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02:03 Mark Connolly:  Self Portrait in a Bed

How to trick yourself into painting, how to know your own tropes, how to paint self portraits In which you are not the main focus just merely passing through. Abi went to speak to Mark at his studio in London earlier this year to speak to such topics. Painting is hard we reminded ourselves and finding our own rules is half the fun.

Abi Hampsey,
Artist and co-founder of Minutes.

Self Portrait in a Bed (Work in Progress), Mixed media
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I'm going to guess this painting is in progress. My Initial thought is, it's pretty big. It's got all these
patches stuck on it. Bits of it have colour or are more rendered, thicker. And then, like, the dominant
red and blue palette. And the imagery is just…

This is a brand new one. I've sort of somehow accidentally found myself at the beginning of a series
of self-portraits of sorts. Over the last couple of years I've been constantly searching for bridges and
parallels between different pockets of things that I'm interested in painting wise.

A lot of paintings I make sort of centre around allegory and narrative and other paintings are more
fantastical or inspired by nature, animals and utopian visions of a sort of unreal world. While also
being interested in making paintings that refer to the world in front of us, around us, as we occupy

So, this painting and the new self-portraits, I think have been a way of finding a new bridge.

I've made a lot of paintings in the past with kind of monsters and demons and things like that. I'm thinking about that as a whole thing, where that comes from and thinking about Christian
dogma and propaganda and how that fits to present day.

This one is a self-portrait of me asleep in my bed in Charlton and being lifted off into the night by a
winged, bird like devil or demon. And it's vaguely based on the neighbourhood that I live in.

It's interesting you clarify that, because when you first said self-portrait, I thought, Wow. That's so
interesting. I wonder why Mark sees himself as a devil with a mouth in his chest. But that’s not the
self-portrait. It's actually the person in the bed. Which is good to know.

Yeah, exactly. It could be quite misleading; “self-portrait as Winged Beaked Horned Devil”.

I feel like this painting actually, the self-portrait, ties into some of the earliest things I made finishing
the drawing year. I made this whole series of monotypes that were very self-referential, and the
series was called “Love Songs to No One” and it was really autobiographical, dealing with a breakup,
like really about heartbreak.

And this is really not unlike that. The self-portrait Sleeping in a Bed. I made this other one that was
Self-portrait Sleeping with an audience and it was based on a dream or something or you know, a
dream where you're looking at yourself, lying in bed in front of a window and theres people standing
outside looking in at you.

And it's the same sort of thing, but just with other elements and ingredients added to it.

Collage and the recycling of materials and surfaces has been quite a big part of my practice and I'm
figuring out how to juggle different languages within the paintings too.

And that's part of the fun figuring it out.

I use a lot of different paint, Michael Harding or Old Holland and also like cheaper stuff like Daler
Rowney and Windsor and Newton.

With the really highly pigmented stuff, it's counterintuitive to use that thickly because you get the
intensity of the colour with an absolutely sparse, minimal amount. I've always used materials in a
round about way but now I'm trying to work with the material as its intended to be used.

Working mindfully of it.

So, could you talk about the patches of the canvas, stuck on.

So, I use lots of different stuff for recycling. I've got a big mountain of works on paper, like paintings
on paper or paintings on loose bits of canvas and I will cut them out and chop them up or maybe just
plant them into a painting, or I might make an entire collage surface to work on.

I also paint on hardback book covers. I go to charity, thrift shops or flea markets. I really like having
lots of different types of surfaces. So, having these interruptions embedded in the surface. For
example, in the bottom left corner, there's a painting that was of a leopard in a tree.

And then immediately painted on top of it three cars and a house and a lamp post. But when I put
the same volume of Prussian blue across, it sits much differently to how it does on the red acrylic

But then the painting that was embedded before it, you have all of the iterations and nuance of
subtle change. It was a leopard in the tree, the bit that's bright on the top of it was the sky, you can
still sort of see bits the tail.

So, the way that they are collaged on, are they indications of where for instance you have chosen to
cover something up due to being unhappy with the drawing or painting to be able to do it again? Or
does it happen randomly like preparing a surface.

It goes back and forth. Sometimes I will use that as a way of redrawing into the painting. If I draw
something and I don’t like it, I could draw on a piece of paper or a canvas and stick it on. Sometimes
with the actual beginning process I already know; I'll be sifting through materials. Much the same as
organising the studio, just laying out different pieces covering the floor with different surfaces and
then intuitively, putting them down like a patchwork.

So, it goes between knowing I want it to be about the actual physical history of the actual material.
But then also knowing that I want the portrait to have a certain depth to it whilst also working as a
framing device. As well as a certain degree of chance where you have patterns and things kind of
coming through.

So, it fluctuates quite a bit. There's a lot of waste generally in the studio and generally you're
constantly making stuff and throwing stuff and you're making loads of things. And I like having those
embedded in the painting.

So, the idea of having several paintings or like offcuts from other paintings living within that painting,
for me, is enjoyable because it feels like everything has its time and contributes.
The portrait is on top of a group portrait I did in lockdown or something.

