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Tim Dempers in conversation with Louise Gamble, editor of SL Magazine, South Africa.


LG. Tim how would describe your work and creative process?

TD. Well its probably best for me to start with the creative processes behind the work because I think that’ll give you a better idea of how my work is formalised. Through studying architecture I was always fascinated with how the creative gesture is transformed into three-dimensional space. In a similar way to how a painting emerges from a blank canvas. There’s an elusive moment between intuition and action that often goes unexplained. Its like the moment just before the paint hits the canvas… and then the trajectory that the line takes. Because in some way that initial gesture is the foundation of the work.

So at the AA I started exploring this relationship, between gesture and form, by creating computer code that could translate two-dimensional strokes on a digital tablet, into three-dimensional space… by using components of the kinetic energy exerted in the drawing of that line, like the direction, pressure, acceleration etc. So a line drawing I made would directly become a type of 3D wire-frame model in space.

In other words I’d draw a line, just something I felt... and this was something quite important, that the gesture was visceral, so that the formal product always contained the residue of my initial emotional state. SO when I was sketching for architectural projects at the AA I’d set up some functional parameters within which that gesture would need to be constrained, like programmatic issues or site restrictions or whatever. Those parameters would take the form of an algorithm which would then generate a new set of curves that would be relevant to that architectural problem. So this could then inform the architectural decisions I made. In some way it was an attempt to fuse desire and need in architecture.

LG. How does this relate to your paintings?

With my paintings I continued that process but was a lot freer to decide the parameters, but would still need to set up a framework. So I’d know the basic dimensions of the piece that I wanted, and would sketch a framework for the piece and then I’d test to see how the forms would change under different parameters. It’s a bit similar to a graphologist using someones handwriting as a frame work from which to understand the psychology of the person, and then saying, well what if the person had have pushed harder or written quicker, how would that affect the analysis, how would their identity change or be understood… so my paintings are about trying to understand the identity of line and then also playing with the potential identity of that same line by changing the parameters under which its drawn.

LG. Could you maybe describe your work more in terms of its creative or conceptual content, as opposed to the technical side?

TD. Well, in conceptual terms I suppose its an attempt to materialise something very instinctual. Like when you scribble on paper, you have no pre-determined aim but yet your markings are somehow representative of your mental and emotional state, even if the lines themselves have no inherent meaning or destination. If you take that a step further and start more actively to put lines onto paper, with no purpose except as a creative outlet, you get left with some kind of creative artefact that’s representative of your being in that moment... and what I am trying to do with my work is decode or encode rather, that moment in spatial terms. Once I have that spatial interpretation I can extract it and translate it into physical forms, which are in fact the resultant curves… But in a way you can never really foresee that product. There’s an element of chance I find exciting because you never know how the computer is going to interpret what you do…

But its also about abstraction… you can make an analogy with a statue reflecting in water and how the form reconfigures in the reflection as the water moves and it takes on a whole lot of other identities, but never looses itself entirely... But just imagine that the reflection in the water wasn’t bound by the force of gravity acting on the water, that it could jump up and start moving around the form, through it and over it, depending on what parameters you’ve set… those possibilities, that serendipitous event that exists in those possibilities, is what the work is trying to locate.

LG. You’ve worked in the yachting industry for many years, has this influenced your work?

TD. Definitely. When I was in Germany I was involved in the construction of a very large private yacht. Working both with the shipyard and the owner, and dealing with design and construction issues left a big impression on me. It was really quite incredible to see this enormous vessel emerge from nothing. I mean where do you start!? Anyway through that whole process I became quite familiar with a range of interesting materials that I now use in my own work, like carbon fibre... and also the curvilinear geometries, like the hull or whatever and how those shapes take form. I’ve spent a good third of my life on boats so I imagine much of my output has been shaped by that experience.