Tonto: What kind of adventure to who knows where?
Updated: Jul 18
At a time when I was trying to work out what direction to take my work, a friend of mine whose ceramics are very successful took a look at my first paintings which weren't commissions. I had only done about three or four and was just dipping my toes into working with my own ideas using my imagination.
On seeing these initial pieces, she must have seen something in them and I received a simple message of encouragement: "I think you should go full Tonto with the paintings".
What a fantastic piece of advice! It appeals to the inner child in me and evokes images of someone working un-self-consciously, riding the waves of their own enthusiasm into whichever unexpected distant plains the winds of their imagination might guide them: pure creative freedom! I took on this advice as much as I could focusing on the act of producing while trying to keep the anxious voices that question the worth of what I'm doing at bay. I started this painting in this spirit - quickly painting in the shapes that came out my mind that morning.
Like with a lot of my work that comes out while I'm in a sort of possessed state, it's only after its creation and I have had the space to understand really what it is that I'm saying / the painting expresses. Often it can show me something about how I'm feeling that I hadn't noticed, or sometimes it just gives me a unchanging visual medium to contemplate, bounce off and come back to, something physical and constant as opposed to the unfixed mind which can be too fleeting and jumpy to properly think through certain things!
This painting comes from somewhere quiet and private, which expresses a feeling of searching for something, slowly working through the darkness of a forest at night. It is a snapshot of slowing of the 'full-Tonto' charge. A contemplation on and unknown part, perhaps looking for my flow and listening out for any signs or sounds that might usher in the next idea.
As always, one of the parts of the job is to understand the direction of the work. There is a junction in every painting, which comes once you've put down the initial gambit and you reach the end of the preconceived vision you had in mind. Everything you had in mind has now been emptied onto the page. At this point, I have to stop and shift gears. From the active 'imposing' of marks to sketch out the vision, I find myself at a point where I take stock of what is already there and reflect on it to see where the painting is going. What possibilities are trying to come through? Unlike the kinetic opening marks, my role takes on a more contemplative 'listening' aspect.
A forest sound scampers out from the belly of the woods, alighting the attention of our trusty travellers. The impenetrable wall of green wooded guards now seems to guard a hidden world of snarling beasts and ancient spirits cavorting behind the leafy curtain; out of view to earthly eyes but perceptible to keen souls. Tonto understands the scraps of sound that spark from the ironworks of the unknown. I attentively sit astride my faithful companion, trying to steady my nervous knees which rustle like leaves in the wind. Tonto's connection to the land and his animal instinct sees things than my educated mind cannot.
I went back-and-forth on the idea of having a hat – I spent so much time working on the rest the painting, so if I painted a hat in and it wasn't right, it would mean painting it out again, which would take a lot of work - I would have to redo the face and the surroundings to get it all uniform. I oo'ed and erred about it - which almost always means that it needs changing. In the end I think it paid off really well and I love his hat.
A little side-note: One of the things I realised from doing all these paintings is how much I like hats.
I think this piece is a depiction of listening and being attentive at a time when it isn't clear what's happening, what to do or where to go. There are many different voices that I hear on a daily basis which suggest various options and paths to take, so it's not always clear what’s important or what to do. With Tonto riding with me - sometimes I take space to pay attention to what is going on around me, and with some brave giant dog steps and my fantastic hat, all will be well as I walk the dusty path into the winds of the unknown...