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This work is from Hayley Tompkins’s Day Series 2007 and consists of two thin, wooden constructions that resemble twigs, made by fixing fragments of wood together and painting over them with gouache and enamel paint. The elements are held in position on the wall with nails and white tack. Tompkins’s works often have a tactile quality that evokes the artist’s manual labour. She describes her process of painting as a visceral one, a form of thinking through touch. She selects the found objects she uses from things she happens to find around her and seeks to draw upon their casual, familiar status while singling them out for particular attention. This work invokes the original status of the exiguous fragments but also has an ethereal quality.
Tompkins makes paintings in watercolour and gouache on small fragments of board, sheets of paper and at times directly onto the wall, and also applies paint to found and constructed objects. Other examples which demonstrate the range of her practice are Architecture 2004 (Tate T13539), Proto portrait 2008 (Tate T13536), Metabuilt II 2008 (Tate T13538), Metabuilt XXIV 2009 (Tate T13537) and No Title 2011 (Tate T13540).
The Day Series developed from the artist’s thinking about the nature of time, or the idea of a day in time, and how to measure it or translate it in painting. She selected a range of objects such as sticks, a straw, a leaf on board and a spoon, described as ‘all objects from my life, common objects’ (email correspondence with Tate curator Katharine Stout, 2 May 2011). Tompkins deliberately wanted a title that ‘seemed disarmingly simple, clear and very open’ (2 May 2011). She was influenced by the experimental films of American filmmakers Hollis Frampton (1936–1984) and Robert Beaver (born 1949), which she felt handled the material of the everyday in a dreamlike yet logical way. She has commented: ‘I wanted my painted objects to have this quality, like time being recorded across them, so I had to try to let the paint work like a film – a layer of colour or substance – the paint being the material.’ (2 May 2011) This series also added an extra dimension to Tompkins’s work, which had previously been two-dimensional or presented horizontally on a table. The artist relates this series to the work of American artist Cy Twombly (1928–2011):
Somewhere in the background, I was thinking about Cy Twombly sculptures which I loved, the whitewash ones that had the feel of his studio and incorporated cylindrical cardboard shapes and simple chest/boxes. They were so strange and the whiteness, or dirty white overpainting on them allowed you to properly ‘see’ the object again with something like newness. I wanted to try to get this vitality into this series, so they were almost like prototypes for a daily life, things you would or could encounter but altered or made sharper.
(2 May 2011)
Daniel Baumann, Pati Hertling and Karla Black, Hayley Tompkins, Edinburgh 2011.
Nicola Moorby and Katharine Stout, ‘Abstraction and Improvisation’, in Alison Smith (ed.), Watercolour, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2011, pp.184–5, 195.