The material as thought

andrew conti artist paint















Nothing gets done in painting without the paint.

How is that for a strong and enlightening statement.

It is a reminder for me that ideas are not to be trusted. Ideas literally are a dime a dozen. In your mind you can do any damn thing. You can scale mountains, re-paint Guernica, type the most perfect novel. But it’s all the endless and unstructured space of the mind. It’s a fun space to be in – no doubt, the monologue is never interrupted and you can just go on and on forever.

You’ll do this, and this, and this, and that. It will all be very wonderful, I’m sure.

In your head.

Painting however, is a dialogue. What matters when you paint is the material and what happens between you and the material. You converse, you argue, you come to blows at times, or even fall into one another’s arms like lovers.

But you aren’t alone when you are painting. There is always resistance. You may have the idea to make a certain shape, a jagged mountain for example, but whatever you wish for yourself, it keeps coming out a soft and billowy cloud of a mountain. You are left with a choice. Do you follow the brain, or do you follow the hand and the paint it’s talking with?

This isn’t just a question of technique. Yes, one could say that if you have the technique you are in control of the paint. But that sounds arrogant to me. If technique was everything, then one would be in a position to no longer need to paint, and therefore no longer really be able to paint. The reality that technique can’t always overcome is what makes painting a need in one’s life.

Paint is a physical material. And the realm of the physical is demanding. As great as it might be to spend all your time in your head imagining all the next great images, but without the material it is all just so much wind. With paint you are in the dirt – quite literally. It stays in shape, it stains, it breaks apart, it crumbles, or sticks in everything.

Materials don’t let you decide everything. They’re here too. As real as we are in so many ways. And when we act they either act with us or go the very opposite way.

That is the joy and struggle of obsession over a material. Without it nothing gets made.