Small is Beautiful (an annual invited exhibition at the Angela Flowers Gallery)

Twenty nine years ago at a time when it seemed paintings were becoming even larger and quality could only come in big packages – Angela Flowers has just had a show entitles ‘This Room is Not Small Enough For a Big Painting”. It was around this time that the concept of ‘Small is Beautiful’ was realised. Chosen artists would be invited to exhibit work in any medium, the only restriction being the size limit of 7 x 9 inches. Proof of its success is that it is still going strong after so many years. One of it’s strengths is the breadth of the selection – committed artists from graduating students to the most successful and eminent produce work, some years to a specific theme other years not but the result has always been a vibrant and exciting exhibition.

John Loker’s Small is Beautiful

Apart from sketchbook drawings I would normally work on a much larger scale than SiB but I have always regarded this show as a way of standing back from familiar methods and taking on not only the smaller scale but also the subject.

All my work is a product of my experience of working and developing through materials, it is visual and tactile but with a purpose. I could almost say it has always been and is about vulnerability; the fine balance between safety and danger, existence and nothingness. The images I use, not always literally, are images that in the first instance I found beauty aside from the obvious, they allowed a ‘painterly’ interplay, a playground for my senses. The whale for example, grace, beauty, power, but threatened and vulnerable. In my windscreen wiper series I loved the image, its visual impact but it would have no meaning without the original association to the twister in Australia. I was caughtin the fringes and thrown across the highway whilst driving a heavy vehicle; pathetically I turned on the wipers a pointless action that spawned my paintings; were they about the pretty swirling rocks and the wipers sad attempts to clear? or about the split second when a good day could have become a bad day?

I have had work in the Small is Beautiful exhibitions since it’s beginning and have almost always made more than one piece, sometimes 4 or 5. At times I have struggled with the imposed theme, which has often opened up new directions or consolidated earlier thoughts. I have found myself seeking humour in the subject #31 ‘Wipe THat Smile’ (theme – Self Portrait) or even black humour, #5 ‘The Next Millenium’ (theme – Millenium) is it another can of worms? Or #32 ‘Desert Song’ (theme – Music) the piece is a reference to the Gulf war. More often it is a more intimate expolration and development of current work. #8 to 12 were made both before and after the 2011 SiB the title ‘Texas 1/2/03’ is the date the Columbia Space Missiontragically exploded on re-entry to the earths atmosphere. What more poignant symbol of power and vulnerability could there be? Another interesting move to come directly from SiB is the use of glass layering. It would not have happened on a larger scale and yet these 7 x 9 inch pieces have become as important to me as my canvases of 7 x 9 feet.

Making an exhibition of these small works brings together many of the pieces that have not been shown before, as usually just one is put forward and shown at the annual SiB exhibition. Then my solo exhibitions tend to feature the bigger work and the smaller ones stay unseen. This exhibition is the first showing of many of the works and the first time even I have seen them together.

John Loker 2012

Whats it all about then?

Whats it all about then? Making art is a dilemma; a dilemma that never gets resolved.

The dynamics of a work lie in the inherent control of the language – the manipulation of the material in order that it might transcend its ordinary form: It does not illustrate the event it becomes the event.

I was once a ‘Landscape Painter’, or so it was assumed. Why? Because I painted landscapes. Right? – No, wrong – I painted what looked like landscapes, the clues, the look-alike bits were landscape. I was no Constable; and I am talking attitude here not talent or ability, for Constable, in rural Suffolk, the landscape was the backdrop to the rural working situation, as real and hard as the mills of the north. I suppose I could indulge in romantic notions, but it is hard to do that knowing that the landscape could now be described as the parts ‘ where the cars arrive at the weekends’ or ‘where the houses are empty through the week’ – I think I simply hung my notions of making ‘art’ onto landscape. I used, or maybe abused it. It served to take me into areas of language indulgence. I played games with it – the obvious, space, form, scale and colour but more importantly and I like to think more interestingly time, movement and change.

