Ros Paton

Twenty-five years exploring the built environment's mortality

SDk: It was your “Momenti Mori” series that first attracted us to your work; we think you achieved a delicate poignancy in treating a subject that probably isn’t normally associated with those attributes. However, while one reviewer of this series was emphatic in his praise, he made two comments we strongly disagree with: that you “offer no message”, and that you selected “random pieces” from the “jumble” of demolition sites as subjects for your paintings. Your comments would be appreciated.

Ros Paton: I guess he was saying my message wasn’t overt and the connection is to be made by the viewer. I quite liked another of his comments: “Not for her the shrill voice.” I think at the time he must have been getting over feeling “assaulted” by some other art.

In regards to “no message”, I have not resorted to being overbearing in a didactic or moralistic way. If I'd wanted to be I would have made a poster! Perhaps he meant the message is not immediately obvious or hard-hitting, and can remain open to interpretation and be framed through interaction with the sentiments and perspective of the viewer. I know sometimes I have the feeling I am “being lectured to” when I look at some art; I feel the impact of a more sustained, “corrosive” approach

is ultimately more engaging than a one-dimensional “king hit”.

It is up to the viewer to decide if my representation is, in fact, truth. I would like the viewer to put themselves in the landscape or environment I am depicting, in line with John Berger’s theory that “when we ‘see’ a landscape, we situate ourselves in it”. However, I do not want to be so abstract and coded in my message that it needs to be explained by an art critic, or by text written by me.

I believe our responses to art, and the assumptions we make in relation to it, are motivated by our backgrounds, our education, life experiences, and what we hold as true about ourselves and the world. The potential for a variety of responses from my work, some of which I may never have anticipated, is one of the qualities that make producing art so attractive and exciting for me.

I would be alarmed if everyone were able to read the same message and react in the same way to these works. This would take the definition of the product to something more akin to advertising or a text book. I certainly would want to reconsider the relevance of what I was doing if its potential was so superficial.

I am quite pleased the “Momenti Mori”

works could still be perceived as a jumble and not overtly organised, despite the deliberate compositional decisions I imposed. I’m happy they did not appear stilted or overly constrained to him, which can always be an issue when trying to organise composition and manipulate the image to your will.

I used only a small selection from the hundreds of photographs I took and the many hours of video footage I filmed over the months I spent on the demolition site as part of my research for the series. I did choose them quite deliberately for their aesthetic or associative qualities. Then I deliberately used classical and golden mean balances and very consciously controlled and toned down the colour. With my penchant for juxtaposition and marrying disparate entities in my artwork, I enjoyed the challenge of distilling a sense of stillness and balance from what originally appeared as unorganised and “unbalanced” subject matter. In 1989, when I first started looking at demolition while researching the “D9” series – that was after the Newcastle earthquake when it started to gel for me – I thought it was all a jumble or, at best, organised chaos, where in fact things happen in a certain order and follow procedures. Piles of seemingly random detritus are

Ros Paton

The potential for a variety of responses is one of the qualities that make producing art so attractive for me. I would be alarmed if everyone were able to read the same message in these works. This would take the definition of the product to something akin to advertising or a text book.

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