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Beth Luxton: Painting meets Animation Micro Commission

Introduction

I’m delighted to be working on a micro commission for Bricks over the next couple of months, centred around combining painting and animation, using projection.

I consider myself primarily a painter, although most of my work has involved painting and screen-printing to date. I’m drawn to transitory, familiar materials that are associated with touch and home to memories, feelings and intimacies. This is the starting point for my paintings where I use digital and photographic processes including fragmented imagery, distorted perspectives, blurring and collage. The surface of each painting is important, where I highlight nuances in texture, transparency and finish. This is the closest the viewer comes to any true sense of reality, where the process and materiality of the paint speaks for itself but the content remains unsettling. Reminiscent of a digital screen, they are alienating to a certain degree and this is further enhanced by the animations, a recent addition to my practice. Together they bring into question the need for proximity and the comfort of distance.

I started developing animations of my paintings during the lockdown in March, using Blender. I received some feedback from an exhibition a while ago that my paintings were ‘frustratingly flat’. I thought this was amusing at the time but also true. I’d often looked at them and wished they would move; it felt like there was more there, that they could say more. I wanted it to feel like you were entering the paintings and tried to exaggerate the feeling imbued in them. I’m interested in how they appear to an audience; it feels like the animations become a documentary and the painting an artefact.

More examples – Beth Luxton

The question now, and the starting point for this commission, is how I want to exhibit the two together. Some questions I’ll be exploring are as follows:

How large should I project the animation alongside the painting? How does scale change the interpretation of the work? How can I exaggerate a feeling, through the display? Do I want the painting and paired animation to be in view of one another, or separate? Could I install tactile objects? Could I project onto the painting? How does projection itself link to the themes explored in my work?

Over the next couple of months, I’ll be trying to answer some of these questions and sharing the results, through this blog and finally with a talk. Initially I’ll be working with existing work and taking those ideas forward to a new paired painting and animation.

Initial Experiments

For this first stage of experiments, I started with an existing painting and paired animation. I was really excited to see them together for the first time, outside of a screen. I intentionally sourced a projector that functions well in bright light and a large space so I had more options and configurations to play with. Thank-you very much to Kosar Contemporary and Béa Kayani for allowing me to set up in the gallery for the day!

I mentioned in my last blog post, some of the questions I was looking to answer. The first of which was: how large do I want the projection? How does this change the interpretation of the work?

I first projected the animation onto a large screen, shown in the video below. The animation felt immersive; I liked that I could walk around and right up to it. The flexible, thin material seemed to compliment the imagery however the colours were muted.

Following this, I projected next to the painting at various sizes, example below.

What became obvious to me was that the best scale and location, whether close to the ground or at eye level, would largely depend on the imagery and content. In this instance, it felt right that the projection was close to the ground, where the animated ball falls, and larger than the painting, exaggerating the strangeness of the imagery, particularly as people have told me it reminds them of blood cells. What seemed more imperative to consider was the location in relation to the painting, and the question: Do I want the painting and paired animation to be in view of one another, or separate?

You can imagine the animation as a depiction of entering the painting, venturing beneath the surface of the paint and beyond. I wanted to experiment with reflecting this; the viewer first sees the painting, then moves forward and around or behind to unexpectedly find the animation. I found an interesting spot where I could do this, using a corner, as shown below.

Similarly, I liked the idea of continuing forward momentum by walking into another ‘space’. The closest I could get to this was in the set up below. Of course, the two are in sight of one another but the physical distance creates a journey of sorts. This is reminiscent of putting the video behind a peep hole however I’ve not gone down this route. I don’t want there to be a physical barrier, perhaps because the work is already frustrating but also because I want the audience to be as close to the imagery as possible, to feel as if they could touch it.

Lastly, I put the projection opposite the painting, at a large scale where it acts like a reflection. There is something interesting about having the audience in the middle, turning around to find themselves immersed in a ‘landscape’. There is an element of discomfort to it, but also play. Like using a corner, the two can’t be seen together easily; the painting and the animation have space to exist separately but they are connected. This is my preference, moving forward.

Next, I’ll be looking at projecting onto the painting itself and seeing where that takes me!

Projection onto Painting

For my next set of experiments, combining painting and animation, I wanted to explore projecting directly onto my paintings. How could this be done practically, and what imagery would be effective?

