“I think therefore I am”
17th century philosopher Descartes doubted everything he said and began his treatise by saying that everything he knew was false. By denying everything, he can begin his argument free and clear of prejudice, with an open and innocent mind. Picasso likewise believed in the innocent eye and mind, saying “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up”, requiring that the artist keeps the ability, like Descartes, to bring their work into being free and clear of visual prejudice and history. Picasso further says “There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality”. This has always stuck with me and my painting is linked to my reality, and images make a key for the spectator to enter my game/world on the canvas.
Aeons ago I was taught that society gets the teachers it deserves. So too with art, and maybe the superficiality and shallowness that characterise so much of contemporary art reflect a society that seemingly invests so much of its energy into creating trivial icons of celebrity, giving them their ‘15 minutes of fame’. I have no real contact with the art world. In part illness has affected this, in part my work in the design field erected a barrier. Often characterised as the gap between applied and fine art, it can be unbridgeable, although for me it is all woven from the same warp and weft. My art has to reflect the world I live in. Monet created his own reality for his paintings to take wing from, in Britain artists like Peter Blake tried it with the short-lived ‘Brotherhood of Ruralists’.
Unfortunately, in the 21st century isolation from civilisation becomes increasingly difficult even for the fabled activists of the US, who frequently take up mass produced arms of larger society to protect their isolation from it. The systems of government impinge on every life. Our landscapes are largely man-made – certainly in the UK, where wilderness has largely disappeared. Most of us live in communities whether commune, village, town or city, that have structures that enable individuals to run their lives with minimal apparent interference. We all rely on the Hive for much of life though – food distribution systems, sewage and water, power for heat and light.
All these systems, developed over the centuries have been built to provide better safer and healthier living conditions for the majority. Frequently they are regarded as hard won, torn from the powerful through protest and often violence or threat of violence. Grids characterise and enable these systems to work from the primitive early grids of roads and railways through later power grids for electrical distribution to the current internet grid. After all what is a net if not a form of grid for capturing fish?
“There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality.” ― Pablo Picasso
I am not rich as Monet was when he had a river moved to create his lily ponds, so my world is limited to the walls of my garden. Like William Blake I have no problems with ‘seeing the world in a flower’, and my gardens have over the years been a constant source of inspiration. Geraniums, honeysuckle and lately the cat have all formed the subject of recent works, the past has seen tulips, the kitchen tap, and lupins feature. I use Photography and the sketch book and work through colour studies to sort out in my mind the kind of progressions and contrast I want to create on each canvas.
My techniques are deliberate, and (I believe) also expressive and I am conscious of the nature of the mark. Brushstrokes are freely expressive within carefully defined boundaries, rather like our lives. Colour become displaced by the grid, reflecting the way that the coloratura of our lives is controlled and frequently directed by the nature of the social grid we live within. What neither the social grid, nor it seems we as individuals, can actually do is control the nature of the biology of our individual uniqueness – not yet anyway, although it seems much research is directed at changing this, extending through genetics and micro-biology, the controlling grid into the nature of our very beings.
That may happen in the future but right now our biology is the random content that frequently challenges the system. In my case my biology seems to have fundamentally challenged my existence through medical and surgical interventions, the latest event being cancer. I wrote in my piece on Escaping the Tunnel about being told I had been cured of cancer. Unfortunately, the light I saw was indeed a train coming the other way, and the last check found a new tumour. The interventions have been (and continue to be) painful and this painting has taken longer to complete because of the disabling nature of the disease.
Maybe too the use of dark colour, deep violet and grey through to black also reflects what I characterise as a Durer figure of death sitting on my shoulder. However, my belief in art sustains me and I have started working on the next paintings. One is a reworking of a failed attempt to produce a new wave painting showing the sunset wave I have played with before. The painting has been sitting reproachfully in a corner of the studio waiting for me to acknowledge it, but instead I am working over it. I am also working through a set of drawings toward the Windflower painting I have in my mind.
Meanwhile the last piece, ‘The Cat Sat’ is hanging (temporarily OH assures me) over the living room fireplace. Painting is more than just an activity. I believe that art college is like a Jesuitical training. Jesuits used to say ‘give us the child, we’ll give you the man’. So art college gives a philosophy of existence, and awareness of beauty which with my hopefully innocent eye and hand I can share.
To quote Picasso once again, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”
I paint, therefore I am.