Frequently Asked Questions - Robin Paris
For Students Studying GCSE, A Level or Degree Art or Textiles Subjects
Influences (December 2005)
spirituality in batik/essence of batik
spirituality in art
batik - sense of place and environmental
current reading - batik
current reading - others
earlier influences see below
What made you interested in batik?
Colour! Rich colours of the dyes. And the mystery of the resist process, the playing of two mediums against each other: wax and dye. It's also meditative - completely absorbing the concentration needed for batik. The revealing of image when the dye exposes it is fantastic. Batik is spiritual.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Primarily nature, but also from travels - the wildlife, landscapes and traditional/contemporary cultures of especially Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Laos and Northeast Thailand and here in Cornwall.
Much of my work focuses on water especially rivers and the ecosystems around them.
Why do you work abstract?
It comes from inside this way. Abstract is a more expressive way of painting what you feel, your emotional response, whereas realist is more about what you see or what you know to be there. Graphic is another way I work, where the art is more symbolic.
How do you decide on issues such as colours, size, and pattern?
Mostly colours auto-suggest or are instinctual. But part of this comes with practice, knowing that having x quantity of this colour to y of that has a particular effect, that certain colours are 'forward' colours and others 'backward' colours. I look at colours often in nature, how certain colours play against each other, how they change in different lights and through the seasons. These are the colours I use to express and convey certain moods.
Choosing pattern is similar sometimes, but other times patterns or forms are deliberately used because of their historic or cultural connections or symbolism. I also study nature for patterns and shapes.
Size is much a matter of practicality. If there is a lot to go into a picture it's bound to be larger. If finer techniques are called for it will be larger to accommodate them. Large size also gives more visual impact to the viewer, the whole body can respond to it (image/colour/pattern etc). Some pieces work better smaller - a quieter statement, perhaps working more on the mind than the entire body.
...what's your secret?
I am flattered that you think I have a secret to reveal! I believe I have what it takes to be an artist - that is integrity, patience, dedication, and hard work combined with fascination and awe of the natural world and a wish to communicate that visually. In my case, batik and I have bonded and I work using this medium. But I believe everyone has the ability - if they choose it - to have integrity, patience etc and fascination and respect for nature.
Have I any specific recommendations about how to batik successfully?
My suggestions for successful batiking are to be sure you are relaxed and have a steady hand. This usually means not having a late night or lack of sleep, being fit but not having just exercised strenuously. Batik requires full concentration. I can't batik and, say, have a conversation at the same time!
Having the right tools and equipment are also important. If you are using a canting, make sure it is a good quality one (Indonesian/Malaysian makes are best), and the spout is cleaned regularly. How you hold it is also important - it's not a pen, a pencil, or a brush, but a canting. Hold it something like you'd hold chopsticks, angle the handle away from you, move your arm from the shoulder and elbow rather than the wrist, and all else should flow.
Practise and patience are imperative. No one can hope to be an expert first bash... I've still got my first few batiks full of 'mistakes'. Everyone started there, so keep on going, and within a few days you'll have the basic knack on which to build.
...could [you] update me with all your latest work information about yourself?
Probably the best way I can help you is by telling you about my most recent project 'Streams and Pools of Bodmin Moor' which was exhibited in early 2003 in Camelford, Cornwall. Bodmin Moor isn't a nature reserve, but does have a lot of conservation designations (SSSI, AONB etc) which are similar.
I studied one aspect of the moors because of their importance to the rest of Cornwall - the rivers. Water - to drink, to wash with, flowing and maintaining biodiversity, providing food - and nourishment for the soul (it's always peaceful to sit by water). These are the good sides - the bad sides are flood, drought and pollution. A degree of flood and a degree of drought are part of nature's cycles, but extremes are caused by mankind. You'd think as a society we'd be mature enough to be able to care for our resources without needing to designate them for conservation status!
My desire in the exhibition was to motivate people to think more about rivers and their source, and to encourage them to look into streams and rivers for themselves. I can hardly pass one these days without gazing in and pondering. I'm glad to say that it worked with at least a few - those who later told me "I was up on the moor at the weekend and I looked into a river as I was crossing it - and it was just like your batiks!" or " I never did believe the streamweed could be that red, but I've seen it for myself now and it really is bright red"... the sort of stuff that makes an artist's day!
The other group that was part of this exhibition is on the Quarry Pools page www.robinparis.co.uk/batiks/ponds/pools.htm and there is some info lower on that page.
