For as long as I can remember I have always loved being in the shade of trees in the summer. The play of light and shadow, the gentle sound of the leaves in the breeze...a timeless thing. Fig trees seem to grow in abundance here in the area where I live. Along the sides of roads or railway tracks, at the edge of fields and in many gardens. The Fig (Ficus carica L) is believed to be indigenous to western Asia and to have been distributed by man throughout the Mediterranean area. Remnants of figs have been found in excavations of sites traced to at least 5,000 B.C. The fruit of this tree is truly wonderful in every way; the dark green and purple skin, its deep red flesh when opened and that very distinctive flavour. Here's a fig tree I found the other day in Llanteno, Alava on my wanderings and under which I took refuge from the afternoon sun...
All this effort, expense of energy - so much is unseen, unknown, not only for the viewer but for myself. The final result; a glimpse, a compression...and that is what you are truly left with and what matters.
"She posseses the wisdom of slowness and deploys the whole range of techniques
for slowing things down"
"By slowing the course of their night, by dividing it into different stages each separate from the
next, Madame de T. has succeeded in giving the small span of time accorded them the semblance
of a marvellous little architecture, of a form. Imposing form on a period of time is what beauty
demands, but so does memory. For what is formless cannot be grasped, or committed to
Today my very good friend and estimable artist Andrew Bick sent me images of a commision he has recently completed for a new building in London. I have posted a couple of these images here and a text by him about the piece. I look forward to seeing it myself when I visit London this summer...
Six Part Memory
This work is made of six sections of perspex box with an opalescent [milky] face and sand-blasted sides. The back support is plywood. Depending on how far away from the surface the inner elements of painted wood and perspex are, varying degrees of focus and colour intensity are achieved. The source for the piece is a small drawing that is now placed in the northern lobby entrance of the building. This drawing has been partly quoted in the structure of the piece, which then starts to take on a life of its own. Several aspects are designed so that they cannot be apprehended in a single glance, the varying tapers on the left and right edges reflect different colours on to the stone supporting wall. The shiny surface reflects details of the marble feature wall and light fittings; different conditions of daylight and artificial light penetrate the surface differently revealing less or more of the interior elements; fluorescent perspex inner surfaces pick up variations in the light spectrum; drawn diagonals and interlocking triangles and circles echo aspects of the architecture; carefully constructed systematic elements of proportion counterbalance apparently hasty scribble with marker pen… There is no single reading, viewpoint or right way to look at this piece, rather it is designed to have a contemplative function that contrasts to the busy environment in which it works. It should continue to look unexpected after repeated viewings, and its totality as an image may be almost impossible to commit to memory.
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.
A few years ago one of the main qualities of my paintings was the experience of each one of them as a whole, as one unit, self-contained. Since then there has been a slow shift towards giving more importance to the details and the parts. This has created a greater tension (and fragility) between the surface elements and the painting as an object. I like this, especially when the painting seems to be on the brink of disintegration and an obvious energy becomes manifest. And though I have certain reservations about the artist in question, I came across a similar idea (and more articulately expressed) in a recent catalogue text for Tomma Abts’ exhibition at the New Museum in New York by Jan Verwoert: “The work is therefore visibly not about the tasteful balancing-out of pictorial relations. It is about staging the structural conflict between the dynamics of aggregation and disaggregation by calling the legitimation of unitary forms into question, by putting it at stake” – the complete text is titled: The beauty and politics of latency: on the works of Tomma Abts.
Precise nostalgia: for Vincent 1996-99, Oil & acrylic on canvas 132x116cm
Today I have been trying to put some order to my digital archive and came across images of older paintings like this.
François de La Rochefoucauld
The pleasure of painting often masks its strenuous nature. It requires a particular physical effort – the body is indirectly reflected in my paintings through traces – but the hardest thing is the mental effort; the sustained concentration (so often fruitless). As La Rochefoucauld said in his maxims “We are lazier in our minds than in our bodies”.