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Material Research Project: Honorary Research Associates

Material Research Project HRA: Jessie Stevenson 2023/2024

Jessie Stevenson

Artist statement

The marshland is a capricious environment. It is a mystical habitat full of enchanting rivets, pools, reflections, transparencies, and opacities. It is an ‘offshore world’ and a ‘mirror world’ where no one wants to be left behind. The silver horizon and the union of the sky, sea can distort the mind whilst the tidal pull navigates the invisible tug of the lunar lines. It can catch you unaware of time passing. It is a dramatic stage, once welcoming and calm, at other times ominous and foreboding.

The unique geographical terrain of the North Norfolk coastline gives the context for my own psychological and physical activities back in the studio. I will continue to draw from the landscape both as a historical narrative and a subject to approach emotional energies of the contemporary environment.
My ‘Pictorial Happenings’ are haptic patches of line and layers of chromatic hue that are built over a duration of time. Walking, tracing, digging, exploring, I gather visual forms from differing sites and these incidental moments manifest as a range of marks, which I incorporate as part of my artistic lexicon.

Material Research Project

Alive to the Senses – An investigation of drawing techniques inspired by Goya

I will continue my interest in the ever-changing landscape and ‘Pictorial Happenings’ by a further investigation of writers and artists namely the Spanish painter and printmaker, Francisco José de Goya (1746-1828).

I will examine how Goya brought his own unique voice to his draughtsmanship and the emotive possibilities, using an array of drawing tools – graphite pencil, chalk, charcoal, pastel and coloured inks.

This expressive handling of materials follows my recent exploration about the economy of the graphite line to suggest a dark visceral feeling on the paper. A daily cognitive exercise, I experiment with diary-like entries and increasingly this has provided ideas about the poetic and philosophical gesture on the canvas.

Material Research Project HRA: Robert Rivers 2021/2022

Robert Rivers, in the studio

Artist Statement

I am following a slight path in the woods and becoming increasingly unsure whether it was made by person or deer.

I consider pacing out the floorplan of a half remembered house amongst the trees and undergrowth just as I once chalked it up on a London square.

Landscape with its histories and myths as well as its momentary reality has become an important element of my work both as subject and as a source of materials. Materials gathered on a walk or found discarded by a roadside come to the studio and are incorporated amongst shop bought surfaces and paints. My art materials are often pushed and broken down before being pieced back together.

I am interested in E M Forster’s conception of ‘the greenwood’, a rural idyll that allows the two male lovers of his book ‘Maurice’ to roam in the ‘ever after that fiction allows’. The greenwood is a place that no longer exists, and maybe never did, but a place I hear an echo of in the materials I find and use.

Robert Rivers, with hay bales

Robert Rivers

Material Research Project

From the greenwood – Alternative materials

I will be extending my research into ‘the greenwood’ and the ideas of landscape explored by early 20th century artists and writers through a further exploration of the materials I have gathered and found outside for use in the studio.

I will examine the physical properties and possibilities of rural materials like straw, wild materials like stinging nettles, pavement materials like newspaper and verge materials such as scraps of discarded fluorescent work wear.

This research builds on my recent experimental work using the stinging nettle. A plant full of history and myth, often overlooked or avoided, from which the extracted bast fibre makes and has made good thread and paper throughout time.

The work as HRA – Talks

Friday 19 November, 10.30am Robert Rivers, Honorary Research Associate. Nettle – Plant of archaeology, history and present wastelands. An exploration of the art materials that can be made out of the common stinging nettle. Looking at how to make nettle paper and making nettle thread.

Friday 26 November, 10.30am Robert Rivers, Honorary Research Associate. Straw – Rural by product / Romantic material. We will experiment with how straw has been used throughout time as a craft and art material and look at it in relation to the yellow pigments that it has been translated into so often in painting.


Material Research Project HRA:  Gabriela Giroletti 2019/20

Artist Statement

My paintings are the by-product of a range of everyday stimuli, accommodating music, film, literature and nature, the ordinary everywhere and nowhere. The work explores visual contemplation and the impalpable awareness of oneself, sitting between objectivity and subjectivity. We believe perception presents us the world as it truly is; nevertheless this perception is mediated by our bodily senses and by our individual life experiences.

Deliberately ambiguous, my paintings jolt between their crude materiality and their metaphysical aspect, encouraging the viewer to formulate peculiar connections with our tangible surroundings as well as with our individual and unique lived experience. Borderline abstract and figurative, still life and landscape, simple and complex, the work performs a push and pull game between body and mind, making and thinking: what is painted/how is painted.

