Darren’s work fascinates me. The unresolved quality in the narrative of his work presents the powerful reality of not knowing. The individuals in Darren’s paintings often seem to not know where they are, which naturally makes us ask, ‘what’s going on?’ There is enough information for us to make sense of the scene, but not enough to give us an understanding of the narrative. We have recognition but not understanding and this in turn nullifies the recognition. I’ve rarely come across this kind of sensation when looking at art. Darren told me a tale about one of his paintings of two figures engulfed at midriff in a stream of flowing golden blob. When one viewer became insistent on knowing what the figures were doing, Darren’s reply was, “they’re not really there.” He told me it was a comment borne out of a bit of frustration at someone who just refused to accept the fact that the painting wouldn’t tell him everything he wanted to know about it.
Brilliant, and exactly the point.
Jane Boyer: In your artist statement you say, “I paint despite (or perhaps because of) my conviction that it doesn’t make sense to paint.’” That’s a compelling statement; can you explain what you mean?
Darren Nixon: Although painting is currently enjoying a small renaissance, you still feel, as painter the need to defend your decision to paint. When I think about why I paint, it strikes me that many of the reasons why don’t seem to make sense in the world of contemporary art; they are the very reasons why I love doing so. The weight of history which comes attached to painting – the fact that each painting has to come to terms with just being a painting following all the other paintings which have come before – just adds to its richness for me. As someone who is interested in the layers of meaning which come attached to any image, I love the fact that any time I start a painting it feels like joining a conversation which is already well under way.
JB: “The faces which have recently found their way into my work are generally background figures in newspaper images, people who seem somehow disconnected and remote from the events unfolding in the photograph as a whole. I love the idea that they are looking at or thinking about something wholly unconnected from the scene which has caused their appearance in today’s paper.” This statement from your recent artist statement suggests an even further disconnected engagement with the ‘conversation’; in that you’re interested in figures that are disengaged from their context. As voyeur/painter for these scenes, what is in that off-kilter placement of attention that intrigues you?
DN: There are several reasons, I think, that these faces interest me: Firstly I just like imagining what is going through that person’s head. When I was younger I remember it completely blowing my mind when I first realised that every person I walked past in the street every day was as much of a person as me, with at least as many thoughts in their heads as I had. I suppose this is just an extension of that kind of thinking – I love the thought that each person in every photo in every newspaper has just as much interesting stuff going on in their lives as the individual who is the focus of the story. The impossibility of knowing what is going on in that person’s head at that moment also reminds me of the difficulty of meaningfully conveying any complex idea using any kind of imagery.
JB: These notions of diverted attention also suggest we’re only outwardly engaged, but underneath it all we are being impelled by a sense of fascination. Do you think this leads to isolation or an enriched reality?
DN: One of the reasons I source mainly from newspaper, television and internet imagery is because the way we interact with these media shapes so many of our opinions about the world around us. Most of what I know about the world has been drawn in a fairly disjointed and fragmentary fashion from this huge, seemingly ever present sea of information. The sheer amount of available knowledge is so overwhelming that I end up feeling always frustrated that I know nothing about anything. Not knowing what I should be spending my time getting to know, I end up with a constant sense of only ever partially understanding even the most important current and historical events. I am impelled by a great fascination but end up mostly confused about which direction to allow my fascination to lead me in the time I have.
Although partial understanding can be frustrating and isolating, it does carry its own qualities. As events become jumbled and confused in our minds a kind of magical haze is thrown over everything. We start to create our own narratives, filling in the gaps between what we pick up from various sources with any number of unreliable memories and opinions. In a sense this is what I invite the viewer to do when they look at my paintings. The background figures I mentioned earlier, who seem disconnected from the scene of the photo in which they appear are a reminder of that ever present sense that there is always something just as interesting and ready to steal your attention just off camera from what you are focusing on. My work sometimes becomes a celebration of the joy of not knowing and the possibilities not knowing can offer you.
JB: Tell us about your painting, Untitled – 300511. The removal of the children from their class surroundings highlights their insecurities, nervousness and vulnerability. There seems to be no comfort by being part of the group.
DN: Untitled – 300511 originally came from my love of Marlene Dumas’ painting The Teacher (sub a) and my own curiosity to see if I could pull off a painting of a large group in the same manner. Like most of the paintings I am happiest with, much of what makes this piece work comes from trying to react to a combination of happy accidents and frustrating obstacles. The ghostly figures were originally intended to be the first layer in a much deeper more vibrant final composition, closer to the Dumas piece, but I found something I didn’t want to lose in the first layer by adding further layers.
JB: Do you think the fragmentary and disjointed nature of our information sources is having an effect on our identity and how we perceive ourselves in relation to it?
DN: I don’t really feel like I have any definitive answers to a lot of the questions I think about whilst painting. Whilst these are questions which obviously intrigue me, I am more interested in the idea that people who look at my paintings think about some of these questions in their own terms. In a way I am more interested in my work staying at the questions stage and looking at the possibilities which are opened when you start to ask questions. The idea of finding answers and reaching conclusions isn’t one which interests me so much.
We have developed a fantastic library of Suggested Reading by the artists in This ‘Me’ of Mine. Follow the links here or visit the BOOKSHOP to see all the books suggested so far. We hope you will see something inspiring for your own interests. If a book is unavailable, try the link to Abe Books.
Darren’s suggested reading:
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
The Castle by franz kafka
The Garden Party and Other Stories by Kathryn Mansfield
Labyrinths and the short story Blue Tigers by Jorge Luis Borges
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Cathedral by Raymond Carver
The Collected Stories by Ernest Hemingway
Photography a Critical Introduction edited by Liz Wells
Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Frank Sinatra Has a Cold: and Other Essays by Gay Talese