Tim Noble & Sue Webster
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'Tim Noble and Sue Webster: Blind Painting.' Hunger, (December 2014)
Tim Noble and Sue Webster: Blind Painting
Critically acclaimed (and personal favourite) art duo Tim Noble and Sue Webster are back with another solo show, Blind Painting, at The Suzanne Geiss Company, New York. Known for their exploration of codependent opposites – like intimacy and alienation, sex and violence, and high and low culture – through the medium of sculpture, Noble and Webster continue to explore cultural and psychological paradoxes through a new set of constraints in a new medium: painting.

For their 'Blind Paintings' the artists voluntarily blindfold themselves to make portraits of each other from memory, surfacing tensions between familiarity and strangeness. And for their 'Feinschemecker' ('fine detail') paintings, the artists dab and fling excess paint left over from the portraits onto blank canvases. A foil to the concentration and personal specificity of the blind-contour works, these unconstrained abstractions embody an act of doing without thinking, recalling Rorchach's tests and the like. Our new Features Director Lily had a quick chat with Sue ahead of last night's opening.

HUNGER: So, 'blind painting'. . . Where did this idea come from?

Sue Webster: Last year Tim and I were given a residency at Edition Copenhagen with a team of technicians at our disposal. It's a prestigious print workshop and each year they invite a contemporary artist to make a print edition – even David Bowie has rented the place for himself (so I was told).

Within the workshop is a gallery that displays results from some of the previous artists in residence and I remember looking at the work of Darren Almond or Simon Starling for instance and it looked like they had produced photographic documentary style evidence for a crime scene. Although the work was interesting, Tim and I knew that we had to do the complete opposite; throw caution to the wind, see what happened if we were unable to see what we were doing. And so we made a spontaneous decision to cover our eyes, thus removing ourselves from any responsibility for our actions, making portraits of one another from memory.

We were presented with a tomb-like stone with which to make our marks, an old lithographic printing technique synonymous to this specific print workshop. We were told that these ancient stones dated back some 135 million years BC, from a hole or a giant crater in the ground somewhere in Munich. In time, the hole filled with water, shifting mud and silt, vegetation and animals slid in, compacting down into dense layers.

We devoured the slabs before us with thick waxy black crayons, scribbling with splinters we sliced, flicked, shaded and smeared spontaneous lines, direct and delicate drawings, delicious mistakes all meticulously recorded onto a surface that never lies. At one point we made portraits that exceeded over nine panels in order to complete the full image. The staff at the print workshop were so excited that in the history of their program no other artist had broken out of the frame before.

Did the resulting works surprise you?

Only in the sense that Tim and I would spend some time carefully making marks in what we thought were in all the right places – where an eye or a nose would be in relation to a face, but the second we lifted our hand from the stone it became impossible to remember where to put it back. Any notion of control was lost and some of the results were quite disturbing, but some were really Picasso-esque – in the way that Picasso would draw eyes nose and mouth on the same plain, and actually quite beautiful in their madness.

We just decided to go free-form, and some of the results looked like they are drawn by children with special needs and in a way they were – we were blinded, but only for a moment.

Did it make you question your own perceptions and visual memories of one another?

When we took the idea back to the studio in London and scaled them up onto the large canvases. We had several sessions of painting with oil paints and were forced to rely on the visual memory of one another, and I guess no one knows us better than ourselves. I did find that there was a point when I knew I had to stop, as ultimately I kept painting the same image of Tim over and over again: deep black circles for eyes, mop of black for the hair and stumpy tough stocky ape-like figure . . . after a while I realised that I couldn't do it anymore as I was repeating myself. When I reached that point I decided to try to do portraits of myself, it broke the pattern for a while.

Blind selfie . . . ? What do you think the pieces say about you?

This is our first ever painting show so I hope that it will demonstrate that we are still interested in experimenting. When Tim and I first met at art school, we were both painters. Then in the summer holidays, I went to a rock festival and dropped some acid and started the new term in the sculpture department because from that point on I began to see everything in three-dimensions.

Contrasting 'Blind Painting' with the 'Feinschmeckter' works – a conscious move?

The Feinschmecker paintings came about at the same time – whilst we were experimenting with the blind images in Copenhagen, we would have a practice stone set to one side to test out the line and thickness of the crayons we were using. At the end of the week, the mark-making of the test sheet was almost more interesting than what we were attempting to achieve with the portraits, so we asked the technicians if we could print the test sheet. One of our assistants was Austrian and he became fascinated by the fact that we were just as engaged with what most people would have thrown away and he said, "This is the feinschmecker . . . .", which roughly translated means the 'fine detail.' It was such a beautiful statement that it stuck – and led to a whole other body of work.

Do you have any young artists you'd recommend to us?

I have been championing a young Cornish painter for some time now called Danny Fox, he just had an exhibition at The Cock'n'Bull Gallery in London. His style reminds me of a fucked up British version of Picasso . . . I think he will go far.

Yes! I have a piece by him myself! Last question – do you see (and/or look at) one other differently after this piece?

Well Tim at the time had bleached his hair blond, but the image I will always have of him in my minds eye is one of darkness.

BLIND PAINTING, run at The Suzanne Geiss Company, 76 Grand Street, NY until Dec 20th 2014.