Gabriela Giroletti standing in front of painting at Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2019

Gabriela Giroletti at Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2019

Research project for the MRP

The main focus of my work within the Methods Room will be to explore the potential of surface preparation in painting and its relation to the finished work, exploring how the surface influences and controls the conception of a painting. My current painting research explores the relationship between the painted image (the meaning, the immaterial, the metaphor, the mind) and the material presence in the painting (the corporeal, the touch, the physical presence, the body). Although the metaphysical element is present, the work always relies on the material possibilities as a starting point, exploring the painting fundamentals: surface, colour, shape, pictorial space and gesture.

Alongside my practical investigation into new and known methods of surface preparation I will research other artists whose priming is central to their painting practice. Library research and practical workshops with the support from Jo Volley will be part of the means to lengthen my knowledge into this subject.

The work as HRA – Workshops

As HRA, I will develop a series of research workshops that will explore academic surface and surface as a medium.

I will not only explore the actual function of surface preparation, but also explore its potential as an experimental material that can be part of the artistic decision-making: how it can stand as a dynamic element for painting, being as much of a component of a painting as paint, thus having equal importance in the painting process.

The workshops that I will lead as HRA will consider the following points regarding surface preparation: tooth, absorbency, colour vibrancy, rigidity and coverage. After these points are covered, I will move onto a more experimental approach to surface preparation.

Gabriela Giroletti, I will tell you things at ramdon (Meadow)_oil on cotton, 160 x 200cm, 2019

Gabriela Giroletti, I will tell you things at ramdon (Meadow)_oil on cotton, 160 x 200cm, 2019

Material Research Project HRA: Mircea Teleaga 2018 – 2019

In my works I depict entirely constructed and imagined spaces. These are spaces of the mind where I collate all the sources which inform my work. Photographs, paintings or other images from varied sources converge to give birth to the scenes I paint. Very often, the notions of abstraction and figuration are challenged in these works. I regard painting as a perfectly viable means of communication and therefore such labels do more harm than good when it comes to the reading and understanding of painting. Both image and painting as material are explored simultaneously and the result is a presence that is intrinsically revealed both within the individual paintings and in the works as a whole.

Material Research Project:

The main focus of my work within the Methods Room was to explore the potential of paint as a material. It is my belief that painting has a language of its own and that the development of this language should be encouraged through constant experimentation.

I have looked at artists which demanded a lot from their materials, in particular the use of egg tempera in the works of Botticelli and de Chirico and that of the tempera grassa in the works of de Kooning.

The workshops I led and took part in, focused on making oil paint from oils and pigments, making egg tempera, distemper, tempera grassa, the use of different mediums in oil painting and a particular case study of the use of different blacks throughout art history.

Material Research Project HRA: Gosia Bany 2016 – 2017

Material Research Project HRA: Simon Barkworth 2016 – 2017

Material Research Project: Hot Colour

The intention for this project is to investigate, record and develop an understanding of the effects of temperature on pigments and their colour. It also undertakes to make comparison and support the well-established research of the Material Research Project, into pigments, supports and painting mediums.  Hot Colour follows the potential for a different application of pigments, looking at the similarity used by the painter and the ceramicist, but to very different colour effects.

The research sets out to get a basic knowledge of the application of colour within ceramics and to further the understanding of how colour transforms through heat. Beginning with a focus on what constitutes a glaze; the oxides and raw materials that carry and aid the transformation of a glaze, followed by the inclusion of the pigments and oxides that invigorate colour.

It was very important to narrow the variables to contain the research and to keep abreast of the subject. Within the ceramics community it is well know and common for people to spend a life time’s work on just a handful of variables, that is the scope of the enormity and possibility within the subject area. For the purpose of this research, it was important to keep within the umbrella of the Material Research Project and what is commonly available within this institution. With this in mind, all firings were made in oxidation (electric kiln) and to the temperature of 1260ºc (chosen because of desire to use some found sand and other found materials) and using a standard grey stoneware clay and slip.

This investigation was guided first by the desire to know what a glaze is and second by the different tools a ceramist will use to understand the many variables that determine a glazes final outcome. Understanding some of the basic chemistry has helped to navigate my way through the different relationships and interactions with the different elements in a glaze but I have tried to avoid this here and write the more practical examples that helped me.

Unfortunately, as you’ll read most of my time as an Honorary Research Associate was taken by these first steps of understanding the glaze body and I only just began to introduce the concepts intended in the Hot Colour research.  However, this journey has set up a continual practice into trying new pigments and oxides at different temperatures that show the different colour effects of pigments within ceramics, which I hope can be expanded on by anyone who reads this.

