During a recent visit to the Royal College of Art Painting studios, the conversation turned to the cleanliness of studio floors. In common with many art schools, the floors are regularly cleaned for use as exhibition spaces and thus the slate is also wiped clean ready for the next student occupant. The distractions of drips and marks are removed but with them the evidence of action and emotion of the previous occupants goes too. Are these marks worthless? Can we argue that the remains of the painting process are a special kind of patina for a special building type? The serendipituous beauty of superfluous patterns can be a stark record of a passionate industry. Historic layers of collateral paint can be a unique decoration to be worn with pride.
The obvious and iconic example of a studio floor bespeckled with drips is the Pollock-Krasner studio in Long Island. Jackson Pollock’s drip period was a suprisingly brief 1947 to 1950. He then abruptly stopped making drip paintings at the peak of their popularity.
Fortuitously for posterity, in 1953 Pollock tiled over the floors of his house and studio with masonite boards and thus preserved the remains of the drip process until the floor was rediscovered in 1987.
The decorated floor is not art, but it is beautiful and valuable on many levels. It is an important document of the qualities and quantities of the painting process. The location and size of canvases can be seen as ghosts on the floor. The same paint with the same kinetic energy, was cast onto both canvas and floor.
Despite conservation issues, today the public can enter the studio and walk upon the floor. In this space, Pollock can easily be imagined in action.
Another messy studio of note belonged to the British painter Francis Bacon. As well as the paint spattered floor boards, layers of dropped or discarded paraphenalia cover the entire floor of the small London studio and remained, spattered by more paint. The resultant disorder is distressing to witness and looks almost uninhabitable. Bacon did not allow visitors access to his studio and it became a manifestation of Bacon’s personal turmoil.
Bacon died in 1992 and his heir, John Edwards, controversially donated the entire studio and contents to a gallery in Dublin, Bacon’s place of birth. The studio was forensically recorded, transported from London and reconstructed in Dublin. I am uncomfortable with this geographic dislocation. Surely, the studio needs to receive the same light and sounds and be at the top of the same stairs leading to the same street as it did in Bacon’s time. This transfer of a whole room is a disturbing architectural taxidermy.