I really liked making that painting and it had a pretty decent surface, but it didn't become something
that I wanted out in the world, whereas now that becomes a shorthand. I'm not at the point where I
can manage to leave great volumes of the old painting exposed but I like the idea of being able to
have parts that are still revealing behind, but getting that right, getting that balance is really, really

And I think I have a tendency to make the paintings a bit stiff. I can think “Oh, I want this to be
perfect or really, really crisp”. But I think having interruptions in the surface, encourages a bit more
of a disrespectful treatment of the surface or something.

It also creates not only disruption for you while you're painting, forcing you to make choices based
on the previous paintings you’ve now added to it. It also, I think when you've got these patches
throughout the paintings surface, forces the eye to kind of travel through the image in a way that it
maybe wouldn't if it was just flat.

So not only does it have a painted history of narrative in terms of reusing old images, it also, almost
leads you through a narrative on the painting itself. Especially in this one with that river or road and
then all the houses, it's very psycho-geographical in that way. And the fact that you would paint on
books as well it all kind of has this similar idea of narrative or like you said earlier, allegory and things
like that.

I like the fact that you said its also about waste. We all just have this detritus around us constantly.
Why not try and use it? Because also I think it adds things to a painting that you would never
purposely do or that you would only accidentally do. And you can't do that kind of making “on
purpose” per say. It’s a different kind of thinking.

I remember seeing a Peter Doig painting of a Lion and it's got multiple legs. I remember being like,
“God, I wish I could paint like that”. Where you leave behind the choices that you made. I always
thought they were made on purpose and then when I saw it in person. I saw he's just chosen to keep
drawing the legs, working out the drawing on the canvas and deciding not to get rid of the mistakes

Peter Doig, Rain in the Port of Spain (White Oak), 2015

And there not mistakes. That's the point. It's like working through the painting with drawing.

Its also playing as well. I went to visit my family in America recently in February, and I met my niece's
and nephew for the first time. I improvised a sort of drawing school esque, giant collaborative
drawing, it was maybe a two meter drawing?

They taped together all these bits of paper, I brought loads of my crayons and pastels, some
watercolours. Seeing how they approached it and the mentality of it, reaffirmed to me that you
don't need to think, you just lift, set it down and you attack you know? It's like searching for a space
to play and creating opportunities for intuition to take over.

Making intuitive decisions that are very much based on drawing. So, in terms of the placement of
collage elements its quite drawing centric. So, you've got one on the bottom right corner, one on the
bottom left corner, two central and one in the middle on the left.

Its like pieces of a puzzle and the process of sticking them down is much the same as the pleasure
that one takes in priming and stuff like that. With the priming and the drawing and the laying down.
It’s like making a statement of intent, right from the get-go, your taking the time to think. Because
you're setting things down, sometimes knowing where things are going to be drawn as well.

The yellow area around the airplane, that’s from a painting made at the drawing school, which was a
total failure of a painting. But it serves its purpose. Or in the one in the centre, knowing I was going
to have the birds face right in the centre, knowing that that was going to change the sense of feeling
of the space around it.

Knowing that that was going to immediately instigate specific feelings, that the crow’s beak was
going to be really voluminous. And then having areas that are a bit scruffy and stuff. I guess like
having scruffy areas just for the sake of interrupting things, just being really crisp or really, smooth or
really organised.

Like you said about like a constantly trying to deconstruct yourself or interrupt yourself.

I think it just stops you getting in a colour by numbers mode which is actually really easy to
accidentally fall into.

Disruptions when done well can be really good.
It can be really beautiful to complicate it.

The number of rules you can set yourself when you do, even a colour by number, that can result in
crazy work, sometimes you can settle into it and then It's almost like you're not painting.

You could do painting by numbers but have a really giant palette of loads and loads of colours and
every colour has to be freshly mixed, but you're not allowed to clean the brush and every mark has
to be a single brushstroke.

And red and blue aren’t aloud to touch each other. Only yellows in the middle. I love stuff like that.

I'd literally love to be able to do that. Just the whole idea of having that as pure process. And not
necessarily tied up in the appearance of it, it is what it is. That would be quite nice.

Would you say these two would be a pair?

They're definitely connected, they're kind of a pair, I reckon there will be a few more self-portraits.
We were talking earlier about working drawings, how easy it is to draw, well, relatively easy it is to
draw one’s self.

To draw your own portrait. It's quite easy because you're more familiar with your own head than
anyone else's. I feel like inserting myself into the paintings, at least in the short term, is quite a
natural development. I feel like the fact that I happen to be in the paintings is not necessarily
entirely the point.

The whole idea of the painting is that I just happened to be there, I just happened to be passing by,
at least that's what I'm shooting for. Whether or not that actually is how it is read is a different
matter entirely. I wanted to make a card players one like a double self-portrait of me playing cards
against myself.

I can't even play cards. But just based on Cezanne, I love his whole series of card players and that as
a process and the psychological aspect of it, being like a double self-portrait. Then there's the other
one which is sort of brotherly love, but it was going to turn into a double self-portrait of you know,
yourself attacking yourself sort of thing.

I don't know if once again it's they're getting quite self involved.

Which is potentially problematic but in the short term that could be all right.
Recording Ends