Chris Hawtin’s paintings effortlessly seep into your unconscious. I myself dreamt of wrestling Laocoon-serpent-bolts of plasma electricity after reading up on him late one night.
Floating ‘alien’ space structures dominate vast landscapes, appearing like hypertech versions of Richard Serra’s monumental sculptures. These unidentifiable objects interrogate notions of the Romantic Landscape through the sublime terror of infinitely (evolved) driven) technology.
These ambiguous spacecraft like objects are designed with architectural programs and sound wave architecture, rendered in a bombastic graphic graffiti style are placed in 17th Century Dutch landscapes. filled with the golden idealized Italian light that crazed Holland at the time. These artificial recreations parallel the worlds of Video Games.
Hawtin constructs opportunities to play with the ‘imaginary real’. Playing with the language and suspense of Sci-fi to create new fictions/worlds. Putting the epic and sublime in dialogue with Digital technology. We are faced in his paintings with an uncanny infinitely evolved intelligence, which challenges and produces a new kind of guilt generated by its new gaze.
One reason the artist loves the Horizon Zero Dawn video game so much is how well it manifest the speculative fiction of Mechanical Evolution as biological evolution.
Echoes can be found of Ellen Gallagher’s personal homespun Afrofuturism, and Fiona Rae’s strategic puncturing graphic flatness interrupting the paintings surface.
While his raw landscapes are pockets pulling at each other in tense provocation.
A Graduate of Chelsea College of art, Hawtin is a technologist, futurist and painter of accelerated time influenced by Paul Virilio the French architect and philosopher of technology.
Hawtin speak on his accelerated landscapes and how we “live in the age of technological acceleration. Not the renaissance”. His hyper-tech-love-affair gloriously pulls to the centre a subject normally marginalised in painting.
Interviewed ahead of the Royal Overseas League exhibition Home and Travel at the artist’s Camberwell studio.
Giuseppe Marasco: How do you make your images?
Chris Hawtin: I ‘draw’ in acrylic (dark green) on an acrylic ground, I’ll pour enamel paint all over, it adds complexity otherwise it becomes too clinical. It has glass in it so it has a translucency. It’s to f*** it up and bit and mutate it. Adding multiple layers. Then black and white spray to give a 3D volume.
CH: I want there to be a discrepancy in the image, a difficulty and an anxiety, that the thing can look at odds, awkward, with its surrounding, yet it all hangs together.
GM: You’re inspired by the world making in Videogames and their programing rules, as well as glitches, blind spots and limits of the imagination. (For me there’s echoes of town planning.)
CH: For me painting has to become an object. I want it to be like a Videogame where anything is possible, but have an awkwardness about it, bordering on a glitch. To resolve itself and have a logic in Space. All those things have to tie in together.
GM: A feature of your work is it’s open structure and perceptual anticipation?
CH: I’m interested in potentiality. From whatever event, whether that’s a perceived event in the potentiality. The event is the making of the thing. It’s about reading painting or creating a difficulty in painting.
GM: There’s a Sci-fi element, of something becoming, it’s unclear at what stage the narrative or the situation that that world is in, the making of the painting is also in a process of becoming. The landscapes make me think of Iceland, it’s an unchartable ever renewing landscape, sometimes it’s only a few days old, appearing as it’s volcanoes are continuously vomiting up new material.
CH: The Icelandic landscape is a contraction of time, a quickening of what would happen over millennia, the essential geological events are the same, formation or dissolution.
GM: – I like the sense that something is missing, unfinished, gaps can be seen in the making and the fabric of the planet has come apart as Slavoj Zizek has said it’s as if God hadn’t finished the job.
CH: I like seeing gaps in other people’s paintings.
GM: Are those the juiciest bits?
CH: Yes definitely! Where they just flicked something, and it’s just gone perfectly, but where its suggests something else, it’s not the gesture but where it transforms into something else. A bit of plant or the glint off a pieces of metal. It looks scruffy when you come up close but from far away it becomes an integral part of the painting. I really like that almost unfinished look.
GM: There’s a grace in that, it’s accidental and unencumbered rather than won. Its adapting and changing the course of the painting through that.
CH: It’s like other people’s chips they always taste better. In the same way I can’t see it in my painting, yet I can see it in other people’s.
GM: The external object always seems complete, because of how we project onto the found object. We produce mental schemas which are hard habits to get out of, putting paintings into words contains a lot of risks. That you stop looking at the making. Encapsulating too neatly kills paintings off.
CH: It’s important that you don’t always go with your scheme. It can start you off, but it can create problems. Stopping painting is more difficult than to carry on with it if you haven’t done the things you think your going to do, having this this and this… At some point you realise the painting can stop here, it’s braver to stop and not put an element in. The blue painting hasn’t got one of these craft (things).
