Upon entering the studio space of abstract painter Scott Cumberland, my eyes meet with 30 or so containers of Activia yoghurt scattered along a table, covered by a paint-spotted sheet. On the walls of the studio hang a few of Cumberland’s creations—compositions with ornate and decorative wallpaper-like patterns as the backdrop for surreal, multi-coloured ribbons. The playful pieces are visually striking and will be part of Cumberland’s upcoming exhibit Serious Whimsy.
On the floor, thousands of droplets of dried paint make their abode.
The yoghurt containers are of course not filled with a thickened dairy treat, but many colours of paint—the medium that Cumberland uses to create his signature ribbons.
“When I first started doing the ribbons, it was to see if I could bring some sort of volume into the flatness of abstraction,” Cumberland says in a hushed tone. “It’s the thing that allows me to sort of jump off and experiment with different artistic styles while discovering what the painting is going to mean. It’s my anchor if you will.”
Cumberland creates his ribbons by laying a canvas down flat on his paint-covered, “craptacular” sawhorses and depositing various colours on the canvas’ face. Next, he uses an assortment of tools including squeegees, sticks, and brushes to form the skeleton of the ribbon. The completed ribbons have an astonishing textural quality to them due to the amount of paint Cumberland uses. On some of the paintings the ribbons gently protrude off the canvas.
“I really like the fact that paintings don’t have to be these nice pretty things that sit on the wall for eternity,” he says. “They can be tactile and can be touched and I like that aspect of it. It’s very much on purpose, the thick amount of paint.”
Creating the ribbons is far from a methodical process as Cumberland is more of a call-and-answer kind of painter.
“I never have a definitive plan. I’m probably the least efficient painter out there because for me, it’s all responding to see what the next step is,” he says. “So I’ll go and mix various colours and palettes. They could be inspired by some music that I heard or a movie that I saw. Something that just sort of kicks it.”
What happens next is an almost Zen-like process for Cumberland.
“I’ll walk into the space, put in my noise cancelling headphones, crank the music and I kind of turn the brain off and let the hand do what it does,” he says. “Painting for me, alot of it is about the sort of gestural moment and then trying to go back and control things.”
The control aspect comes from the tracing of the patterns Cumberland decides will accompany the ribbon. He digitally projects various patterns—contained in a database made up of designs and foliage he finds appealing—over the ribbon-adorned canvas until something sticks.
“I’ll also paint the pattern in by hand which, again, is not the most efficient. If I stencilled, it would be a quicker process, but I like the fact that it slows me down a lot. Ultimately I could decide to not fill in the rest of the pattern … so working slow affords me the time and opportunity to make those decisions. Once again, it’s about control.”
The decorative aspect of Cumberland’s paintings also presents a modern take on the rococo style that was highly prevalent in 18th century France.
“I’ve always been interested in baroque paintings, particularly late baroque,” he says. “In part because of those ribbons that I was already making. There was an ornamentation there already. What I was really interested in with this particular body of work was really playing up the levity of the work. A lot of the work is sort of always in contrast against something.”
Cumberland is also confronting an older school of artistic thought with his paintings.
“With the decorative aspect, I’m bringing that back into something [abstract art] that was largely frowned upon,” he says. “It would devalue the work in some camps or make it less than intellectual, which is far from the case. So this is now another way to push back against.”
This story originally ran on www.probertsongallery.com
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