MIRANDA BOULTON & JANE PRYOR: ON DOUBLE TIME
Miranda Boulton & Jane Pryor, May 2019
Cambridge-based artists Miranda Boulton and Jane Pryor share a studio space and their joint show, Double Time, is opening on 6th June at Arthouse1, London. As painters, both artists are interested in aspects of time in their practice: the time of painting, time of viewing, time between studio sessions. Time folds in and around itself and back out again as the artist-friends create the visual reminder of this process. In this interview, they discuss the premise for the show and their processes, inspirations and motivations in the studio.
Studio. Left: Jane Pryor. Right: Miranda Boulton
Jane Pryor: So, when we started the process of thinking about doing a show together, we came up with the idea of Double Time. The title arose from a quote from Michaeal O’Siadhail’s poem, which resonated with the conversations we were having at the time:
‘Looped awareness vibrates like a twofold rhyme.
Sweet density. And I want to live in double time.’
Miranda Boulton: What does that mean for you - living in ‘double time’?
JP: I think it’s important to mention the context of the poem, in which O’Siadhail is talking about recovering from a serious illness. It prompted me to become more aware of our mortality, and the desire to appreciate life and the present moment.
I think that in paying attention we experience an expansion of the moment. I work a lot with fragments of colour and paper or canvas, which are transient and mutable. The neon colours I’ve been using are a nod to the hyper reality of the moment and to transience as they are fugitive and not always visible.
MB: Are you trying to show in your work how you live in the moment? Is that the feeling you’re trying to create?
JP: It’s all in the process I think. I do a lot of arranging of bits and pieces on the studio wall, which I then reference in the paintings. They don’t refer to anything external; they are in and of themselves complete entities. They reference a body of work and, of course, other abstract painting. I also bring paintings together after they are painted, to make pairs (rather than diptychs). This introduces another reflection on ‘double time’ as new meanings arise from the pairings. I work in two studios (home and shared space) so I bring thoughts and memories from one place to the other. There is a lot of open space in my work with the shapes sitting at the edge of the canvas.
"The neon colours I've been using are a nod to the hyper reality of the moment"
Jane Pryor, I'm on your side, 2018-19
Left: Oil on canvas, 30 x 35 cm.
Right: Acrylic and oil on canvas, 18 x 24 cm.
MB: 'Double time' has several elements for me:
I have a process where I source randomly chosen images of flowers late at night on the internet. For me the conscious and subconscious mind feels closer at night without the clutter of the day. It is my subconscious response to the images that I am interested in exploring. I focus on remembering how I’m feeling and look at the colours distorted by the brightness of the screen in the dark room. The next day I paint from this memory. So, there is the transition of time between night and day.
For our show, Double Time, I set a strict process of working on two or three canvases at the same time. I start with the memory of the same image on each canvas. Each new layer is a response to a new image. I found it interesting to see how the paintings evolved through this process. Once you have the first layer, you are not only responding to the memory but also to what you have already done. My aim is to get to a place where I am painting away from the original memory and accessing my subconscious responses. I find through this process I can work through my conscious responses and get to a place of knowing and unknowing both at the same time. Maybe this is another element of double time. It is then that the work takes on a life of its own and often surprises me.
JP: I’ve been thinking about the part that language plays in us moving through time. I think the place we are in when we are painting is outside language, a pre-linguistic state. It’s not until you move from that state as you verbally articulate the work, that you start to move forward. I think that without language you end up repeating things, stuck in circularity and endless repetition.
MB: It’s in your work as well, in repeating forms, and in my work through using the same memory over and over, exploring the experience of an event and then the distortion of it. In the paintings, I’m trying to be really honest about the original memory.
Miranda Boulton, Before and After, 2018
Oil on canvas, 120 x 100 cm.
Miranda Boulton, Teetering, 2019
Oil on canvas, 50 x 40 cm.
JP: In life, we do a lot of editing, but you’re almost not editing – you’re keeping it all in there.
MB: Definitely, it’s an exercise for me in being honest about the image, and in trying to apply that to life as well. It’s so hard to do. Some memories are really raw and you just don’t know where they come from – quite a primitive place, a deep memory which you can somehow access when painting, although I’m not aware of looking for them.
JP: I think we both have quite an emotional connection to colour and there are echoes in our work across the studio. For me, as I work in a more minimal way to you, I’m looking for that one colour that goes ‘POW’ – or the one brush stroke, the colour and stroke together that speaks. For you, using so many colours and gestures, it’s keeping a sense of form and drawing which is important.
MB: Sometimes the hardest thing is to get the contrast and balance right.
JP: And as we were saying, working in that area where you are conscious of it but trying not to be.
