Painters in conversation: Martine Poppe discusses her latest work with Aglaé Bassens
'...there was so much noise in my life at the time, both on a personal level and in general, with Brexit just around the corner and the US elections looming in the near future. It seemed to me like people were just looking for 'something' to happen, regardless of what. So it felt right to make nothing happen, strengthening the quiet that my works embody...'
Writing for Junko, Aglaé Bassens catches up with painter Martine Poppe to discuss a new body of work that reflects on a changing political landscape across Europe and America, the idea of place and how location has shaped her practice and the importance of materiality in creating narrative within her work.
Aglaé: You moved to London from Norway to study art. Do you feel that this was when the notion of place became important for you in your work?
Martine: Since I was quite young it has been important to me to experience more than just Norway (and for that matter, Britain), but it didn't consciously enter into my practice until several years after I moved. From the beginning of my stay in London, I did of course notice trends that seemed geographically specific. As such, I quickly became aware that being educated in Britain and seeing art primarily in British institutions had a strong impact upon my practice. More than anything else, I think that’s what made me conscious of how important it is to engage with different landscapes, types of light and everyday visual languages. Living abroad has made me conscious of the influences that I’ve brought with me. At the same time that disconnection from my native country has removed a lot of barriers which makes ‘place’ an exciting source of information. Part of the reason for that is the feeling that everywhere is both familiar and alien.
A: A lot of your imagery is cropped or truncated, with parts of the painting working almost like colourfield abstraction and others describing more recognizable imagery or text. How do you think about this binary structure?
M: My current practice developed from a desire to move between the image and the other materials of the painting. My approach to that was twofold, using images that I had already captured photographically and simultaneously leaving parts of the canvas nude. I've always been making work that contains representation in one way or another. However I began to get the sense that there was an expectation of the image which was disrupting the dialogue between the viewer and the painting, so I decided to blur all my photographs. Strictly speaking, the blurs are as representational as any of my paintings in the sense that they are all representations of photographs. However, the mechanism of removing the images entirely from their source by blurring them gave the brush marks space to build a different kind of image, transforming the flat coloured surfaces into landscapes of mottled marks.
Having begun the process, I felt that it said more to introduce the blur than make specific statements through representation. Part of the reason why that development felt so right was that there was so much noise in my life at the time, both on a personal level and in general, with Brexit just around the corner and the US elections looming in the near future. It seemed to me like people were just looking for 'something' to happen, regardless of what. So it felt right to make nothing happen, strengthening the quiet that my works embody by avoiding direct representation for a while.
During that time I focused on the photographic image. Eventually I arrived at a method of recording the photograph directly onto the polyester. Pairing it with the paint on the same surface and allowing them to be like oil and water has been a useful way to develop the narrative of the image in my process.
A: Your paintings have a unique formal quality with the polyester fabric you use which is slightly translucent and lets you see the stretcher bars behind the image. You use a small amount of paint to great effect, creating very alluring, beautiful surfaces. How important is the material process in your practice?
M: It is important to me that every development is grounded in practicalities. The limitations and potential of a material creates a framework that I can challenge and react to. It could be something as simple as one of my photographs needing permissions in order to be exhibited or as complicated as wanting to preserve the translucent quality of a material whilst interacting with it using non-translucent materials. Either way, when I discover a way forward, it creates a dialogue with the materials. Rather than forcing them, I usually discover new and exciting methods of making work that feel right on an intuitive level, motivating me to pursue it further.
Photo courtesy of Martine Poppe, title: 17.57.
Photos courtesy of Martine Poppe. Title: Nature is good #1
A: Your paintings are often reminiscent of travel (blue skies, palm trees etc), as though it were lifted from holiday commercials or snapshots abroad. Sometimes the text you use even seems lifted from foreign signage. How important are travel and the specifics of place in your work?
M: My current practice actually came as the result of a trip I went in 2012 to visit my uncle’s film set in Dublin. Whilst I was there, I took several photographs for a sketch book that would be used as a prop. It was the first time I had made work that I did not have complete copyright over and that issue of ownership interested me. However, I had an exhibition coming up the week I returned and no time go about getting the appropriate permissions. Since I was primarily interested in the photographs as objects, rather than their content, I decided to blur the lines between painting and photography by stretching them and then obscuring the motif with translucent polyester fabric so that they in a manner of speaking could be exhibited.
In terms of using images that are reminiscent of specific things like advertisement, snapshots, films etc., I became interested in them in because they are resilient. They have an ability to be so utterly framed by their own narrative and baggage, that even when I transform and intervene in their surface by for instance dividing the painting surface fifty-fifty between the image and the support materials, they speak of a certain use of the image that can only be addressed visually.
A: Increasingly, making paintings influenced by place is becoming tied up with politics. I know you travelled recently in the States, did your experience there inform ideas of cultural and social boundaries as well as geographical and aesthetic ones?
M: The first trip I made to the States was for a residency, Hooper Projects, which I was a part of in LA. During my stay I became aware of a type of openness about issues in society that is rarely as visually accessible in Europe. However, what finally made me want to engage with those issues directly was Brexit and the impending US elections. At the time the press was rife with theories about why people would vote for Trump and what sort of people they were. From my point of view it seemed equally likely that the rifts and outrageous statements made by the press would decide the election. So I went on my third trip mostly to figure things out for myself. As a project it has yet to be concluded.
My initial response was making the paintings Blue and Brown, currently on show at House of St. Barnabas in London. They contain painted blurs together with photo prints that I felt shouldn’t be translated to painting, because the context of being painted would place the image too far from its source. However, those were responses to specific incidents that happened on the day of the election.
The overall project, which is the more political part, has barely been processed. I encountered an unexpected degree of openness and generosity in terms of sharing information during the initial part of this project and the resultant nuances and strength of the narrative that was recorded does make a great deal of social borders and structures visible. Consequently I want to be careful with the way I use that material, not least because the timing of that trip was largely due to the misinformation spread by the press at the time.
Photo courtesy of Martine Poppe. Title: People will be very happy.
A: Where do you plan on travelling next and what future projects will you be working towards?
M: My next trips will probably be more about seeing art and potentially relocating myself, such as Berlin and Basel. As for projects, my next trip to make work will probably be to CCA Andratx in Spain. The residency lasts a month, and from what I hear it’s a wonderful place to think, so perhaps that’s where my most recent project will develop a body.
Photo courtesy of Martine Poppe. Title: Brown
Martine's work is currently on show in London at House of St. Barnabas in Soho until May.
For information on upcoming exhibitions, news and to view more of her work check out her website: martinepoppe.com
Written by Aglae Bassens
Photo courtesy of Martine Poppe. Detail of 17.57.