Neil Clements: Built. Lacking.
Neil Clements, the newest addition to doggerfisher’s roster of artists, talks to Liz Shannon about adapting his usual working methods for his latest exhibition
While primarily known as a painter, whose shaped canvases based on the designs of classic rock guitars were shown at DCA last year, Neil Clements’ new series of works for Edinburgh’s doggerfisher has required him to adapt his usual working methods. ‘I am working on a number of pieces for the show that use analogue technology which is on the verge of becoming obsolete – like large format polaroids or slide dissolve units,’ he says. ‘It’s a completely different way of working from going to my studio to paint every day.’
Inspired by artists’ use of neon and industrial fabrication in the 1960s and 70s, Clements’ new work evolved out of having one of his line drawings made into a piece of neon. He comments: ‘It becomes a means by which to detach yourself from the original drawing. Commissioning something as a neon sign introduces another layer of mediation between the idea and the final piece.’
The exhibition’s new works each consist of a piece of neon and an accompanying canvas depicting a painted facsimile of the neon. Clements notes: ‘The attempt to reproduce the effect of incandescent glass in paint is always going to prove futile, but I like how the paint looks so flat and subdued beside the neon – almost sad.’ The artist is intrigued by the idea that his process of making art may appear counter-productive: that he is creating (and re-creating) something that could be seen as hopelessly romantic, or even nihilistic. He describes these new works as ‘like a melancholic process painting. It’s redundant – poignantly redundant – but redundant all the same.’
Based around a sustained exploration of the nature of formalism, Clements’ practice explores the need to reduce something down to its pure, essential nature: an idea that greatly influenced much art of the 1960s and 70s. He describes his shaped canvases as a type of process painting that is as much about the legacy of abstraction as it is about musical references. He says: ‘I am very conscious that because of the shaped canvases people think I am interested in the anti-authoritive connotations or subcultural value of heavy metal, but really I am attracted to the idea of the overt theatricality implicit within the music, and how this could be used as a device to explore the theatricality of large scale abstraction. I was unsure with those works, whether I should tell people that they were based on guitar designs, because I am quite comfortable with them being read as shaped canvases: slippage occurs between the idea and the object.’
This idea of ‘slippage’ is visible in Clements’ new works. ‘I think all my work is marked by this idea of distance that the process of making introduces between the finished piece and the purity of the original concept,’ he says. ‘I am just trying to continue to come up with ways in which this distance can be made apparent.’
Neil Clements: Built. Lacking., doggerfisher, Edinburgh, Thu 16 Apr–Sat 6 Jun.