MB: Yes, there’s that Philip Guston quote about studio ghosts:
‘When you're in the studio painting, there are a lot of people in there with you - your teachers, friends, painters from history, critics... and one by one if you're really painting, they walk out. And if you're really painting YOU walk out.’
JP: Shall we talk about how our work has effected each other? It’s something we’ve tried not to be aware of but is definitely there! What was the word we came up with? Creep? Colour creep! Creeping colour across the studio floor.
MB: I love the thought of our work having chats at night.
JP: I do too, I like the idea that they have a life beyond us somehow.
Jane Pryor, Looking for Fun, 2019
Acrylic and collaged canvas, 102 x 127 cm.
Miranda Boulton, Amaranth, 2019
Oil on canvas, 50 x 40 cm.
"it's an excercise for me in being honest about the image"
"I love the thought of our work having chats at night"
MB: Two formal elements link our work - colour and gesture. In the last year and a half, we’ve both really articulated our practice in parallel to each other.
JP: I think we’ve both become more intentional. Initially we were both thinking about what 'double time’ meant to us and how we might address that. As we became clearer about our process and were held by that, we became immersed in making the work. It’s interesting now to get to the point where we are verbally articulating what we’ve been doing.
MB: I made a conscious decision to step away from black and embrace colour. This was influenced by the project I worked on prior to starting the work for Double Time, which looked at the paintings of Winifred Nicholson. I am sure having a lot of neon coming from your side of the studio and thinking about the artificial colours from a screen at night has also had an impact.
JP: I decided to move away from oil paint to acrylic. It’s been very liberating for me to leave behind that weight of history so I could move it into some other space. I realise now that I’ve located my ancestry in New York painting of the 60s and 70s. It’s been interesting to see you using oil paint in a more traditional way and taking some of that thought from my side, influencing your colour.
MB: Yes, I’ve been thinking about contrast, how colours influence each other and the space in between colours. I’m more aware of all the elements. This body of work feels much more considered.
MB: ‘Double time’ for me makes me aware of the gaps in-between the space. I think of the influence of Diebenkorn in how he left areas of his paintings bare in the Ocean Park series
JP: Yes, the huge spaces there. Interesting, because I wouldn’t have related your work to Diebenkorn really.
MB: I think he gave me permission to not have to fill all the gaps, to leave space. With the last paintings I completed for the show, I pulled back a lot more and left areas unpainted.
JP: That’s funny because we’ve not talked about Diebenkorn before and he was influential to me maybe 15 years ago. I thought a lot about his work and when I first started abstract painting he was a big influence. I think the most interesting influences are more oblique, coming at it from a different angle.
Boulton & Pryor, Double Time, Image Two
MB: I like his studio rules.
JP: Yes, I know those. I don’t have studio rules. I feel like I’m embedding the process.
MB: I have studio rules, but I like to break them. They keep me within boundaries; keep me from going off the rails until I intentionally break them.
JP: A show that was significant to me last year was Giorgio Griffa at Camden Arts Centre – he showed a lot of pieces from the 70s on un-stretched canvas, minimally painted, with an overall feeling of lightness. Also, Sarah Sze, whose work is totally different but she uses so many different elements repurposed to make something else. Her show at Victoria Miro completely blew me away. I recognised some connection there in her use of lots of fragments of films, bits and pieces of imagery from all over the place.
MB: I’d say Amy Sillman is a big influence, the drawing in the painting. I love the way she destroys something to make it new. She’ll rework paintings even a few years later and although she might obliterate the image it will still have some sort of resonance. There’s a room full of 17th century Dutch flower paintings, such as Rachel Ruysch, in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, which I love to go to. For me, flower paintings contain everything; life, drama, death, birth. It’s got the big life events covered and the everyday. It gives me a vehicle to experiment with the formal elements.
JP: So, where to from here? Do you have sight of where your work is going in future?
MB: I have an idea for a new body of work which involves revisiting two series I worked on three years ago 'Night Flowers' and 'Bell Jars'. The paintings felt finished for me at the time, but recently I have had the urge to work back into them. My process and ideas have become much more defined over the last year. I want to revive them and bring them up to date with my other work. I find it fascinating to build up new layers over old work, creating an archaeology to a painting over time.
JP: My approach to painting has changed a lot for me over the last year. I feel I’ve taken it apart and am still in the process of putting it back together, thinking about what painting can be - the private performative element of it. I want to move into the area of expanded painting, using un-stretched canvas and more collaged work on the canvas. Exciting times for us both – we’re definitely going to need more space – a studio each perhaps – meeting up for coffee and art chats regularly!