstroke was really important so I kind of heightened that and I had a big conundrum about text whether I should do vinyl design–vinyl text so it looked kind of corporate or whether I should use hand done text and is hand done text too hokey–anyway, I went with the handwritten text–its hokey–but it has passion. [Laughs] Then I–yeah so I started switching up whether it should be straight up and down or not this is “Ochre chrome ochre ultramarine all patchy.” This one we already read– I wanted to you know–you know, when you write text you kind of want to maybe make it readable on the canvas so I wanted to play around with the fact that it’s going to make it hard to read because this is painting I can do–you know, I can make painting make the text so it’s kind of interested in that. “Black black indigo dot dot dot dot–dot” maybe–so you can see that my interest in these kind of shapes, the containment –senses of containment that I get from thinking about city, thinking about city blocks and routes, and place I’m using as abstract forms inside an abstract painting so they reference abstract painting. So, “Blue there and ox blood sweep and flow.” Another installation view–there was two– four small paintings and I have to say, Maryanne, I’m sorry to say this but I didn’t really like this installation of these two works together but it was something that she liked and we kind of left it like that. So, “As lead white cut here and there fast with azure”–or how we pronounce that, I don’t know. “Slam down squill blue mustard mustard violet.” “–Drip ripped ground splat pink and broad wide lavender” and “Not chaos just daub daub void daub void daub lumpy and true”–this is kind of a comment on me painting. These paintings are about four by five feet and this one kind of abbreviated cut off before it finishes “And space a line of colour a slip slipping of dragged over–dragged O.” Anyway, so I kept–these are recent works–just a couple of them to show you what’s happening in my recent work that I’m trying to do a couple of different things with painting and really thinking about following the paint and seeing what the paint does with the text as more letting that take precedence and discovering that way and I’m working now–as a kind of a painter-painter–it’s not–I’m not sure what’s going to come out of each painting. This is what came out of this painting–oh yeah, I should also say that I wanted to make a series of paintings about Sigmar Polke and I liked the idea of making paintings about him because he’s kind of the ultimate painter, the magician–people refer to him as the magician–and what’s it called when you make gold out of base metals–alchemy– he’s an alchemist! And so he’s kind of a iconic painter because all painters are alchemists, scientists– but scientists of magic. So I did a lot of reading and–and then I did a lot of writing and–but not much writing came out of it and I didn’t–there was just too much writing to make an interesting painting so I kind of cut back and somehow this word came out of that–first painting was this and you can see that I have some overpainted text like–and these were–this is a list of items in his work so “Gun bullet flower ghost cloud” and “irritable”–I don’t know who’s irritable, me or him–but, he’s no longer alive but recent–recent contemporary painter– recently contemporary. This is another one and I’ve been experimenting with layers of text so–sorry, layers of paint–so you can see through it a little bit. This emerged out of a whole bunch of other text and down here there was spittle and I didn’t like that so–but it sort of is there still and “bile” is another word that comes–somehow emerged– came out of reading Sigmar Polke, so it came from one of the texts–it’s a quote–it’s a word that came out of the actual text that somebody was writing about him. And another one, “dub”–so again there’s a whole other phrase–a whole other sentence underneath that got broken up and exists as a kind of ghost underneath so these are the three most recent works that I have. That’s it. Oh, and that’s a painting by Peter Doig–I know now. [Laughs] Is that the whole painting or is that cropped?
>>Audience: It’s detail.
>>Allyson Clay: Detail, yeah I thought so. So, does anybody have any questions?>>Audience: You introduced yourself as a recovering conceptualist, from Nova Scotia School of Art and Design but your work is also concerned with beauty, it looks like–is that a conflict within you or is that something you’ve always kind of embraced? Or do you think you would have been an abstract expressionist had you not got into NSCAD?>>Allyson Clay: Possibly–latter. I–I found no trouble understanding beauty in conceptual art– it just wasn’t particularly about paint. So, for instance, the–wall works by Lawrence Weiner were beautiful to me and–so I never found any trouble with that–but it was a split between making paintings and figuring out how to tie that back into my interest in conceptual–my respect for it, I guess– my love of it–really I would have loved to have had a conceptual painter teach me but in–when I was at NSCAD the painting department was practically empty of people–empty of students and there were only a couple of faculty–John Clark was one of the faculty members–he passed away a few years after that–and –but I don’t know, I had trouble articulating what my needs were as a painter so I didn’t really know what I wanted when I was a young student, um–yeah, so I coasted along–but that’s a good question. [Scattered laughing]>>Audience: Would you now consider showing your labyrinth paintings that were sort of– approached the subjectivity of your more recent work?
>>Allyson Clay: Do you mean the 3D ones? The axonometric–
>>Audience: Yeah.
>>Allyson Clay: –perspective? Well, if somebody was interested in showing them, sure. Nobody’s seen them, so–>>Audience: You–you didn’t show them because you were uncertain?
>>Allyson Clay: No no no no–
>>Audience: Okay.
>>Allyson Clay: There’s kind of dead space around them, that’s all.>>Audience: This has been a question I’ve had for a number of years–in Vancouver there’s a great interest in monochromes, and I wondered if you could illuminate me on that–>>Allyson Clay: Conceptual art–I guess people are afraid to paint over there and are you thinking about anybody in particular or any works?
>>Audience: You know, a number of people make reference to their interest in monochromes–
>>Allyson Clay: Uh-huh, huh– David Maclean used to talk a lot about– the monochrome–he has these words for my paintings, like he–the new paintings he calls them–what does he call them–hostage–you know when you send a note that–a hostage text–
>>Audience: Ransom.
>>Allyson Clay: –A ransom note! He calls it ransom note printing–anyway, yeah I learned about the monochrome I think from David. The monochrome is like the ultimate conceptual painting, so that’s where the two things reconcile I guess–but the monochrome in Vancouver–it’s funny because there’s a show about the monochrome at the Helen Pitt Gallery and these guys are talking about it in relation to neo-liberal culture and money and grey–the greyness of the business world, money et cetera–so I didn’t get to see that show yet but I was kind of interested in that–but yeah, I don’t know–right now we have so many painters that somehow–I don’t know how they emerged– but there’s no monochromes that I can remember. There’s a very interesting set of paintings by Neil Wedman–I don’t know if anybody knows Neil Wedman’s work but he made these–he paints in black and white a lot–mostly–monochrome we would call them and–but he’s always figurative and also always kind of thinking about the graphic art–like graphic novels and stuff–he did a series of paintings that are about UFOs and they’re–they’re grey paintings– vertical grey paintings and they make you think of her Gerhard Richter but you can– if you look hard you can see a little UFO floating–they all basically become atmospheric so then you realize that the grey is an atmosphere and somewhere in that atmosphere there’s a hovering UFO–so they’re very interesting comments on monochromes and I thought they’re pretty funny but–maybe also in Wallace’s work–yeah.>>Audience: Yeah, he’s kind of the father–
>>Allyson Clay: –yeah yeah yeah yeah–>>Audience: –there’s no further–
>>Allyson Clay: No–he’s afraid to–yeah, I think that’s the only way he introduces–yeah the monochrome as–or painting in his work is the monochrome [clears throat] yeah maybe that’s– because he has such a fatherly presence in our city.>>Host: Okay, well thank you very much Allyson.
>>Allyson Clay: Thank you all.
[Applause]

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