These pictures became complex because life is complex and I have had a lot to sort out – I quote a Dutch newspaper, from a review of a show in the mid seventies…….. “Engelsman maakt puzzelschilderijen”………. Because much as I disliked it at the time the man was right. But then, maybe the nature of the activity is a puzzle, to move into and sense the purpose of what is ultimately an abstract language demands a particular sensitivity and effort. Whether looking or doing there must be interactivity with the ‘language’ or nothing can happen, least of all this thing called art. I have pushed, pulled and scraped my way through painting, sculpture (the purists might not agree!), relief constructions, photography, photographic collage and ….painting. Somewhere in the early seventies painting returned and I was back in business and there seemed to be a reason; language again – it seemed to be the language I could speak, it contained more words and I could string sentences together more fluently and more convincingly.

So where are we now?
‘Littered Ways’ the first series which begins to show, or to form a subjective link with current work, attempted to define a route – a route of consideration. A little understood track – a track of thought which was aligned to events summed up literally by a series of images. – a trap – a knot – a blind alley. These poor little images were bullied and pushed into carrying the full weight of the story on stage – whilst I got down to the business of painting the pictures in the wings.

Since then there have been a succession of images, images which have a presence and impose on me and images which become vehicles and carry my demands. ‘Crossover’, honed and refined, worked and reworked – the crossing of a series of blocks. It has become a dominant presence in several pieces. Originally this was a bleary eyed observation from a coach in Eastern Europe (1988) – boxes, boxes, boxes! All on the roofracks of Skodas and making an apparently orderly ‘crossover’ from west to east. Why, is complex and political. Why it had dominated so much work is quite simple – apart from the dynamic strength of the cross as a symbol – for me it became a noun, verb AND adjective.

‘Portland Stone’, a circular lump of stone, discarded long ago and dumped on a cliff edge on Portland. Partly hidden and visually poised to roll, crushing anything in its way, yet so firmly embedded it could be a monument. This thing is no doughnut, it is big – I need it – my painting needs it – my language needs it.
There is duality – the strength is in the telling, the image is the vehicle. Each leans heavily on the other, the result some kind of illumination – and the look? Well; If I go down a mine I want the brightest light, not the prettiest.

John Loker 1994

Notes on recent work

‘Rolling Closure’ is a term used in cycle racing to describe the way the route is closed to traffic as a race approaches and opened as it passes, causing minimum disruption to the normal state.

‘Rolling Closure’, seems to be rich in its insinuation and content, where I am going with it is still unsure but I am intrigued by the idea of this moving island of activity passing through and against the usual chaos of the traffic flow. The passive pushing slowly through the powerful? – It has become my working title.

I am initially drawn to the main objects or elements in the work by their beauty, power of function but there is always an underlying content, to be found and developed. Like the icons on a computer, the small image is a surface sign for that which is hidden beneath. Click – and they open.

Painting is the way I try to ‘open’ the elements – The whales tail had a simple beauty for me, the way I could intertwine two or more suggested a gentle waltzing from this huge mammal but that at the same time it is the most powerful animal on earth – But yet so vulnerable!
In the recent series of horizontal works on paper the image which resembles a slightly dumpy little aircraft zapping along is actually taken from a NASA photograph of a space capsule exploding on re-entry, again vulnerable of power.

With the ‘Wiper Series’ the wiper action of the image led to ways of realising the paintings, physically recreating the wiper and using it to obscure images already made. Again the contradiction is informing the work – wipers move, mine obscure. This is recalling of an encounter with a twister whilst driving – my wipers just did not wipe.

These thoughts and experiences are feeding the work, they excite me, generating the energy of it, but the working process is the real inventor and director of the work, finding ways of manipulating surfaces e.g. folding and manipulating the paper surface to reveal the hidden or finding ways to describe an infinity whilst still preserving the integrity of the canvas or paper surface. These are limitless moves and manipulations of a very physical and messy substance, paint. Instinct, contrivance, intellect and emotion are all contributors to the process.
John Loker 30 / 7 / 2015