Statement of Purpose

Dan Hays, January 2011

My intended purpose for a summer residency at the Terra Foundation would be on several fronts: to engage with the research of other artists and scholars taking part; to present my own work and ideas in order to gain critical feedback and suggestions; and to continue with my own research – gathering source material, painting in the studio and accessing the library.

I have a specific painting project in mind for the residency, which would engage directly with Monet’s garden at Giverny. It will be outlined later in this statement, after a discussion of my academic context, and the influence of French and American art and culture on my work.

I am entering the final year of a PhD, titled is Painting in the Light of Digital Technology, in the Contemporary Art Research Centre at Kingston University. It will culminate with the submission of a doctoral thesis early in 2012, which will comprise of a dissertation, titled Screen as Landscape, and the presentation of artwork in an exhibition and publication, titled Colorado Impressions. Research has been led by experiments in painting and printmaking, informed by extensive reading into the following subjects: Impressionism, photorealism, the Hudson River School painters, the phenomenology and science of perception, the technical functioning and aesthetic qualities of electronic and digital images, and the philosophy of technology.

Given the practice-based nature of doctoral research in the Contemporary Art Research Centre – not exclusively theoretical – I am applying as an artist. I have written extensively and given lectures about my own and others’ work over several years, occasionally being published, yet my engagement with art history and theory has emerged gradually through many years of studio practice and exhibiting. I understand that preference is given to MA graduates of the last five years, though hope an exception can be entertained if the relevance of my work to the aims of the Terra Foundation and its location at Giverny is proven strong enough.

Why the Terra Summer Residency?

A stay at the Terra Foundation would present a serendipitous opportunity, as the influence of both French and American art and visual source material has been intrinsic to my work over the last decade. Associations between Impressionism and digital image compression have been explored through making paintings based on low-resolution Internet-sourced images from the website of another Dan Hays in Colorado, now extended to landscape web-cameras across the whole state, in the collectively titled Colorado Impressions project (see my artist’s statement).

Research into Impressionism, post-Impressionism, American Luminism and photorealism seem appropriate to the Terra foundation’s setting at Giverny, especially given my strong attachment to Monet as an artistic touchstone (not to mention the American painters Lichtenstein, Ryman and Close). Indeed, the painting precursor for my Colorado Impressions project came about through an exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1999, titled Monet in the 20th Century. Instead of going, I purchased a video tour of Monet's garden, produced in association with the exhibition. Working from distorted slide photographs of the footage on the TV screen as the camera panned across the lily pond, I produced a series of paintings presenting scant visual information connecting the viewer to the original location.

This apparent failure is the subject: how successive technological filters, from video, photography and painting remove us from nature, yet offer a sense of longing for something lost, projecting into the atomised remains of pictorial illusions, paradoxically having the apparent immediacy of surveillance footage.

Monet’s work in particular has opened up water as a symbolic link between the veiled, abstracting and spectral distortions of data compression and the frozen fluidities of oil paint. His water lily paintings fuse the perceptual complexities between painted substance, canvas and lake surfaces, and mirrored reflection.

An interest in Luminism came about through another exhibition in 2002, The American Sublime at Tate Britain. Finding myself a dislocated and technically impoverished descendent of the Hudson River School painters came as a wonderful surprise, as their work is hardly represented in British collections and art education. Regarding the Internet as a virtual wilderness is a strong theme through my research, and has encouraged an enquiry into the philosophical and art historical influences on painters confronted with vast uncharted landscapes. The Luminists also share a thematic link to Monet with their attraction to reflected light on water. Indeed, associations can be made between Monet’s Giverny and Thoreau’s Walden, although Thoreau’s lake was ostensibly a vestige of wilderness, as opposed to Monet’s simulated and idealized one.

