In Dialogue: Playpaint

Painting at the End of the World in conversation with London based project playpaint.

PatEotW: Sorry for the slow start of this conversation…been a crazy week.

So, first question I guess should be why is the statement here temporary? Has something in the process changed? ( The statement referred to, was a short text provided by Playpaint in advance of the conversation and is perhaps available to view, should you want to, here).

PP: There’s no single process. And I’m not sure that there is a unifying rational apart from that each painting is made independently. But some paintings share similar characteristics or follow similar methods of production. And I wouldn’t rule out making painting in series or repetition.

If there is a significant shift in the way the paintings are made it’s most likely as a result of the project ceasing to be collaborative. When the project started in 2008 with Damian Nelson the practical demands of working together meant we had to find ways to communicate visual ideas directly and coherently, usually verbally. The outcome of this resulted in ideas that were reducible to simple directions or explanations. Post-collaboration, the work can now become more complex in design and production. This isn’t necessarily a development though, but more an expansion of possibilities.

PatEotW: So, I have a few questions about this but lets discuss the collaborative aspect first. When you and Damian worked together, did you each work on the same piece at the same time? Did you start with a conversation? How did that conversation go, in terms of technique and colour etc? Or was it all according to the statement?

PP: Yes we worked on paintings at the same time.  And usually each painting started with a conversation, one of us suggesting an idea, then together discussing how to proceed. Occasionally an idea would be presented with a simple visual demonstration or a small-scale trial run. Mostly paintings were process led. So we would begin with a method of applying paint, which was usually generative, then assess possible outcomes in terms of design, choosing the most promising ones. Sometime we would invent a tool or use found objects to produce a painting. Another strategy would be to apply simple geometric rules. When completed paintings didn’t interest us or if we made disappointing mistakes we recycled the paintings adding other paintings on top.  Some paintings become increasingly combinatorial. We were interested in generating complexity and unpredictability by applying this simple device. Sometime mistakes were deliberately engineered if we thought they made the paintings more compelling.

PatEotW: Thinking about recent work post collaboration like ‘add click kludge’, there appears to be concern for unified tone via colour, and a kind of flattening and iteration of surface via material application, but allowing a shallow illusory depth of converging planes as a result of that combination…So might some concerns now be about articulating space…but in a very flat way (is that possible?) I’m thinking about post-analogue painting, and how Kathy Grayson at the Hole in New York might say something about the mac screen, or how Charley Peters might talk about mac-straction, i.e., contemporary painting being concerned with the flat space of the screen and all the tell tale cues of flatness?

PP: The rendering of space in the paintings is treated as a component, a variable across a spectrum of many possible alternatives. Any characteristic of a painting is approached this way, as a potential component, and any of these be can bolted together in any combination. Painting processes can be treated a presets which can be repeated or modified.

There does seem to be an overlap between the paintings and the compression and ambiguity of the digital screen, although this arises in the project more from discovery than pursuit. Comparisons can also be made in the paintings between digital algorithms and rule based processes, design and image editing, and screen resolution and scale.

I think a concern here is with the accumulation of content as propositions for further paintings. An idea of exponential potential and ceaseless novelty. But also I’m interested in the catalytic properties of paint as a material, of painting as a transition from an unstable to stable condition.

PatEotW: Could you give me an example of a geometric rule used perhaps?

PP: Ok, here’s an early example. Within the painting, start with a line of any length. From the centre of the line, at a 90˚ angle, measure the distance to nearest edge of the painting. Make a circle at this position, using the measurement as the diameter for the circle. Taking a point from either end of the first line repeat these steps to make a 2nd line + circle. Then from the open end of the 2nd line repeat the steps to make a 3rd line + circle. Continue repeating until the painting is finished. The results included “Painting” 2010, “Recharge” 2010, “Paused” 2010-2011 and “Default Double Channel Compression” 2010.

PatEotW: Broadly, if I’m thinking in terms of analogue and its post, I might describe the ‘toolkit’ or the ‘presets’ as analogue. This would be a bank of knowledge of material, technique and process to be deployed when needed. I then would say visually or aesthetically the paintings fit into the post-analogue or mac-straction aesthetic quite neatly. I know we can talk about this later, but what is your feeling about the transfer occurring there?

PP: Yes, but it’s a coincidence really. I’m interested in the overall aesthetic parameters that painting can occupy. I like the idea that this is accumulative rather than linear. That novelty is exponential and in painting can embrace all possible visual registers including those corresponding to digital visual media.

Visual elements in the world are resources that can be that can brought into the work or suggest starting points for the work.

