Emyr Williams on colour, paint and painting

Emyr Williams; colour, paint and painting

“These works were first started in Syracuse, New York in the early nineties. I had been over there the summer before and visited the Golden paints factory – You could drive up and get 50% discount on their paints and also they’d give you a box of “junk gels” – odds and sods of paint and gels which were either end of line , or damaged in some – minor at times- way. I had experimented with gels and folds of canvas, and generally tried really loading up the surfaces. There had been a memorable Olitski show on in London in 1990 and I was amazed by the sheer thickness of paint on this works. Big baroque like sweeps of gelled paint. I marvelled at how much the damn things would have cost to make! One thing struck me though for all the whipped up surfaces there was a tonal receding atmospheric space in them. I began to ponder the challenge of making something very small that occupied the wall space rather than suggesting a fictive one. 

My first efforts were painted dollopy works on heavy duty polythene. I was using a  Golden heavy gel mixed in with heavy body acrylics. These , I would then peel off when dry and stick to a canvas support. The polythene was useful to be able to remove chunks of the work easily.  I made a hundred or so of these small things, but was dissatisfied with their pervasive landscape feel. The colour for one thing was trying too hard to be pictorial. 

I started introducing paste gel to give a slightly different sheen and started using a lot more chromatic colour. Varying the dollops, they often had an icing sugar feel – weird cake-like things. I began to get a bit more systematic with them: the dollops became more like boulder blobs, often sitting on a ground colour that had a matte medium in it to make the blobs adhere a little better. Shrinkage and weight were issues which I started to cope with. I had no idea where these things were going. I had them stuffed in drawers, piled up.

After the blobs, came the twirls – pasta twist like forms of paint snaking around these tiny squares of canvas. I tried coloured canvases, greys, blacks, blues instead of ground colours.   The works developed into horizontal rows – this fought against the compositional issues that I didn’t like, which seemed too conventionally ‘picture making’. 

I remember making a pencil sketch of bulging pillows of colour all linked together, but stared at it with trepidation  – so much paint, the technicalities of getting the twirls of gelled paint to hold their shape, weave into each other and work with no break either above below or to the side.

I phoned up Mark Golden – the boss of Golden paints. I explained what I was doing, I sent him some pictures. He said Golden were making a new gel called High Solid. By now I had figured out how to weave the paint and make it expressive -I could control it better.  Four rows, became five. I introduced a stagger to create a six and seven row painting.  I began using a line of Golden paints called “high-loads” – intensely pigmented paint. These were needed to give the strength of colour when combined with the high solid gel, which dried to a slightly milky finish. I solved the shrinkage issue – by poking small pieces of foam board in to the rolls of paint as they dried which cut out any noticeable shrinkage.

I made another couple more series – each time trying to get the individual chunk or roll of colour as heavy as I could. The last ones I made had the most synthetic quality to them and after 600 or so of them I felt the time was right to stop. I also had a physical need to spread paint on larger surfaces. The exhibited works were made on 12oz cotton duck, stretched over squares of chipboard to prevent sagging. I used Golden high load pigments. The binder was  high solid gel and a paste gel to alter sheen (though this was softer so I had to part mix with the high solid to boost its size but allow it to hold its shape).” ~ Emyr Williams

Emyr’s work recently featured in “Room for Manoeuvre” . As part of the Critical Forum , The Brancaster Chronicles.

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