I find in making a painting, if you become too conscious of insisting on the meaning, you fix the painting and it looks very laboured and in fact doesn’t contain the meaning. The painting has to hover somehow. It has to be potent. I don’t quite know what I mean by ‘potent’ but it is something that you recognise. Either you know you’ve judged it well, or you haven’t judged it well. I think potency has to do with making the work very general in the symbolic sense but very specific in the painting sense. The images are generalised. I would not want anybody looking at the paintings that include corridors or passages to think that they are about architecture, they’re not. These things come about not through me looking out at the world, and then saying: “That looks an interesting motif, I want to go and deal with that in a painting.” These references come from wanting to create a kind of charged psychological and emotional state that may have parallels, certainly in one’s own experience, so that these things, these motifs are ‘used’ really. But often I’m faced with a painting that I think would work, that has all the ingredients in terms of the motif, the architectural motif if you like. But the work does not accomplish anything – it isn’t there. It is only there when the reference that may have an emotional charge to it, plus the dynamic of the language, the process, combine. In some of these step paintings the paint is molten in that it looks as if it’s something solid that’s reached melting point, rather than just drippy paint. The rigidity of the structure, combined with the formality and the idea of identical steps or stairs, is interplayed with this so-called ‘molten’ effect of the paint hanging on the surface, referring to an earlier state of ‘run-ability’ or ‘drip-ability’! And you couldn’t achieve that except with paint could you? That’s why I still paint. You can take the ideas out and one could make films and all kinds of things, but I personally wouldn’t want to do that. What I would lose would be these things associated absolutely with the process of painting and the extension of the language of painting. I’ve got coming into my mind the game ‘peep-bo’ that people play with babies, where you look at them and look away, and then you reappear, confirming that you are still there.You can look away from this and see the thing in your mind in terms of structure but it’s in looking back that you understand its reality. It’s in a sense more abstract than abstraction, because it seems to refer to something very deep in one’s mind and in one’s body and in the way one feels. And that sort of stuff is essentially moving inside us all the time and can’t be halted. I don’t know if it’s the same thing, but if you were to describe a painting to someone you could only get so far.You could describe the painting but you couldn’t describe the experience of the painting.You could talk about all the things that come to mind but there’s a difference between the reproduction or description of a painting and the actual painting. I can start a painting that has all the ingredients but it can just sit there on the canvas looking dumb, not doing anything. It makes me realise that what I am trying to make is dependent on what’s there but what happens takes place in the intervening space between me and the actual painting. What I am trying to do is to make the experience concrete.
Bail Beattie Large Paintings and Installations