"Geometry allows me the freedom to channel a myriad of different material. It removes the potential chaos of having too many subject options, yet remains open to sensory or poetic influence."
Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practising artist and where did you study?
I live and work in London and have been a practising artist since 1981 when I completed my MA in Painting at Chelsea School of Art. Prior to that I’d been a BA student at Cardiff College of Art from 1974 to 1978. I knew I wanted to be an artist from an early age… I never had any doubts about going to art school and was quickly drawn towards painting and non-figurative art.
Could you tell us about these repeating geometric forms you create, would you say you are quite obsessed with certain shapes?
Geometry allows me the freedom to channel a myriad of different material. It removes the potential chaos of having too many subject options, yet remains open to sensory or poetic influence. I work with a variety of different geometric formations but it’s true to say I find the circle to be the purest, the most universal of all geometric shapes. I never tire of its associations with art and architecture, with ritual and religion and with the cosmos. I’ve been making circle paintings since the late 1980s and feel sure I will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine? What is your studio like?
I always walk to my studio, which takes about half an hour. The walking part is important …it clears my head and leaves me fresh for working. I’m lucky that my route takes me mostly off-road, through London Fields and then along the Regents Canal. My studio is in a beautiful 1930s building, owned and managed by ACME, an artist’s studio and housing association, and I’ve worked there for over 20 years. It has a cohort of about 30 artists and my partner Trevor Sutton works there too. He and I have a close dialogue; we visit one another’s studio every day.
I keep the studio tidy and organised… too much disorder interferes with my thought process. I normally work in series, on several paintings at any one time. I start intuitively, by pouring layer upon layer of unstructured liquefied oil paint over the canvas. Adding the meticulous over-painted geometric detail comes later. These combined processes satisfy my need for both chance and order. I try to achieve an atmospheric spatial quality in the grounds so as to create the equivalent of an environmental space in which the geometry can exist. Once the grounds are done, next comes the drawing and then finally the careful over-painting. The colour changes a lot. It’s never achieved in one go, so there’s a discreet physicality in the history of the surface.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
I’ve just seen Richard Long’s beautiful new installation Earth Sky at Houghton Hall in Norfolk. It’s an impressive experience, seeing his works in the context of formal gardens and parkland and the grand elegance of a Palladian house. His works take simple powerful forms; circles, lines, crosses, made in the most natural way from stone, slate and flint. And here they are made on a huge scale. There is a spectacular red Norfolk carrstone line, 84 metres long and also a giant circle made from fallen estate tree stumps. There are ghostly white pigment cascades poured from the tops of arched loggias on either side of the house and in the central Stone Hall of the house, itself a masterpiece, sits a Richard Long circle, another masterpiece in slate and flint.
How do you go about naming your work?
The provenance of my titles varies: some works are titled descriptively in numbered sequences, such as the recent Star, Ancestral Lines and Quadrille series. Others may record the place where they were made or an important event in my life, or simply offer poetic names that seem to fit their character. Every work is unique… it deserves a name. It’s important to use titles for identification purposes so I never leave finished works untitled.
Where has your work been headed more recently?
I’ve been making circle paintings exclusively for several years so I wanted to diversify by introducing very different geometry. By way of contrast I started exploring sharp pointed geometric formations, which, for no particular reason I have rarely used in the past. Firstly I worked with triangular motifs that quickly progressed into zig-zag chevron formations with a strong heraldic feel. Most recently, as variant of both circle and triangle I’ve started painting stars. Like the sun and moon, stars for me evoke the mysteries of the universe and the heavens: they come laden with inspiration drawn from the beauty and infinity of the cosmos.
From an early age until I was sixteen I studied classical ballet. I was never going to be a great ballet dancer but I enjoyed doing it. It did however provide me with a developed sense of physical spatial awareness that I use to this day. I’m acutely aware of my physical movements in relationship to painting; how my body is set during the act of painting and how the scale of a work affects this. Composition-wise I’ve always had a sense of spatial order and discipline when it comes to proportion and placement. Chevron paintings like Dance acknowledge this and the Quadrille series is named after the square dance famous for its precise steps and figures.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
I have a solo exhibition Pointstar, presently showing in London at Flowers Gallery, until 3 June. It’s the culmination of two years working on star and chevron paintings. Very large oil paintings on canvas are installed side by side with a series of tiny paintings on board.
I show more star paintings in Life Lines 27 May- 14 July with Galerie Gisèle Linder in Basel. This is a three-person exhibition with works on paper by Trevor Sutton and burnt line wood pieces by the late Roger Ackling, who was one of our closest friends. The show is dedicated to him.
Trevor and I are also working for the first time on a collaborative painting for a show at Cinnabar in San Antonio, Texas in September 2017. Four artist-couples are exhibiting individual works alongside their collaborations. We’ve just started our joint work and it will be interesting to see how well we can combine our imagery and methodologies to make a strong and unified painting.
Carol Robertson: Pointstar is on view at Flowers Gallery, London W1 until 3 June.
All images courtesy of Carol Robertson, Flowers Gallery London and New York
Interview published 01/06/17