Quick word on clay

Clay is the product of geologic weathering of the earths surface, by the abrasive effects of rainfall, rocks, glaciers and rivers over millions of years, resulting in smaller and smaller particles that get laid down in deltas and estuaries and by geologic movement lifted to dry land. These particles, the majority feldspar are tiny platelets that slide over each other giving clay its familiar plasticity. It is only when firing that these platelets fuse by locking together in a process called quartz inversion. Up until this point clay can continually be reprocessed back into a workable medium. The table below shows the relevant temperatures that changes are defined by.

Material Research Project HRA: Malina Busch 2014 – 2015

In my practice, I explore the body’s relationship to colour, and colour’s ability to influence sensory perception.  I use colour to explore touch as a form of physical engagement, and a potential point of exchange between myself and the viewer.  I am fascinated by how it exists as both a tactile, physical substance while simultaneously being in a constant state of visual flux, depending on lighting and surface conditions. My work explores these gaps between an understanding of material as it appears to the eye, versus an empirical understanding of how it feels when handled.

Using materials that can be shaped by hand, I borrow and combine methods from painting, sculpture, and fibre art to offer different perspectives on an experience.  I am intrigued by materials that hold their shape when moulded, remembering the actions that were performed on them during the making process.  I consider how tension can be created or suggested, and will often bind, tether, or sew pieces together as a way of exploring this.  For me, the studio process is a form of call and response between myself and a particular material with each change to a surface or colour determining my next move.

Material Research Project:

As HRA, I developed a regular series of research workshops.  My research focused on the relationship between colour and surface, and an investigation of the visual and physical possibilities of colour.  Each workshop aimed to formulate a better understanding of historic approaches to colour, and to use this knowledge as a means of furthering conversations about the role of colour within contemporary painting practices.

Research Workshops:

Colour Methodologies: Josef Albers and the Slade Print Collection – Introduced concepts from Josef Albers’ “Interaction of Colour”; and explored practical applications for the studio using prints from the Slade Archive and Colour-Aid paper.

An Exploration of Violet Pigments – Compared the history and visual properties of different violet pigments and the possibilities they offer for painting today; from Tyrian purple to Perkin’s mauve, and Dioxazine and Quinacridone violets.

Making Coloured Ink – Used Mars Violet pigment to explore inks created with Gum Arabic, Shellac-Borax, and Acrylic Resin.

Unstretched: Working with Flexible Surfaces – Examined the advantages and disadvantages of flexible surfaces in relation to paint films; using different papers, canvases, found materials, plastics, theatrical fabrics, and commercial fabrics.

Contemporary and historic approaches to the artist’s palette – Explored how different types of palettes can define visual structures within painting, and be used as a tool for investigating material and conceptual problems.

Colour Methodologies: Hans Hofmann – Hofmann’s paintings were introduced alongside his writings on the spatial and compositional possibilities of colour, and colour’s dual role as a formal and psychological element.  Parallels for Hofmann’s concepts were proposed within contemporary painting.

Adhering Colour: Contemporary Approaches to Dye – Reflected on the history of dyes and mordants as a method for adhering colour to surfaces.  Experiments replicated historic indigo dye vats, and tested ten types of mordants as a way of examining and understanding these processes.

Phosphorescent, Fluorescent, and Interference Pigments – Research and studio experiments were presented, compared and debated by Antoni Malinowski (phosphorescent), Malina Busch (fluorescent), and Jo Volley (interference).

A Comparison of Hofmann & Albers – Hans Hofmann and Josef Albers’ writing and artwork was compared and discussed in relation to current approaches to colour in the studio.

Material Research Project HRA: Sarah Pettit 2013 – 2014

What happens if you turn the world upside down? When you enter the subterranean level. Past the foundations of the church, under the church, to the river which flows beneath both the churches and the temple? I look beyond, through, upon but mostly just end up getting wet in histories.

As medieval thinking, techniques and necessities have become more important to my research, environment has fused with the absent body as a site of silent anguish. The veneration of tears was multi-sensory and emotive – an apposite medium for stimulating emotional responses – yet it required belief. In our current post-truth, post-fact climate pain remains an unseen fact. A collectively known solitude, individually felt. Your pain is your own.

My interest in personal starting points which generate larger meaning stems from my own experience of living with chronic pain. Elaine Scarry says, ‘Physical pain does not simply resist language but actively destroys it’. Scars map pain, but what if there is no scar? Psychological, physical and political borders tracelessly map all our bodies. My body limits the possibilities for these new relics, while I limit what enters the studio with discarded fabric, wood or plastic given a second life. Venerated if you like.

