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Lesley Halliwell

Deep Surface: A practice based enquiry of the picture plane.

How do we understand the active interchange between the outer face of an artwork and its inward-facing components, be these a design, a trace or a generating framework?

Over the course of the PhD enquiry I aim to interrogate physically through the making of artworks and theoretically, through a contextual underpinning, the depth of surface as a dense, complex and vacillating plane. The research aims to unpick the interplay between the outer public layer and the structure below, contributing to a new understanding of the picture plane within two dimensional Fine Art practice.

Throughout the history of Western art, surface has been central to the dominant ideology whether through its suppression or through its assertion. In Surface and Deep Histories (2014), Anuradha Chatterjee argues that it is impossible for surface to exist as an autonomous entity as depicted for example, by John Ruskin’s adorned ‘wall veil’: a nineteenth century theory of surface where repeatable decorative units were physically and symbolically distinct from the spatial and structural system they masked. In Putting a Face on Things, Studies in Imaginary Materials (1997: 119-121.), Michael Carter talks of the parasitic relationship between object and surface and explores Derrida’s concept of the ‘supplement’ referring to something that is added in order to compensate a ‘lack’ or provide something ‘extra’.

Deleuze’s notion of smoothness and striation challenges the assumption of surface as a singular addition, seeing it as a mixture of nomadic forces (a distribution across) and sedentary captures (a division). This offers a way of understanding the complexity and dynamism of ‘surface’ and the interweaving between what is seen on the outside and what is below or between. As a practitioner, my desire for formal perfection and symmetry is constantly undermined by the working process; pens run out of ink, my hand slips, concentration lapses and mistakes occur. The surface of the paper captures and records the journey acted out upon it, embodying time and space. 

An essential part of the study is a studio based exploration of the concept of surface as played out in pattern, (sub)structures, formalities and finish. This exploration probes aspects of surface often expressed for convenience in binary oppositions; surface/structure, flatness/depth, above/below, centre/periphery, outer/inner but understood here as a full range of possibilities. In the book that accompanied the exhibition ‘Skin’ (Lupton, 2002), Alicia Imperiale notes that, ‘In broad cultural terms, there has been a movement away from dialectical relationships, from the opposition between surface and depth, in favour of an awareness of the oscillating movement from one to the other’ (Imperiale, 2002:55). This oscillation, the complex interchange between surface and structure, is the core subject of this research.

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