Hawtin shows a drawing of images he’s digitally collaged.
CH: It’s something that I can take or leave, a very saturated image. It becomes a painting and I have to start working towards it.
GM: One of the objects looks like a brushstroke. Do you create categories of forms or families of evolving objects? Or is it completely fortuitous?
CH: I’ve been playing around with it for fives years. It’s a fortuitous resemblance. In my mind there are forms that looks like prawns, snakes and others that look like flowers.
GM: Does this stream of forms come from an unconscious process? Testing the rational, mathematical system of the computer program seem to be important?
CH: It’s essentially the same object. It comes from exploding forms and the language of the architectural program Rhinoceros. I wanted something that you couldn’t imagine. It was really important to make shapes that humans couldn’t design. Searching for what happens when pushed to it’s point of failure.
GM: The post-human and machine learning are hinted at in your work. Presently the Present global economy can be described as going through a form of extreme acceleration.
CH: Yes, I really wanted something very cold, computer generated. From that I take this object and create something organic like. I wanted a cold technological invader. The paintings are at the point where something has arrived.
CH: We live in the age of technological acceleration. Not the renaissance.
GM: The drama comes from the identity of the invader being suspend not locked down. So that multiple identities and their locations are possible. This intrusion also destabilises the idea of a golden past arcadia. It keeps re-opening the landscape, keeping it fluid.
CH: It’s that point in War of The Worlds, where there’s suspense. It’s an alien form in a space in which it doesn’t belong. For me paintings have to have an element of mystery. The paintings that I like have ambiguity. It’s a moment of an interesting confrontation. The paintings I like have an aire of mystery about them. I’m interested in a ambiguity, not an open one but where it could be one thing or the other.
GM: Your images share a quality with psychological anxiety, where the act of appearing to be something is on the verge of collapse.
CH: It’s like the Unheimliche,the Unhomely.
GM: Yes, there something to the German word that is lost in translation. Like the uncanny has gone and lost something of it original home. I’m thinking about the cosmological sublime – a oneness and boundlessness with a diminishing of the ego. The cosmological component, takes you through to something unimaginable. The horizon and the vanishing point now is extended to the vastness of space and a multiplicity of planets. Your techno-objects reminds me of how problematic the introduction of the ‘other’ is when they appears in a landscape. In which you were previously alone and suddenly in that egoless moment you’re confronted with another person’s face. And their ‘base’ humanity is too hard to personally reconcile with the experience of the sublime.
CH: The sublime is something incredibly selfish! You shouldn’t be looking at these things like they are a singular figures. They maybe ships or a floating city, or a kind of sentient being, or its none of those things.
GM: I’m thinking of when you see a car rushing at you, you think of it as a singular entity, then laterly, who’s inside or the social structure it belongs to. They could even be the future runaway permutations of driverless cars of belonging to (non-evil) tech-giants.
It’s Social identity of the society and the encounter granular.
CH: It goes back to one reading of the uncanny, that you don’t know whether something is alive or not, whether it is looking at you or not, others disagree with that, I’ve always had that in my head that’s something that has always stuck with me.
GM: It’s curious how in earlier cultures even the materials of the earth were imbued with a life or a spirit, even intelligence. I’m thinking how of a twinge of guilt could be present in the uncanny, which links to a mode of thinking that belonged to prehistoric cultures that personified a Mother Earth. In which case everything is absolutely alive!
CH: Except technology!
GM: Hahaha! Technology is always dead! Technology is always some sort of weird prosthetic limb, some sort of extension of purpose or function. Or designed needs. It’s always surreal.
CH: That’s interesting. Technology is always for a determined purpose. These things are like technology for the sake of itself (sentient?) and it’s difficult here to read what it is…
GM: Are you pushing for technology for technology’s sake, paralleling art for art’s sake?
CH: Well it’s impossible to have. There is no technology for technology’s sake. You can have the image of technology without it needing to be something, you only get that in Sci-fi backdrop.
GM: Are the paintings really Sci-fi?
CH: Yeah call it sci-fi, it’s not really Sci-fi, look… if 400 people say it is you eventually have to agree! It fits ‘an alien invasion’ in a traditional landscape. It’s about technological acceleration.
GM: It’s technology that has gone on through so many iterations to an unimaginable end point of a mathematical infinite.-
CH: We’re back to Kafka and the priest, the priest says “look there is what there is, what you see is down to you” so, if i say what it is, it’s screwed. You’ve f****d up, it loses what it is. I have to stay mute on it.The potential is more interesting than what it is… Science Fiction tells you nothing about the future, it tells you everything about now, the time you’re living in, about what you,society, the writer thinks of themselves now.
Bearspace Gallery exhibition in conjunction with ROSL Arts.
Words by Giuseppe Marasco
Images by Chris Hawtin