Material Research Project: The Space of Painting: The Tyranny of Surface

My time as HRA included many highlights, my research was varied but retained a specific focus on surface. Embracing process-oriented methods I set out to explore mechanisms of belief and value, disrupt material hierarchies and examine the relevance of pre-modern artistic modalities. I also considered emotional response triggered by materials – on one hand allure, seduction and illusion; on the other, repulsion and reality.

Opposites were considered – from the purest whites to earth and dust, iron oxide, verdigris and salt green to gold, as well as the manufacture and mythologies of lapis lazuli. With the words of Cennini ringing in our ears, we realised we had fallen at the first hurdle, luckily Dr Ruth Siddall was on-hand to provide damning microscopic evidence: we had started with azurite. Reverting to the 1826 chemical version, I attempted to recreate Yves Klein’s IKB. Robyn Pender taught us fresco, while Rania Schoretsaniti’s skill with traditional gold leaf won hands down in comparison to modern size. Spike Bucklow’s research deliciously linked gold with rust: representing the visible decay of man’s soul.

Learning Ancient Egyptian fabric techniques with Dr Gillian Vogelsang Eastwood left me reconsidering the pleat as a symbol of wealth contained within material and labour. ‘You speak of things that haven’t happened yet in the past-tense’ organised with Sarah MacDonald and Andrew Witt dived into the upper limits of the graphic mark through the work of John Divola, Henri Matisse and Virginia Woolf. Visits considered the space of painting from how the placement of work in the studio can affect subsequent deployment to examining the reverse of Fontana’s Tagli and discovering handwritten, chalked words which capture the moment of completion: ‘The sky is very blue today’. These inscriptions remain like myths – something to hold in your mind.

My research left me fascinated with connections between medieval and modern considerations, building cycles into my process and the politics of making portable, nomadic or site specific work. Most exciting was, of course, remembering that research contains no end – just more beginnings.

Material Research Project HRA: Alaena Turner 2013- 2014

Alaena Turner (b. 1984, UK) makes paintings, spatial installations and events which explore gesture, serial production and the everyday. Her practice is influenced by an interest in constraint systems, for example the experimental writing techniques of the Oulipo group (‘Workshop for Potential Literature’). Her approach to painting involves devising systems to frame the performance of materials, for example, the ongoing series ‘Secret Action Painting’ (2008-present), which explores the capacity of oil-paint to act as glue. Alaena Turner is a current practice-based PhD candidate at the University of Leeds, funded by a scholarship awarded by the White Rose College of Arts and Humanities (2015-19). Her current research focuses on re-enactment as a strategy to re-invent existing artworks from the history of conceptual art, performance and abstract painting.  For example, in 2016 she led a collaborative re-enactment of Bruce McLean’s black and white photograph series ‘Underwater Watercolour’ (1969), which resulted in a short colour video, ‘Underwater Watercolours’ (produced with Eddie Farrell and Bruce McLean). In 2016 she was awarded the A.P.T Curatorial Fellowship for the project ‘Ingredients, Method, Serving Suggestion’. This extended the research initiated in the project ‘Dinner with Picasso’ (2013-14) through further pursuing the creative potential of the recipe.

Website: https://cargocollective.com/alaenaturner

Material Research Project:

Building on previous experimentation in my studio practice with utilitarian painting materials, such as anti-climb paint and line-marking paint, the initial focus for my research was the intersection of painting practice with the everyday. This began with a broad enquiry into the operation of colour, line and tactility in domestic environments and situations related to daily work, seeking to locate potential analogies for the processes of painting. Often the starting premise for a seminar would involve a combinatory approach, presenting research from different fields to reflect upon a subject. For example, the action of colour in space was addressed using material generated by the Saturated Space research cluster of the Architectural Association, discussed in relation to documentation of Piet Mondrian’s ‘Wallworks’ and my collection of photographs of ‘found paintings’ (planes of colour in everyday environments). This also involved collaborative practical experiments, such as devising a precarious frame for floor paint so that the studio floor could be painted without additional labour, and producing a silkscreen printed wallpaper for Slade Print Fair 2013.

