Interview with Dr Stephen Haley for Artlink: Contemporary Art of Australia and the Asia Pacific, Vol 31, No 4, 2011
SH: Although your work addresses many issues, let’s concentrate on colour. First up – your technique involves pouring ‘skins’ of paint, cutting these into various landscape-like forms and recombining them as collage. How intentional is the colour choice or do you make various skins and then choose among them to create a work?
KS: I do both. I will intentionally choose colours to pour however due to numerous factors – such as temperature, viscosity and the properties of different paints and mediums – I can’t determine the outcome. For example a shellac-based ink will sometimes react with acrylic to create a fern leaf or amoeba like effect. This will usually prompt how I use the pour. I also do a number of pours so I have a selection to choose from.
SH: From Gauguin on, some Modernist painters began to use colour in new ways. They used non-local colour, heightened colour, or used colour to signal specific emotive content. How does your work relate to this tradition?
KS: I have studied and taught colour theory but I don’t intentionally apply its rules in my paintings. I am trying to depict an ambivalent relationship to the natural world so on one hand I use colour that will create an intense or sublime moment. But I also want it to be teetering on the verge of something toxic, psychedelic and artificial. A major influence has been digital colour in that it can only approximate the gradations that occur in natural light so that its colour is much more intense and saturated.
SH: It seems to me many Modernist painters retained a certain colour coherence in their work. Shocking as their work was in its day, your colour combinations suggest an altogether wilder level of discordance and disjunction. Do you see this disjunction as symptomatic of contemporary consciousness?
KS: Yes sure. A lot of people’s time is spent interacting in digital worlds – programs, games, phones, websites – so surely this changes consciousness? I think it has created a global epidemic of Attention Deficit Disorder. Maybe my paintings are just trying to get attention! The heightened colour is not just about something that is about to collapse but also something in the act of creation.
When I started the landscape works I was depicting icebergs and volcanoes, because to me there are they are the beginning and the end. It’s interesting that over the last few years there seems to have been an unprecedented amount of natural disasters. I don’t want to attach an eco-morality tale to my work, as much as consider that everything in the universe is made up of different combinations of the same thing. It fascinates me for example, that all the elements in the universe emit their own unique colour when they are burnt.
SH: Although your work references landscape, the colour combinations are clearly not of the look and put school. Yet despite being apparently capricious in construction, the results evoke visions of the actual landscape. To what degree are these meant to be evocations of particular, existent landscapes?
KS: The landscapes I created from the Northern Territory and the Kimberly are particularly influenced by the light and colour of these areas. For example the work Frozen Orange evokes a sunset I saw near Balgo that hovered on the horizon as orange band long after the stars had appeared. A lot of the tree works were inspired by the shifting glow of the sun on the bark of ghost gum trees. I remember the colours of a landscape and then amp them up capturing them at the moment when they are most intense – the magic hour
SH: Colour is not a fixed property of an object but arises from perception. It shifts with the conditions of perception and is therefore is extremely relative, efflorescent. Is this a key point in the work – to conjure an unpredictable number of experiential perceptions and mental states in each viewer?
KS: Exactly. I use iridescent glitter for this reason. It takes on the colours around it and will shift from green to blue or orange to red depending where the viewer is standing. The reflection landscapes I do are not true reflections at all – i.e. they do not exactly mirror each other, but combined with an airbrush layer, they create the sense that they are. My work is just as much about ‘painting’ and perception as it is about landscape.
Dr Stephen Haley is a practicing and exhibiting artist who uses paintings, digital imaging and projection. He is a lecturer and Graduate Research