A Close Brush With The Western Frontier 2014 (ed. 5) Digital inkjet print. 73 x 64 x 4 cm (framed)
Stephen Little is a contemporary artist whose practice explores alternatives to traditional models and orthodoxies commonly employed in the classification of painting.Instead of relying on pictorial traditions or painterly conventions to dictate outcomes Little highlights painting’s potential by reworking it through other media. Having side-stepped traditional materials and methodologies Little draws on everyday objects, materials and associations to deliberate on painting today.
Little has exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally. Recent presentations of his work include Backside Front William Wright // Artists, Sydney (2014); 20/200 Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney (2014); Hal Project, Space Mass, Seoul, Korea (2013); Test Pattern University Art gallery, University of Sydney (2013); Inside Out William Wright // Artists, Sydney (2012); Redlands Westpac Art Prize National Art School Gallery, Sydney (2012); Test Pattern Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne (2012); Painting in Transit Goldsmiths College, University of London (2010); Absorption (initiated through ‘One & Other’ - Antony Gormley’s ‘Fourth Plinth’ project) Trafalgar Square, London (2009). In January of 2004 one of his art works was left on the surface of Mars with the NASA Mars rovers, making history as the first work of art to be left on another planet.
Little received his Bachelor of Visual Arts from Nepean College of Advanced Education, a Graduate Diploma of Visual Arts, and Master of Visual Arts from Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney, and a Research Doctorate (PhD) from Goldsmiths College, University of London.Little is currently Head of Painting at Australia’s National Art School in Sydney.
The initial aim of my research was to explore alternatives to traditional models used to classify something as painting. As one whose studio methodology has come to rely heavily on what is perhaps best understood here as ‘a refusal of traditional means’, choosing to retain the nomenclature ‘Painting’ as I have done, has subsequently led me to questions regarding painting’s ontology and it’s changed terms of reference. Aside from its role of designating the area of my practice, my continued use of the name ‘Painting’ is, in large, underscored by a tone of provocation. The provocation lies in the terms continuing resistance to conventional, material and ideologically driven forms of classification that continue, sometimes inadequately, to establish what may constitute painting today.
My initial concerns focus on debates surrounding the so-called death of painting within late modernism.
Painting continues by being constantly corrupted, by questioning its boundaries, and not limiting itself to its own conventions and ‘traditional’ set of competencies. It has the ability to slide between different physical & perceptual modalities, and is continued and extended by embracing that, which might extinguish it. In this, it is a practice that involves a diverse range of competencies that now exist beyond its traditional, material structure.
Similarly, the vacuum paintings represent a reversal of tradition based painterly convention i.e. a brush is normally loaded with wet paint and pushed or ‘brushed outward’ across a ground.
Here, the limit of the painting is generally determined by the edge of the canvas. My vacuum paintings sought to reverse this scenario.
With the first vacuum paintings, wet paint was applied to a ground, allowed to dry and then sanded back to loosen the dry colour (paint) particles. This was then ‘brushed inward’ with the vacuum brush to its new limit i.e. the inside of the vacuum casing.
Here, the vacuum’s interior becomes the new support or ground for the paint (formerly the role of the stretched canvas). Rather than just reference painting, these works function as paintings. They are not proxies, surrogates or substitutes, but as painting, they are quite literally reversed.
Just as the canvas was traditionally the ground for painting, so too, the vacuum becomes the new ground. The difference being that painting that was once wet and external is now re- presented to us as ‘the same, but different’ as it is now dry, internalized, and has assumed an unfamiliar form (i.e. a vacuum cleaner).
Rather than attempting to dissolve painting, the vacuum works reverse, contract, compact, invert and internalize the space of painting, and in doing so, enact a reconfiguration of painting’s material constitution.
Enabling a leap that will allow us to follow such a reconfiguration or ‘transfer’ between the domain of painting and seemingly everyday objects has not been easy, and each work has been approached on its own terms according to a particular set of determining factors that I felt would support a positive outcome.
In general terms, resistance is seen to operate within two distinct modes of engagement, offensive and defensive.
This is an important point given the conflicting attitudes that have prevailed over painting in recent years. The first assumes that it has all but run its course and, as a medium, has not successfully cut its ties with Modernism, that it continues to rely on the patronage of a conservative art market etc.
The second is that painting has now transformed by fusing with other media. That it has clearly transcended beyond its former limits and now requires a serious re-assessment of the criteria used to competently map and evaluate its current state.
These positions place painting on the cusp between that which is already known, and the promise of new knowledge that comes through exploration and extension.
At some point a decision may need to be reached to either defend or abandon the claim of painting’s ‘outmodedness’, or to forge ahead into uncharted territory.
For this reason a theme of resistance, and the inclusion of combatants in the found images of smoke flares (Reformation series) seemed appropriate as, territorially, painting’s position and its future currency within the cultural terrain may rest on the form this resistance takes, i.e. advance (offense), or retreat (defense).