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Painting recovery : a painterly exploration of the pain-altered mind-body connection


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Woodbury, SJ ORCID: 0000-0002-0578-3564 2020 , 'Painting recovery : a painterly exploration of the pain-altered mind-body connection', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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This practice-led project investigates how the process of pain recovery and the resulting alteration of the mind-body connection can be expressed through a gestural painting methodology. Recovery is seen within this investigation as a process of transformation. Given that the process of recovery from pain and injury is difficult to relate linguistically, I have sought to communicate this experience through the recording of embodied gesture.
In this investigation I have employed an auto-ethnographic approach to analyse my own intuitively developed recovery process, identifying agency, poiesis and duration as key elements. Applying these elements as painting-procedural verbs created a formal framework for my artmaking process. Neuroscientific research on brain wiring and mind-mapping by Donald Hebb (1949) and Antoni Damasio (2012) have provided an important theoretical underpinning for the understanding of the recovery process as well as informing my art practice. Damasio outlines how the mind makes matter through a tightly-coupled, interconnected, recursive process that produces its own topography of neurological wiring. Likewise, the concept of ‘flow’ formulated by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1975) and the Zen-derived concept of ‘No-Mind’ as elaborated by D. T. Suzuki (1959) exemplified in the practice of Yamaoka Tesshū (1836-1888) have been crucial in analysing the state of mind beyond conscious thought that underlies both my recovery from pain as well as my process of gestural mark-making. The writings of Barbara Bolt (2004) and Paul Crowther (2017) on painting as an embodied process rather than a practice of representation have also provided a foundation for my methodology, as has James Elkins’ (1999) emphasis on the act of painting as an alchemical process of transformation.
Situating my practice within the field of gestural painting, four artists in particular have informed this project: Kazuo Shiraga as exemplar for agency painting; Willem de Kooning, whose later works illustrate how a repetitive, unconscious, mind-body connected painting method imprints the artist’s neurological and psychological being, even when the mind suffers a cognitive decline; Hans Hartung, whose restriction to a wheelchair later in life demonstrates how a physical limitation can produce a creative impetus to expand an established art practice; and Takesada Matsutani as a guide for how to incorporate the restriction of limited elements of material and gestural parameters into the process of making artwork.
The resultant suite of works has been created whilst strapped to my inversion machine where I delivered unconsciously produced intuitive lines that reference Damasio’s parameters of interconnected, tightly-coupled and recursive neurological wiring over successive markings. The durations of embodied marking archives the temporal record of the mind-body connection’s history through the material manipulation, which is recorded in the topography of the substrate material. The interaction between artist and material agency illuminates the underpinnings of the painterly translation of recovery in which a forced restriction ultimately has expanded my life’s options and, through this research, my painting oeuvre. This kind of art offers the possibility of a kinaesthetic response to an intuitive, embodied making—that is poiesis in both making and revealing. The final exhibition mirrors the process of recovery, moving from tentative and delicate through to powerfully defined marking in both material and mind-body mastery and enhanced gesture.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Woodbury, SJ
Keywords: Autoethnography; gestural painting; pain recovery; Gutai; No-Mind; studio-based practice; poiesis; Agency
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Copyright 2020 the author

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