The question of form

One often hears that what makes an artist significant is that he or she has something to say…but what does this statement really mean, if anything? What does a Rembrandt self-portrait say? What does Miles Davis’ Blue in Green actually say? What speaks of course is form itself...something unfolds in the experience and creation of form itself. In German theological tradition the alto voice was considered the very symbol of that of the Holy Ghost…Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata Widerstehe doch der Sünde, BWV54 is an extremely moving embodiment of this. The urgency and emotional force are delivered by an extremely precise articulation of form. The conditions that allow this kind of advanced art form to come into being are complex and all manner of factors must coincide, some arbitrary, others the result of an intentional focusing of energy. But it is perhaps the incidental elements that fascinate most. William Bowyer Honey the author and gardener wrote: “It is a familiar experience to find one’s greatest aesthetic enjoyment…in something incidental, the by-product of another activity…In many gardens …planted for a practical utilitarian purpose, such experiences are very precious, and the joy taken in beauty of form and colour may be all the keener for its incidental character.” What still remains almost impossible to analyse is just how these energies of form operate. Historically recent developments such as informalism and formlessness only distract us from the real question; what is it about form, in the purist sense, that can engage us so powerfully and spark the quick of being? Nowhere is this question more evident than in certain kinds of advanced music or painting where forms come into their own and are at the same time lost yet thrive in abundance. Everyone is familiar with the experience of being possessed by a particular musical motif - even in the simplest melody of popular music - which can provoke a deep emotional response or longing. For a painter the same kind of lingering obsession with a certain form or forms provides a constant source of fascination, especially with forms that have arisen incidentally or unexpectedly during the process. For me it is when form is under extreme pressure that painting begins to reveal some of its secrets. The problem of painting needs to be maintained…it is not to be overcome. There will always be an un-resolvable tension between the different forms in a painting; surface as form, support as form, figure and ground as form, colour as form etc… all jostling and in conflict with each other. And the speculative politics that might arise from this conflict is one of limits; limits which will define territories within which one can act with the greatest of liberty.

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