SURFACE WORK 2017-2020
As a painter working within minimalist principles, and with no reference other than the process of making work and the resulting surface, I have no place for personal influence, but after so many years of investigation I decided to acknowledge the origin of my absorption; the coal miners in my family working underground. Therefore, a series of paintings and frottage, ‘Surface Work’, which I began in 2017 and first installed in a derelict building yard in Montejaque, Spain, is a homage to the manual labour of these men, who repeated their laborious, monotonous, restricted movements digging in the confined space and darkness of the deepest coal mine in Scotland, The Glencraig Colliery, at 610 metres below ground.

These are works on paper; limited subprojects of SURFACE WORK. 


I am exploring the frottage technique, again as a homage. I make a surface of cement, which hardens to create a template on which to burnish the form onto paper. I adopt repetition and limit my materials to charcoal and oil, rubbing the surface with the Venus mount of my hand. Each piece is made in the same way, but many physical gestural factors, making the same impression in many variations dictated by the rhythm and speed of my movement, with aggression or gently and with heavy or light pressure.


This work is a direct response to the tradition among coal miners in some areas of Scotland including the region of Fife where my family mined. After each shift, the miners were brought up from “the pit” covered in coal dust. Their wife or children would wash them in a tin bath, scrubbing their bodies clean except for their spine. There, black dust was burnished into their skin and after time became permanent. They believed it made their back stronger. White shirts, black jackets, Roman Catholic Sunday Best clothes covering black paintings.

In Series 2 I constrain my process further by using only charcoal and oil on paper, burnishing the surface and repeating with the Venus mount of my hand to create extreme variety of surface.  |  +44 (0)7712 44 11 02
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© 2019 | Roanne O'Donnell