Nymph Lake (2010), oil on canvas, 137 x 183 cm

For a recent painting, photographs of Nymph Lake in Colorado were sourced and collaged. It is painted in two layers of saturated colour, the under-painting consisting of vertical red-green-blue stripes, akin to a TV screen, and an upper layer of broken brush-marks pushed away from naturalistic colour by modulating through 180 degrees from left to right. Nymph Lake is Giverny’s super-sized American twin, its resolution as a coherent scene frustrated by a kind of imposed, robotic Fauvism, the mystery of the mirroring lake surface replaced by a systematic traversing of the canvas one.

The residency at Giverny would present another chance to engage with the water-lily theme from a new perspective. I would like to work with digital photographic material, both directly from Monet’s garden and from Internet sources, in order to construct a painted synthesis of surface and illusory depth with layers of inverted colour that imperfectly cancel each other out. This can only really be visualized through working through computer models and painting within the residency. It would present a new line of technical enquiry within my broader research, and its possible meaning (or symbolist effect) is, necessarily, nebulous at this stage.

A residency at Giverny would effectively offer a return to the creative roots of my work, providing an opportunity to reflect on my work of the last decade and its links to American and French culture. It would prove invaluable to my research in the final year of my fine art doctorate.

Artist’s Statement

Dan Hays, January 2011

The translation of pictorial information from various photographic media into oil painting has been my primary artistic concern for many years. A fascination with the painterly qualities of electronic and digital imagery has evolved out of this, leading to my core research, the on-going Colorado Impressions project. In 1999 I discovered the website of another Dan Hays living in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Using his low-resolution landscape photographs as models, an exploration through oil painting of strong technical associations between digital image compression and Impressionism has grown in complexity, bringing into frame questions around subjectivity, authentic experience, romantic projection and the technological sublime. Sourcing of photographic material has extended to websites across the whole state of Colorado.

With the aid of image manipulation software, digital photographs are meticulously translated into oil paintings in numerous ways: explorations of colour separation and modulation; mathematical systems and pattern; divisionism, restricted palettes and tonal limitation; simulated texture and lighting effects. These processes serve to highlight painting’s imperfect physicality and reveal or subvert the mechanics of illusionism. The aim is to generate simultaneous, ambiguous and three-dimensional convergences of the represented scene and the physical surface (or immaterial screen), with subject matter that reflects our idealised and dislocated relationship to nature.

Web-cameras generate authorless and somewhat arbitrarily framed images largely free of landscape painting’s picturesque history, ready-mades for the reconciliatory intentions of photorealism: the merging of the entwined histories of painting and photography. The abstracting, painterly effects of data compression, such as Jpeg, arising from technical limitations, lend an aura of authenticity to these fugitive and transitory images. Comparisons between Post-Impressionist painting techniques, and the atmospheric effects of noise in the transmission of electronic images, suggest narratives around thresholds of recognition, imaginative projection, memory failure and loss. Landscape surveillance images share associations with Monet’s late work in their return to the same scene in different atmospheric conditions.

More recent painting experiments, collectively titled Colorado Snow Effects, tackle a visual conundrum. Snowscapes are ostensibly black and white, or at least the absence of colour, so long as the sky is grey, is not apparent to the casual observer. In these works snowy scenes are depicted with painted pixels of pure saturated colour. From a long distance these points of colour optically merge to form a grey-scale image, revealing the subtle tones required to appreciate the forms of pine trees or line of a hillside. At close range colour perception takes over and the impression is one of abstracted coloured noise. The paintings play with ideas of the white noise (or ‘snow’) between TV channels; with landscape as background and background radiation; and by paying perverse or futile homage to the startling use of additive colour mixing within Impressionism and Pointillism. Whereas the intentions of these movements was to emulate the immediacy of atmospheric scintillation, representing a ‘natural’, overall impression of a scene bathed in light, the use of pure colour to represent a grey landscape seems a ridiculous optical overindulgence; the metaphorical connections between snow, whiteness, silence and purity are subverted through the pathos of exuberant, noisy colour.

Many writers have investigated the influence of digital technology on photography and the moving image. I believe that painting offers a novel perspective from which to examine the philosophical ramifications of computer imaging from our side of the screen, as it can transform immaterial representations into tangible substance.