Which artists have inspired me?
Escher | Aboriginal art and philosophy | Aesop's Fables | Villager lifestyle in SE Asia | Robyn Kahukiwa | Gisela Anczykowski | Tan Rahim Zahici | Latif and Sanusi
My main inspiration comes from nature and what I see or understand around me.
Of Western artists, Escher, although working in a different media, has a talent that I aspire to. It's his ability to work in more than one dimension at once, to fool the brain. I also am always inspired by his metamorphosis pieces, where a pattern of one shape evolves into something quite different, such as flying geese. The dimensional effect can be seen in Ebb/Flow, and For Antarctica shows between the main rings of animals various species of plankton. Whilst not utilising the same technique as Escher, my intention was to have the plankton somewhere between there and not there, blended into the background but also a distinct form.
I have also been inspired by Aboriginal art and philosophy, in as much as I understand them. Desert art or dot painting is reputedly based on a kind of aerial view of the land like a map (but I sometimes wonder if it is based more on a sense of what the earth feels - ripples of a waterhole, a person walking over it, a rainbow serpent moving across it etc). I also have enjoyed since childhood western-map reading of the landscape, and like to make paintings looking directly down rather than across (as is the norm for western art). Most of my river paintings (Fowey, De Lank, Moorland rivers and Quarry Pools pages) are from looking directly down into a stream. But there are other more graphic pieces that show this such as Dandelion Ley, showing various stages in a dandelion flower's life and a traditional Cornish slate path.
Aesop's Fables which I read as a youngster had a profound effect on me, inspiring me to observe for myself characteristics of individual animal species (and plants), whether commonly recognised or my own interpretations. He taught me that animals can be strong symbols for conveying messages, and combined with my graphic design training, has probably influenced one of the styles I work in.
Several years ago I felt my work was getting too tight, too controlled, and I wanted to be freer. I spent 3 months in NE Thailand and Laos in 1998/99, and my current work is based on this time. The rivers work was also produced after that stay, and I felt I had loosened up but in a very unexpected way. My techniques changed.
I moved away from using the canting for wax application, and started to use scrap, found and home made tools for wax application, both by stamping and by a rubbings technique called frottage. It came about by chance, because I needed to find a faster way to produce dots than single dotting by the canting. My bicycle chain wheel provided the answer and once I discovered this would work I began collecting and using all sorts of tools. Without doubt I was inspired to look towards everyday things around me for an answer (rather than to buying a specialist tool) from that three months in SE Asia, where people are far more resourceful and unmaterialistic than here in the west. These people weren't artists in the western sense, but their ingenuity and creativity worked well for them.
A Maori artist called Robyn Kahukiwa who combines traditional Maori design, symbolism and imagery in a contemporary way greatly inspired me when I lived in New Zealand in the late 1980s (as did Maori/Pacific art as a whole). I've just checked on the web to find some of her work I'm referring to - this may give you an idea, though her recent work has evolved from the earlier graphic style. I still like it but it has moved much further from the traditional. What I especially enjoy about her work is the fusing of traditional and contemporary, the strong sense of narrative and the colour.
I am not particularly motivated by any one batik artist's work, though I was very inspired after visiting Batik 2003, Art in Motion in May 2003, an international batik exhibition in Ghent, Belgium. I was one of the 50 exhibitors there. Gisela Anczykowski's work certainly inspired me, but as I've seen only a few of hers, I won't talk much more about it but it's probably because we both work with nature in a graphic style. In www.tobasign.com/galeria/artistas/Batik2003/ the second picture is hers, and she is the woman standing on the right. All the other pictures are of the same show. I can't find any more pictures of her work on the web.
A Malay batik artist Tan Rahim Zahici who I knew in the early 1990s when I lived in Malaysia made a large batik of a breaking wave, breaking directly towards and (seemingly) over you. That one batik has been a lasting inspiration, a kind of goal for me, for at the time I did not have the technical skills to reproduce something that wonderful. I'm not sure if I do now, but still it remains in my mind.
The two Malay batik artists who initially taught me, Latif and Sanusi, provided me with early inspiration. They also worked in a graphic and colourful style, incorporating traditional Malay design elements, and were very much inspired by nature (again no work on the web). Some of my early work was perhaps like theirs, but other work had much more of a western perspective on things.
So, to sum up, other than nature, my greatest inspirations come from artists and traditional art from around the world, from art that is also inspired by nature or culture, by graphic imagery, and from cultural observations.
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