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The Subtle Realm: Philip Mount On Raw Essence
Philip Mount , November 5th, 2017 10:54

In an exclusive essay for The Quietus, Philip Mount discusses the background to his paintings for Raw Essence, his solo show at Jason Vass gallery in LA

All images courtesy Philip Mount

A few years ago I presented my latest artwork to Robert Delaney at Bernard Jacobson Gallery – Stills, paintings made with a single brush mark.

“No they’re not,” said Robert, Bernard Jacobson’s Director.

Yes, they are, promise... 

“No they’re not...”  This went on for a bit.

The art for my current exhibition RAW Essence was made over about 4 years. Stills were the beginning of it, I wanted to see how little painting I could do and just how deep, rich, and complex I could make a flat surface with a single brush mark. Less physical input with maximal content.  They really are one brush stroke, though on some I would drop or throw Hi-Shellac Chinese black ink just to really confuse matters by adding value to value.

‘You know, you don’t have to add value to EVERYTHING!’ said a former self-declared sociopathic girlfriend, reprimanding me for commenting on the chromatic interference light has when a film of oil stretches out across the surface of still water. She was right, but wrong of course. I do. Because content is important to me. What something is made of.  And the intent or nature with which it was made, the essential property of something and what that means to us. 

By contrast to the Stills the diptych Title On The Way (the painting liked being nameless so much I titled it the only thing I could) is an orderly chaos of constructed gesture with aesthetically beautiful components of intentional brush and colour placement. I spent forever mixing a pink that wasn’t pink but neither was it orange, it was right on some spectral razor-line of no-name colour. I purposefully placed that colour on top of a blue background and separately on a white, in the other piece of the diptych, just to show the play of colour interpretation.   

It’s 5 and a half by 11 feet. Robert reacted to Title on The Way: “Wow! Philip, it’s a ‘painting, painting!’”

Yes, it’s a straight-forward good ol’ fashioned ‘painting, painting’. I like Robert. 

The Wish for 'Stillness, Calm, and Presence', Acrylic and Sanded-smotth white gesso, graphite, reflective flake, 137 x117 cm

Jason Vass is the son of Gene Vass, the youngest member of the renowned Cedar Tavern crew of Pollock, Rothko, deKooning, and the New York School of abstract art fame. His gallery space housed a little over half of the total body of the Raw Essence exhibition. It is a substantial 3000 square foot space in The Downtown Los Angeles Arts District but we made the decision to extend out, into a communal area of the gallery also, increasing the exhibiting space. 

When I first toured the gallery knowing I was to exhibit there, I thought most of my work too small for his vast space, so I made a note to create a 15 foot canvas that came to be known as ‘Little flip back on track’. It’s got a kind of fractured chaos on one side that passes through a white triangle in the centre and then comes out level and balanced. It’s painted on mostly raw canvas and has bright  titanium white wing/tracks, with hard (but visually-soft) black brush-scrapes, that open out from the middle like a cheesy 80s soft rock ballad. It has traditional abstract gesture as well as non-painting, painting, marks without standard aesthetic, scrapes, drags, soft washes and layers of thick cracked paint. I threw a whole can of house paint on it that shares colour with a bedroom at home.  

A large body of the work for the RAW Essence exhibition was made shortly after the recent US election. It wasn’t political viewpoint that encouraged me to begin the new body of work, it was just that almost everybody – whether Republican or Democratic – seemed to be totally down. It was miserable. I wanted to change it, to have effect, so I began painting the Wishes.

The first was a wish for Unity brought about from a kind of love, if love is something that accepts, understands and finds a living harmony. There was a full-heartedness and sincere intent to how the work was made, it really was brought into being from a goodness and from some commune between myself and the wish as entity.

Whenever I hear someone declaring to be good or kind, alarm bells ring. Any self-declared anything – “I’m holy” or “Christian” or “kind” or “nice”, absolutely anything that states “I’m a (fill this space) person” – I just don’t trust it. When creating these works it was important Not to be things. Not to be egotistical, not to be deluded, not to be self-interested, not to be a ‘painter’ or to have history or expectation. Not to let my body or mind get in the way of the painting. 

The Wish for 'Bravery', Acrylic and Sanded-Smooth White Gesso, Graphite, Spray Paint, and High Gloss House Paint, Painted Shut Sketchbook Verso, 117 x117cm

I visited with my friend the artist Larry Bell recently and after indulging a hearty breakfast was sharing this process with him, to which he added (nodding),“...and then something interesting stands a chance of happening!”     I learned how to summon the wishes after a while but at first they would come to me. Stillness, Calm and Presence came to me whilst on the phone, walking alongside a thunderously noisy Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles as eight lanes of smoke-spewing vehicles rocketed by. I asked the person I was speaking with, “If you could have a real wish, what would it be?” Their answer was near exactly what I had been imagining.

The Wish for Bravery came from a dream, a place where many get motivations. A whole other realm of consciousness. I would dream and wake. Whilst still lingering in the world of dream but being conscious I asked my dream-state questions that it would answer and with my being in that bridge state between worlds I totally understood its language. This happened between fifteen and twenty times. At the end of these dream-talks and just before waking I met with my friend Winston Barrie, he’d passed a couple of months before.

Where’ve you been? I missed you.

“I know,” he said and held his head in a low nod.

I awoke to the thought and sensory feeling of both personal and mass constriction, not just in me but everywhere, a vast sense of constrictive repression inhabiting legions of people, tightening their chest and slowly and carefully wringing them in. It felt like a particular and very real living energy form that festered blissfully within, much like a parasite in a host. Bravery, I thought, is not some self-deluded knight in shining armour but the release of this spirit-crushing constriction. 

The next day driving home I was observed studying my wrists as if looking for clues. “What’s wrong?” A huge lump the size of a gooseberry that had been there for years, that medical professionals had told me was the hardest cyst they’d ever felt and that only surgery could possibly remove had totally disappeared.

Philip Mount, Raw Essence, is at Jason Vass, Los Angeles, until 25 November