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Richard Wathen: A Position of Uncertainty!

Richard Wathen, execute magazine
Richard Wathen ‘Mantled’ 2017:18 60 x 51cm

According to you, “figures are drawn from a variety of iconographic sources such as old books, photographic portraits, historical art references, and snapshots. Gender and age are distorted by the use of disquieting details that dislocate the subject in time and place.” Does this statement still apply to your work?

Yes, I would say it still applies. The word ‘dislocate’ seems especially important to me in relation to recent work. 2. When I look at your work, I think about Baroque and Orthodox Iconic paintings. Is this the actual opinion you want us the viewers of your work to have?

2. The work has a strong dialogue with Art history and I’m happy for those associations to be made.

When I first started making portraits in 2002 I wanted to make paintings that looked very familiar or comforting, but which, on closer inspection, would convey a very different psychological state. I used clothing etc from Historical paintings, including the periods you mention; enabling the viewer to sleepwalk into the conventions of the painting. Over time I hoped the viewer would begin to appreciate an unease within the work. 

 ‘Wathen’s  paintings leak their meaning slowly- if we can even call it meaning- as if each punctum operates like a narrow bore pipe through which significance ekes, instead of flooding out through the entire pictorial plane. The time structures that have been set up, their anachronisms and compressions, should be allowed to unravel slowly in our consciousness, like geology.’  (Sally O’Reilly 2006).

3. Did you study the art of hypnosis? Because, each time I look at your painting, I get hypnotized by its color, simplicity, tension, and the delicate nature of its brushstrokes. Tell us about the process of painting each of this piece?

I’ve not studied hypnosis but really like your response to the paintings. Maybe it’s the eyes? Others have said the figures in the paintings look catatonic. I want the works to unfold over time and yes, ultimately hypnotize the viewer! 

The works come about in different ways but are usually derived from an existing image that grabs my attention. I work directly onto the paintings and change them many times. The paintings lead me; I often don’t know where I’m going. Sometimes I reach a dead end and abandon them but more often than not I stumble upon something that offers a direction forward.

4. What message are you trying to relay with your work?

A message suggests clarity and in a way I’m not sure I want that. I would like the works to nudge the viewer in slow motion towards a position of uncertainty.  I’m interested in the sensations of being alive, notably fragility, doubt, Vulnerability, loss, touch.  

Richard Wathen, execute magazine
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5. Do you explore individuality in your paintings? If so, do you reflect your own self in the paintings?

No I don’t explore individuality. I prefer the characters in the works to maintain a non-specific quality where age and gender are ambiguous. 

I would say my own history and experience certainly inform ideas and I have previously described them as psychological self portraits; allowing me to convey a visual manifestation of a ‘nagging idea’/impulse.  

6. How long does it take for you to complete one painting? It does look like you spend a lot of time with the surface. I might be wrong though, no?

I tend to work on a number of paintings at the same time so its difficult to say.  I would estimate around a month per painting. 

I do spend a great deal of time on the surface and have to stop myself becoming too obsessed by it (painting it again and again).   I am now looking at ways to develop the paintings to leave parts with a briefer, less polished quality. 

7. How do you plan each painting session? Do you meditate before you start or dive right into it? Do you think you perform better with a routine or in the midst of chaos? 

I spend a good amount of time looking before I paint, and have always been like that. I remember feeling envious in shared studios when certain artists were able to walk in and immediately begin painting.

 I used to love working through the night when I was younger and lived in my studio; not an option now with a family. 

I think I perform better with the focus a deadline brings but I’m equally happy to work in the midst of chaos.

8. What do you expect from a viewer when he/she looks at your work?

Hopefully the viewer will still be thinking about the work long after viewing it. A response is good even if they hate the work. I have disliked the works of painters, and gone on to love them. 

9. What is contemporary art?

Contemporary Art sees Artists create works and dialogue in any form or media. It embraces the speed in which technology and contemporary life move forward but is equally happy to embrace history. 

It is a place for new approaches and new ideas and painting is very much alive.



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