A Short Talk to Blue Monkey Network Artists, Towner, Eastbourne.
Many things have an influence upon the way I work. Because time is short I will concentrate on two that I feel are particularly important to me – a relationship with the ancient past and the connection with Modernism.
I have for some years been attracted to non-representational painting – particularly in the form of [for want of a better term] Geometrical Abstraction. It’s –at first glance- simplicity, but potential power continues to fascinate.
Now that Modernism is no longer the major driving force in art I feel we are better placed to celebrate it’s power and beauty and objectively look at it’s links with the past and continue through creative practice to explore it’s many possibilities.
I have never considered Abstraction to be a deliberate break with historical art tradition, rather Abstraction develops many concealed, buried or forgotten aspects within it.
Some of the pivotal experiences for me were my first visits to Florence, Venice, Siena and Milan. I had been struck by the use of simple geometric pattern to enhance the already fabulous internal spaces of cathedrals, palaces and public buildings. “Gilding the already geometrically arrived at lily”:
The black and white horizontal striped stone work of the Duomo in Siena.
The black and white paintwork enhancing the vaulting of Santa Maria Novella, Florence.
The wall painting adorning the Sala degli Scarlioni at the Castello Sforzesco. Milan.
The geometric floor pieces of San Marco in Venice.
The Babtistry in Pisa.
The floor of the Salute in Venice, are just a few examples that spring to mind. In fact, when we look at the bare stonework of cathedrals and churches throughout the UK and Europe
we should remind ourselves that most of it was painted with fabulous decorations. Add to this the sumptuous stained glass through which light filtered into these spaces: the effect would be truly psychadelic.
None of your lily livered subtlety or sophistication here – this is ball breaking, soul taking decoration. A demonstration of power and wealth? An exuberant celebration of the power of God? Or, an affirmation of humanity? Whatever their motives, when I enter these environments I feel connected to the past in a very intimate way. The gulf of centuries all but disappears, connected to the thousands of anonymous artisans and craftspeople that laboured with such single minded tenacity, intellect and intuition – and not forgetting using the simplest of tools. The Italian Renaissance idea of celebrating or re-affirming all that’s good about humanity is certainly something that resonates with me and informs the way I approach making art.
At this point I would like to say that although some of my favourite art works are figurative, narrative paintings – often representing a set of events – metaphoric, allegorical or a particular reflection on reality – that’s not what I do. I don’t want to create things that hold up a mirror to the world or represent something else. I want the images I make to first and foremost be what they are – colour physically present as colour, rather than any obvious allusion to something particular to be experienced as part of what we do. The beauty of this form of abstraction is it’s ability to dismiss the specific as unimportant – freeing artists to concern themselves with a more general response to living. A more universal reaction to, and comment on life. A hymn to the joy of living.
To quote Piet Mondrian in his manifesto of 1917:
“The modern artist feels consciously the abstraction in the experience of beauty, he recognizes that the sense of the beautiful is cosmic, universal.” He goes on to say:
“The new plastic art is therefore an esthetic relationship accurately presented. The artist of today creates it, in painting, as a consequence of any plastic art of the past, and he does this best in painting, because painting is the art that is least tied to contingencies.”
I feel the sentiments he communicates here, although close to a hundred years old now, are equally valid today, and amongst other things certainly helps to drive my creative practice forward.