Adam Fenton on tickling oil paint and liberating techniques

The concept of perfectionism in art is layered, to say the least. What does it mean to be “perfect” – or imperfect, for that matter – and how does this manifest itself in the artistic process?

Perfectionism, Part II, at London’s Griffin Gallery, explores notions of perfectionism and repetition, and how artists grapple with these ideas in their work. We spoke to one of the participating artists, Adam Fenton, about his contributions, and how his chosen medium and surfaces influence his creative output.

Tell us about the pieces you have on display.

I’m showing two series of paintings. Four Paintings consists of four landscape paintings, each painted from the same image. The dimensions of each painting halve in size starting at 113 x 113 centimetres and reducing to 14 x 14 centimetres. I also have five paintings from my Object series. These works are painted from real objects which I chose based on their form rather than their function. With these paintings, I selected the surface, frame and size of the piece based on the object.

Adam Fenton, Four Paintings
Adam Fenton, Four Paintings


What are your favourite qualities in the oil paint you use?

I’m a true blender. I love how you can “tickle” oil paint to make brushstrokes disappear. Gerhard Richter was a master at this. It’s a great technique for creating a lifelike representational image.

By using oil paint, you can create the most subtle of nuances of colour and a play with light that can illuminate the image from within. There are few other mediums that can produce qualities like this, especially when used in layers.

We’re fascinated by the way you employ surfaces, particularly the way you use multiple canvases to convey perspective. Can you tell us more about your decision to work on multiple surfaces within the same piece?

Behind the aesthetics of my paintings, I think a lot about image-making and paintings as objects. Landscape paintings are just like ornaments – decorative objects with a value attached to them. The value of such objects is dictated by factors such as size, intricacy and embellishment. By making paintings in series, I explore how varying these qualities will affect the object.

With the Object series, for example, some of the objects that I base my paintings on have been mass-produced by a machine, some have been individually made by a craft maker. This gives each object a different value. But reproducing them as a painted image made at the hand of the artist levels this hierarchy. The choice to make Four Paintings as a series then poses the question: can a craft maker reproduce a painting?

Adam Fenton, Object 27, Oil on Board
Adam Fenton, Object 27, Oil on Board


When choosing a surface, what tips do you have for other artists?

Try something completely unexpected. I made a whole series of landscape paintings on tweed. My decision to do this was not because it jumped out at me as a particularly inviting material to paint on. It was because it fitted with the context of landscape painting and with the “traditional landscape painter” character. But the results were fantastic. I had to give it about five coats of rabbit skin glue before I could even begin to paint, but the coarse weave forced me to use a heavier brushstroke and a much thicker application of paint. The whole experience was a surprising liberation from my usual technique.