‘The spirit desires to remain with its body because without the organic instruments of that body it can neither act nor feel anything.’ Leonardo.
I am a hoarder’s derelict mansion of stuffed and empty rooms and rambling passages, attics and basements, whole wings boarded up by denial and amnesia, others open to storm and drought and tsunami, life-giving and pitiless sun. I paint accordingly. Sometimes I find out what I mean, often I don’t.
Dichotomy is inadequate. Contradictory truths coexist. Contrary to the assumptions of some scholars, to reject Pelagius does not necessarily mean to embrace Augustine. Why should I accept the opposite of what I don’t accept? How can I, we, all of us, and all of them, transcend the deeply embedded destructive doctrines and dogmas of dualism, antagonism, excluded middle, either or, good evil, night day, life death, elect damned.
If I contain multitudes, most of whom I am not even aware of, am I just these multitudes, whirling fragments of humanity in perpetual Brownian motion occasionally surging in the harmonic choreography of murmurations of starlings or shoals of small fish? Or within that maelstrom is there some bound, bounded singularity that defines whatever is me and makes me different from what is not me. That holds me responsible.
Can I contain what I can not imagine? Can I contain what I do not know? If I do not even know myself, can I only imagine who I am, let alone who anybody else is? How can I know everything that made me?
The older I get, and by most human precedent I am old, the less linear and the more spatial time becomes. Memories arise, descend, from any time, any place, fresh, sharp, arterial with consequence and new understanding, burning with inadequacy, callousness, humiliation, aggression, cruelty, kindness, yearning, affection, laughter. Songs from half a century ago.
Things that happened.
Between 1996 and the present I put most of my creative energies into painting. Previously I had worked as a jobbing composer, writing and producing music for theatre, film and television.
Now in my 70th year, I see that a lot of my paintings are impressions/representations of doubt, anxiety, pessimism. Many are apocalyptic, in its various senses of revelatory, unveiling, judgemental, consequential and cataclysmic.
There are apparently two broad strands in my work. One is figurative, human, theatrical, rhetorical, emotional and occasionally comical. The other is visually more abstract but no less subjective. There are abstractish liminal landscapes. Horizons.
For as long as I can remember I have been drawn to drama, melodrama, and the coincidences and fatalisms of narrative. Harmatia, hubris and nemesis. The shapes and gestures of story-telling, the representation of emotional states and progressions, the temporal immobility/mobility of the still image, the potency and fecundity of the icon. The seductive inescapability and fluid boundaries of history and myth.
Brought up as a child of the enlightenment - a wistful construction against irrationality that has been invaluable and inadequate – I am agnostic and atheist, but susceptible to mystery and myth, painting things that might be considered to do with the spirit, but without a belief in the soul as anything more than an emergent property of complex biology.
I am, inescapably, an old white man.
The idea of painting is old.
It still seems a resilient idea.
It might be helpful to consider the difference between knowing the name of something, and knowing the thing itself. The title is not the painting. The rationale is not the painting, as the painting is not the word. The urinal is also just a urinal.
The physical object is the painting - the digital representation, useful as it is, is not the thing itself. As facsimiles proliferate beyond human capacity to absorb, I want to stand up for the silent, still singularity of painting.
I think a painting worth keeping if it can sustain concentrated looking.
It is easy to lose the desire and right to watch and to listen, easy to be seduced by ideology and style, speed and restless surfaces.
The art market is rarely about value, and the academy is frequently unwise.
I have been a slow and laborious learner. Painting is difficult, though no more difficult than most occupations and less than a lot, and always an attempt. Some attempts have more life than others.
In the face of ordinary human event, work, joy and tribulation, let alone war, poverty, mortality, art has duties, and not merely to itself. It seems good to me to at least try not to be trivial. This is not to exclude frivolity, which is an altogether different and precious thing. The risks of blind self-absorption and trbal narcissism are high, but so is the need for scrutiny, and for mercy.
It has rarely seemed to me that trying to construct a coherent theory of art would be an expansive or creative thing to do – how could such a thing not be exclusionary, procrustean? How could it be truthful beyond dogma and ideology?