Perhaps there is a question why the paintings seem to predominantly overlap this “post-analogue” aesthetic territory when there’s already an abundance of other possibilities (which are not discounted by the way). There could be a number of reasons. Because the initial intent of the project was collaborative and focused on the basic problem making paintings and negotiating decisions, the methodology focused on processes that eschewed drawing as a foundation for painting in favour of edition where the collaborative roles could be easily and seamlessly interchangeable. We were interested in engineering the paintings rather than authoring them. I think this gave us a kind of short cut for getting the job done. Examples of edition could be cut and paste, technical glitches, repetition, sampling, spatial compression and ambiguity from layering and partition and generative complexity.

Also painting is already a technology and we wanted to invent tools and novel methods of applying paint to further remove ourselves from the process to some extent. And the paintings needed to be made quickly so for instance generating complexity, and volume of complexity, from very simple methods was always an advantage.

PatEotW: What is absolutely fascinating for me is the idea of systemization in order to achieve the removal of author. Is that possible? Two questions arise there for me the first being: what might have been removed specifically and secondly: why would you do that? Replace the instability of painting ‘as you go’ (which might be the thing removed) in favor of a kind of mathematical happenstance that acts as an undecipherable code?

PP: Well I think the last comment suggests that a process can unfold without requiring further decisions. Completing a painting all in one go perhaps. Decisions must precede this of course. But it doesn’t always happen that way. There’s no consistency. Sometimes it’s interesting to improvise depending on the components at hand, or that come to mind, or even to completely change tack on a whim. But there’s no systematization in order to remove the author, only systematization in order to end up with a painting. It’s pragmatism pursued in anticipation of a surprising outcome.

There are no ‘codes’ in the paintings. Even undecipherable one’s. Codes are out.

PatEotW: Ok so continuing…

So the word ‘design’ is interesting to me. You mention that there is a generative process in terms of application of paint (I’m guessing that is based on techniques already used previously?) and was that over the whole surface? And I’m interested in this notion of the designing of a painting. I might get a vision that I then commit to sketch and then on to a canvas. Are you talking about potential elements that may or may not work together in a whole? Or does or did a similar ‘vision’ of a thing occur that you take forward?

PP: Design in the paintings establishes the arrangement and characteristics of components that cannot be determined by process.

The design can be resolved from a mental image, by trial and error or improvisation. (And from any combination of these).

Usually the first method applies where the outcome of a process can easily be anticipated, the second where an unsatisfactory outcome requires a re-run and the last where several additive procedures are attempted.

Choice of colour, for instance, might be arbitrary (or off the shelf), modulated in a palette to separate layers of paintings through contrast, or selected sequentially to forestall a predictable outcome.

The interest in design is about comparisons of variation. Testing within each painting potential alternative arrangements and features that might be visually very close but apparently more, or less, compelling. Or greater differences if a process allows these. A concern throughout the project has been how one visual outcome can seem more compelling than another, even when they might sometimes appear almost identical.

PatEotW: So this ‘programmable’ (for want of a better phrase) approach to the creation of a painting appears to slip between a desire for the arbitrary, whilst at the same time in part, omit the arbitrary. I obviously think of it in a similar way to the choosing of a filter in Instagram etc perhaps. Is this a bit like anti painting? I’m thinking of a conversation I had with Nathan Ritterpusch, who uses B+W photos as a source to make colour painted versions ie, making up the colour according to tonal prompts from the original B+W.

PP: If there is an inter-play between the arbitrary and the determinate it simply functions as means to an end. A choice amongst many alternatives that can help trigger another successful outcome. After all the paintings won’t make themselves. So convenience, a short cut, can sometimes be a consideration (like a filter in Instagram) but I don’t regard one approach as better or worse than another. It just has to work. I wouldn’t characterize this as anti-painting because I’m only really interested in the paintings per se, not to (in production at least) any assumption of meaning in excess of the painting. Like process as a statement or gesture. The work doesn’t have an agenda in that sense.

PatEotW: I was thinking then that I might want to challenge that notion of agenda in the paintings. For me they have a very particular kind of agency, that I would argue is the notion of the ‘painting as quasi person’ according to Isabelle Graw. I don’t really want to give you a reading to see what you think, but maybe that is the question: what you say if I wanted to write some interpretation of the work at the end of the conversation?

PP: I’m a spectator to the paintings. After a while I sometimes forget how they were put together, especially the early collaborative ones (Who did what, who came up with the idea)? The paintings are an end in themselves and any commentary is going to be extrinsic to the work. But I welcome speculation around the work as another kind of collaboration, as further possibilities in a development of alternative variation. Paintings have multiple lives in the minds of onlookers and that’s kind of interesting. LOL !


Painting at the End of the World would like to thank Playpaint for this very generous insight into their painting practice. I hope to take the opportunity in the next weeks and months to accept the offer of providing further speculation around the practice by bringing in a collaborative writing/response element, that hopefully continues this dialogue.