From this period of experimentation I developed the project ‘Dinner with Picasso’ which aimed to explore food as a material and reflect on the creative potential of the recipe as a linguistic form. Drawing on the knowledge of Gary Woodley (Slade School of Fine Art) and Prof. Andrew Leak (School of European Languages, Culture and Society) and supported by a research grant from the Institute of Making, ‘Dinner with Picasso’ ran as a series of 6 interdisciplinary workshops in 2014. Participants were recruited from staff and students across both departments, as well as invited external guests with relevant expertise, such as food writer, Sybil Kapoor, art writer, Chris Fite-Wassilak and algae specialist, Dr Brenda Parker. The workshops addressed themes such as the science of taste, edible bacteria and sustainable food sources, whilst using constraint writing techniques to produce new recipes. Outcomes from this project, were presented at the ‘Materials and Society’ conference, Institute of Making, UCL (June 2014), Domus MMXIV: The House Show, London (Oct 2014) and G5LLERY, London (Aug 2015).

  • relationship of painting processes to the everyday- recipe/ instruction
  • use of constraint, research into experimental writing  (Oulipo group), as basis for material experimentation
  • adapting existing artist recipes, e.g. Marinetti’s ‘Futurist Cookbook’

Material Research Project HRA: Onya McCausland 2011 – 2012

I am interested in the language of painting as a means of producing a connection to particular landscapes. This in practical terms manifests in travelling to sites in various kinds of landscapes to take away and use some material evidence of the place I find, to make a painting. I work through a number of simple processes to turn these earths into usable pigment for paint, which is indexed to its origin or site by naming, and linking the colour with a specific geographical location, geology or history.

Having arrived in my studio, physically separated from its context, this material, with various art historical, industrial connections and uses, is free to speculate on the changing conditions of the contemporary landscape. Many of the landscapes I encounter are ex-industrial wastelands, quarries, or sites where minerals from industrial pollution form. Some are famous and historic pigment sites such as the landscape surrounding the town of Siena. During these encounters with specific places and their re-assemblage in the studio through painting, I have observed and follow a reflexive process between interior and exterior experiences of place, site, and frame, in which the landscape site itself becomes the painting.


Material Research Project:

My contribution to the Material Research Project was the establishment of the Slade Pigment Library https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/methods-room/the-materials-research-project/pigment-library/ with Jo Volley. Together we gathered samples from the extensive and historically important Winsor & Newton archive as well as receiving generous contributions from Ruth Siddall, Libby Sheldon (UCL Art History), Kremer pigments, the Hamilton Kerr Institute and pigment collector Keith Edwards in addition to samples from our own personal collections. Jo Volley also contributed an amazing collection of iron galls for making ink, and I added a growing collection of European earth materials.

The time spent gathering together teaspoon sized samples of coloured powder intensified my experience of the materiality of colour in a new way. Tangible yet ephemeral, colour is full of paradox and contradiction that intrigues and unsettles me – colours seem to be capable of slipping between multiple characters and voices. But here they are all materials with deep roots that expose the long history of their formation, manufacture and discovery in collaboration with humans through alchemy, mythology, chemistry, physics, geology and art.

As the pigment library grew I began using it as a resource to devise workshops and seminars that focused on ‘colour as material’. This formed the basis for a programme of workshops that focused on a specific colour that emphasised its materiality; by exploring the differences in the material agency and the historic or contemporary significance between vermillion and cadmium for example, as a means for opening up deeper areas of knowledge that supported possibilities of their use in painting. This developed to an investigation into a wide range of materials, traditional and unconventional that could be exploited to further our knowledge of the materiality and physicality of painting. To support these workshops and seminars I began to build a library of samples ranging from supports such as different papers, woods, canvas, MDF, aluminium.

This prompted a project that I ran with Gary Woodley called the Surfaces Photography Project https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/methods-room/the-materials-research-project/1482-2/ In which we examined the material structures of surfaces and the physical complexities of the painted surface using extremely close-up photographic imaging. Students volunteered different paintings and drawings to be photographed using an HD DSL camera with a specially adapted (Gary-style) macro lens. The resulting photographic images documented materials in extreme close-up and high-definition detail, amplifying the physical properties of paint in relation to the mechanics of painting. Tiny physical structures buried within painting, the various textured surfaces of paper, the depths and structures of wood grain, the density of the fabric weave of canvas, the particular graininess of different coloured pigments appeared hyper-visible. Onya and Gary realised that this close-up visual knowledge of matter would be a beneficial way of allowing students to make new discoveries about the materiality of painting.

Also contributed to Dark Matter JV OM exploring the different material properties of black pigments in a variety of binders as a compliment to LM exhibition at the Ivory Lamp Mars Vine Bone. The research I undertook as part of the MRP was a good place to form new questions relating to my own painting practice. Shortly after leaving the MRP I was awarded AHRC funding to undertake a PhD, which I completed in 2017.