This isn’t entirely new territory for me – I had a painting in my degree show back in 2015 featuring a band of projected yellow light; the light reflected off the surface and the colours changed depending on where you stood. I liked the interplay of the transitory digital imagery and the static painting however I haven’t combined the two again, until recently.

Initially, still working with ‘Puncture Wound’, I took the full animation and lay it over the painting. Rather than clashing, as I thought would be the case, the imagery blends together. The shapes and colours are so closely aligned that they clearly relate. Playing continuously, however, there’s no respite to view the painting alone; ideally there would be a break. I’m not convinced I prefer this over showing the painting and full animation separately as ultimately I think it’s too visually busy and detracts from the strengths of each medium.

I moved on to working with a recent painting, ‘I’m Torn’, and created animated elements of the painting in Blender.

For the purpose of working quickly, I created short animations and took screen recordings from the Blender file to save rendering them. Although lower quality, they were sufficient for me to play around with some ideas. Below is an example of this, and the same projected.

I play around with distorted perspectives and misjudgements of space and scale in my paintings, which I extended to the animations. With the next couple of examples, the elements ‘react’ to other areas of the composition, creating a false sense of weight and ground. The surface of the painting is transformed, temporarily, and the two mediums seem to interact however I feel there’s a risk of over complication and the projection becoming a gimmick.

Below is the start of the full animation for ‘I’m Torn’, projected onto the painting. It is a sparser and slower animation than ‘Puncture Wound’ which creates a nicer balance. Practically speaking, as can be seen in the video, I had issues with lighting. Not just for documentation, but the brightness needs to be just right to see both the animation and the painting clearly in person.

I imagine what might be effective is having a full animation on display, separately, combined with intermittent elements of the painting coming alive, as if part of it had been left behind. When there is a gap between the painting and the full animation, as in my previous experiments, it raises certain questions including: What came first? How do they relate? Which is more evocative? I think there needs to be space, a disjoint.

Next, I’ll be sharing the last in my series of experiments creating an installation using the painting and full animation of ‘I’m Torn’.

Installation

For my last set of experiments, I used ‘I’m Torn’, the painting and paired animation which I have been working on for this micro-commission. Below is the full animation, the longest I’ve made so far.

I wanted to create a more finalised version of how I might display ‘I’m Torn’ and consider whether objects would add or detract from the existing pairing. Given my work is so much about touch, space and imagined reality, it felt right to give it a go.

I enlarged the bare canvas shapes and put them alongside some long pink sections of carpet, some rose petals and a yellow light; I played around with having the canvas creep up and out of lying flat on the ground.

In terms of the set-up I wanted to recreate what I did in my initial experiments, trying two configurations. One, where I used a corner and two, where the animation and painting were opposite one another.

The space I used, Centrespace in Bristol, didn’t lend itself to using a corner in exactly the way I wanted but I was happy with the below. You can see the painting and the animation, but each demands its own attention; the viewed is encouraged to walk in and around.

Here are a couple of close-ups and different angles from the same installation.

I then moved the painting and projection opposite one another. There is a lot of space between the two and as a result this felt less successful; the painting and the animation too disjointed. At Kosar Contemporary the space was contained and dark creating an intimate, slightly claustrophobic space which I liked.

Below, I played around with layering the installation and projection, seeing what I could create and suggest with the shapes. The projection overlaps onto and away from the objects, as if connected.

To finish, I grouped everything together before slowly removing the objects, creating something new again. It would be easy to over complicate the installation and this was something I was considering.

This final stage of experiments is the end point I envisaged and proposed for this micro-commission however this will be an ongoing project for me; projection has become so integral to my work I will continue to build on and develop these ideas in my practice.

I spoke about this micro-commission in a talk for Bricks, recording here, and received some useful comments, which included:

  • The objects could act as barriers in the physical space.
  • They perhaps take things into a concrete reality, detracting from the otherworldly nature of my work.
  • Conversely it’s nice that the audience are anchored in reality.
  • The titles alone bring about emotion.
  • Multiple projectors could be used to change the dynamic of the space whilst looking at it.
  • I could also project multiple versions of the same animation.
  • I could use a VR headset, to fully immerse the audience in the animated world.

I’ve also thought about scaling up the installation and reducing the number of objects, changing the frame ratio of the animations to match the paintings and using a QR code, or similar, so the audience could view the animation on their phone.

This will all inform my work moving forward and I look forward to exploring the possibilities! Thank-you very much to Bricks for this micro-commission and opportunity to develop my practice.