In London I was lucky enough to see the Paul Gauguin exhibition at Tate Modern (though I had to wade through unbearable crowds of people all shuffling around with their gaze lowered into audio/visual guides). The earlier works in the exhibition and some of the landscapes are extraordinary things, the way they are constructed, the use of colour, the strange compositions, the curved forms which overlap and interlock - and painted with feathery strokes which seem to activate the forms in some way, the space which is neither flat nor has depth in a conventional sense, the hybrid imagery so original yet obscure... and I could go on. Much is made of the figures; the girls and women. These are the motifs in many of the later paintings. I think it is important the way they are flattened and intersect or lock into the landscape around them. A single tree will often divide a landscape almost in the middle of the painting....an ancestor perhaps of a similar motif in my recent paintings and drawings: the spine.
Another day I ventured up the Finchley Road to the Camden Arts Center to see an exhibition of paintings by Rene Daniëls. I first discovered the work of Daniëls when I was still a student and it made a big impression on me. Occasions to view his work are very rare nowadays and though this was just a relatively small selection of paintings it is nevertheless a special opportunity to experience something of his painterly world: populated by such things as bow ties that become perspectival rooms, rats on skateboards, coat hangers, red landscapes, shoals of fish, trees with words for leaves... I saw the exhibition with another artist; Nick Miller. Talking of painting and its task he said that it is an adventure, in Daniëls this adventure with its risk and openness is at the core of what he does and is not without a certain irony and this in turn, I feel, defines their self-conscious poetry.
Courtesy of Paul Andriesse
Wandering around the West End galleries I came across a show of paintings by Beatriz Milhazes at Stephen Friedman Gallery. Somehow, like certain kinds of music (Jazz perhaps), they embody a hard won Joy. The technicality of their making (which must be elaborate) does not make them cumbersome - which is always a danger. Instead their geometry is fluid and festive. I was quite thrilled by them... I was lifted from an incipient melancholy that had been with me for most of the day. We know now (more than ever before) just how vast and terrifying those infinite spaces are that Blaise Pascal meditated upon. We know that from the perspective of the universe we are quite literally nothing, specs of insignificance. But we have to live our lives (we are condemned by our condition and physicality to do so) from the inside of our bodies and minds outwards. We have our own scale of experience, tempered by death, which highlights the extreme particularity of our created things. Against the backdrop of an impersonal universe and spans of time that are almost incomprehensible, there seems to be an extreme tension in the mere fact of the existence of say the music of Bach or the art of painting - so defined by its nuance and extremely specific qualities. A line is drawn in pencil...softly on the paper, a yellow smudge is placed in an instant on the canvas with an old brush, a small irregular piece of dark cloth is glued on the surface of the painting... there is a tension of scale, a dread and an awareness of fragility, of the sheer possible insignificance of what we are doing. This is the case in all our endeavours of course, but it is especially apparent in those that by nature, are willed into being even though we know they have no practical use or certain outcome. Why do we, as a species, as creatures and beings, have this capacity (is it a gift?), which in its most accomplished forms gives us the music of Bach or the paintings of Matisse?