Issue 01

Monday, June 24, 2024

Volume 200,000


Gesture: forced and unforced action

Matthew Douglas

Creative activity, that is - the actions of an artist can be split [ crudely ] into two types : The forced and the unforced.

Whenever I am asked to elaborate or explain this belief I always use the analogy of throwing paper balls into wastepaper baskets...
...If one allows the mind to work instinctively and throws without over thinking, the shot will be more likely to hit target. Once one begins to pull apart the mechanics of this process and over thinks ones action the shot becomes more hesitant, more forced, and usually less successful.

Now, it would be rash of me to apply this theory to all creative actions, since many require careful planning and massive concentration. It would be apt, however, to assign the term unforced to an action classed as gestural. The gesture can be seen as an action that begins and ends with instinct and through its own form reflects this instinct. One can find very early examples in many forms of the ink paintings of the orient.

The other type is that of the forced action, actions that are calculated and measured and enacted with precision and guidance, predominantly from the logically guided part of our mind. Analysis is essential to the process of this action and is governed by the parameters of analytical thought. One can find examples in photorealistic painting.

Despite their apparent differences these two forms of actions share a similarity, they are both self evidential, in that one can distinguish them immediately and often one action can be enhanced by the presence of the other.

"20 works on paper February - March 2009" is a series of work that employs both of these actions, the process and size was pre-determined, yet the action of applying material is entirely gestural, as a result, the work benefits from the precision of forethought and contains the spontaneity of unforced action, the quality of gestural mark remains and is emphasized by the cooler more calculated thought that preceded the works creation.

When reflecting on this work, it appears that the non forced action in its most extreme example produces a warmer aesthetic result, whereas the forced calculated action produces a cooler more precise [ and in extreme cases ] clinical result.

The more calculated outcome may the result of a heavy investment in mental concentration, where accuracy is produced through application of a well developed and calculated skill. In contrast the unforced action retains the energy of the moment and seems to be instinctive rather than being intellectually weighted.

Gestural mark benefits from a certain degree of control and abandon, when one makes a forced action one controls the mark, yet allows attention to be directed away from the self, the self becomes more uncontrolled as the mind is focused upon the action of the mark. In comparison the unforced action is one that is created with full concentration on the self, or the non self, the mark becomes loose and unloaded with concentration, precision. Yet remains full and complete.

It is easy to understand gesture as a mark or a trace left by a brush, pencil etc. Yet - what can be understood as gesture of the body or sculptural gesture? Gesture here becomes a concept, a technique almost. A way of making, or a mental preparation or bodily response to the situation, in this way gesture is situationist.

The inversion of this, is a mark predetermined by thought, completed with a certain pattern in mind, and as such the mark benefits from existing twice, once in concept and again in actual presence. We can begin to see the distinctions between something planned in its absolute and that which is instantaneous and immediate.

If we look at gesture as something more bodily or performative: such as the movement of an arm to indicate or illustrate something, gesture, in this case, has a direct link to language. The gesture embodies the intention of the speaker or the gesturer and often is used to express something that the spoken word cannot convey. Thus the gesture becomes an action born from the limitations of language to express our feelings or understanding. One can assign a movement to a word spoken to reinforce its meaning or exaggerate a point, yet the gesture serves the purpose of illustrating abstract concepts, meaning beyond the scope of spoken language.

In this instance one can detect the gesture as being something involuntary or reflexive, almost cerebrally undetectable to the gesturer themselves. I would argue that it is here we can begin to prize apart the two differing forms of gesture. One being determined by a certain heightening of awareness and disengagement with language and circumstance, and the other which is dependent upon circumstance and the bodily reaction to experience, the former being mentally reflexive, the latter physically reflexive.

To round off this lengthy analysis I will give examples of both of these gestural types, using my own practice. To exemplify the first I would look to a series of drawings completed in the winter of 2006, during which I spent many hours in studio, merely reflecting and making notes, as my notes developed and concepts developed, a certain trend in mark making and concern with form appeared within my notebooks, my behavior - even - became somehow separate to my common experience, my awareness heightened and my engagement with my reflection and surroundings shifted, resulting in a type of mark and behavior that was unfamiliar. This I would cite as being a mentally reflexive gestural practice.

The second type of gesture : the physically reflexive can be seen in my aforementioned series of 20 works on board. Each mark within the work is fragmented by time - for, in the time it took for me to move the material from the palette to the work, in this case the gesture was restricted by both the strict format and previously made marks. The mind was silent, the gesture was anchored in the physical.

To be continued...

Matthew Douglas
Spring 2oo9