'How to Avoid Getting Tight ~ and other lessons from the front'...
What is This Thing Called Art?
When is it Finished?
Stories or Poems
How to avoid getting tight - and...
December the 2nd 2005. I don’t quite know what I am going to write here – time will tell – but I just wanted to have a page to rave to from time to time. Is this a sad indictment of our 21st Century culture that so many of us feel impelled/compelled to throw bottles containing notes into the cyber-ocean, hoping that a stranger will read them, and may even feel some empathy with the writer? Do we have so much difficulty empathising with real humans that we choose to make random connections with unknown virtual humans? Or is it an exhilarating leap into a hitherto unimagined abundance of potentially ‘knowable’ individuals?
What was a sad indictment on our 21st century Western Anglo-hybrid culture, was the first comment made by the jockey who rode the winner of the Melbourne Cup home: “…this horse is a blessing from god…”. What a depauperate society we have become to consider a race-winning horse a ‘blessing from god’, when, should you adhere to the concept of ‘god-blessings’, there are so many more events or individuals deserving of that accolade.
April the 31st 2006. Western Society (upper case? strange!) fiddling while Rome burns. As our culture and social-economic dominance wanes we, as a cultural unit, rush around indulging ourselves in one last indulgent orgasmic display of insensitive purposelessness orgy of conspicuous consumption. Houses get bigger and more energy consumptive to build and to run. Three toilets is the norm, fully airconditioned, water dependent gardens, fully laboursaving kitchens including double dishwasher, icemaker and television set in the fridge door, ducted vacuum system, and the garage provides the facade, the street appeal. We buy more and more ticky tacky excessive or unnecessary crap, and we still think that we take ourselves seriously...
August 25th 2007. Some artists have a vocation, their art is an intellectual/technical challenge. Others do not have that luxury, for them it is a physical/psychological imperative.
Watching my mother die I was interested to observe that as she drew closer to death, she became more afraid of her mortality. This expressed as chronic fear as a passenger in a car, debilitating terror of heights and so on. Is this what our culture is expressing with the ridiculous perception that death is bad, something to avoid at all costs. In our society death is not actually a natural and normal occurrence that every living entity will, and is bound to experience. Unavoidable. When my mother finally recognised that her death was inevitable, it appeared that the tenacious hold that she had maintained on life, and her morbid fear of losing life, dissipated, almost overnight. Will we finally welcome the end of our cultural dominance with resignation, acceptance and dignity, as my mother finally met her death?
What Is This Thing Called Art?
Hmmmmmmmmm! Why do we do it? Why do we want to do it? Is it a vocation? A calling? Are we driven beyond all rational design to create, to dream and to produce? Are we obsessive-compulsive? Do we choose to be artists because we have no social skills, or do we choose to have no social skills because we are artists? Do we contrive ‘art’ to justify our existence, or do we use our existence to give substance to the essence of ‘art’?
Is it an infatuation with the aesthetic, with the sensual, with paradox and illusion? Do we want to be ‘famous’ – whatever that may be? Is there in indefinable compulsion to solve the self-imposed Rubik’s Cube of life, the universe and everything? To excavate a barely imagined nugget that we feel our duty to expose, although we know that in exposure already lies the corrosive defeat of argument and criticism.
What makes us think that we have something to impart to the world? Why do we want to tell other people what they won’t understand, unless they already know it? Is it that our egos are so inflated that we need to expand and colonise ever increasing perceptual territory, or is our insecurity so pronounced that we need to construct conceptual floaties to support and disguise us?
All this and more...
'How to Avoid Getting Tight ~ and other lessons from the front'...
I have a very strong tendency to get tighter and tighter and tighter when I draw or paint. Sometimes this is useful, and is a capacity that I want to exploit, at others it, at the very least, frustrates me, at the worst, can spoil a drawing. These are some techniques and tricks that I have learned to keep myself working loosely.
1. hold your pencil or brush or whatever other impleinstrument you are using, as you would hold a stick to draw a mud-map in the ground
2. if you are fortunate enough to need prescription glasses avoid wearing them while creating
3. use a flexible backing board on an unstable easel
4. draw with a cat on your lap or draped around your neck
5. work when you're tired - but only if the tiredness is allowing you communion with your intuition
6. do not work if you have drunk more than allows you access to your inner voice - you may think that you’re doing good work....
7. keep the work alive in your consciousness, get involved in minute detail but do not think in terms of controlling the work - guide it and work with it, follow where it leads and build on it; be receptive to the voice.
when is it finished?
When is it finished? So hard to know. Actually, not – you know EXACTLY when you have done one line too many. It is a matter of recognising the moment directly before then. You know it – of course you do! The voice says ‘…be careful, don’t go too close to the edge, you may fall…’ you say, with some bravado, ‘what me? I know what I’m doing’ and of course you do, you know exactly what you are doing – that one mark too many is what you know you are doing. What now? Attack it with a vengeance, knowing all along that you are compounding the fault; pretend it never happened and stop just in front of the line – and proffer disrespect to your audience, of course they know you didn’t know when to stop; work hard, so hard, to bring it back from the brink- what a sense of achievement if you manage to, and you are rewarded, the work has a history, it grows depth of soul, it resonates with concealed secret otherness.
And when it is finished – you thought that you knew what it was about didn’t you? You thought that you had an idea; maybe the work took the bit in its teeth a little, but you stayed in control didn’t you? Kept a finger on the reins; or at least you were following where it was going, you were listening to and obeying the voice as it instructed you, as it explained the rationale for doing what you knew you had to do. You knew the meaning, understood the symbolism, enjoyed the antithesis, the point-counterpoint, the volumes spoken by the omissions.
And the work is finished – and you look at it, and you look at it, and it tells you another story. Maybe the same story but with more detail, with more depth, another story that illustrates, that illuminates. Maybe the story that you thought that you were telling hasn’t been told, maybe it doesn’t need to be told, maybe it shouldn’t be told, maybe it wasn’t a story. Sometimes the story is different to the story that you thought you were telling. Sometimes you only learn the story as time goes by. The story is slowly released. Some works still tell me new stories.
Sometimes you need someone else to tell the story to, to drag it from the murky depths of your semiconscious comprehension to a verbal articulation. Like when I explained ‘The Day the Water Stopped’ to Kerry; like the time Michael challenged my body of work for ‘The Red Door’; the knowledge, the justification, the rationalisation, the relevance, the interrelationships, the multi-layered symbolism spews forth. Things you knew about the work, things you thought you knew about the work, things you thought you might know about the work, and things that you were aware of but had never examined rationally, and things that you had no prior conscious knowledge, or even suspicion of.
Sometimes someone else tells you the story and their story is so very different to yours that it further validates the work, giving the work greater depth and strength and relevance.
Sorry about the pun – I couldn’t help it!
I am a landscape artist! Yes indeed, yes indeed. My last three shows have been about landscapes:
things of flesh and stone: an exploration of transitional emotional landscapes
The Red Door – an exploration of contemporary Chinese culture and landscapes
Essentially Decorative – landscapes from the notebook
So a landscape artist! Ha ha. Who’d have thought?
And they are landscapes. They are composed of familiar objects; one can travel through and into them; they depict space and time – whether emotional or physical; they have topography and they have an endemic organic population; there are bits that can’t be seen but can be imagined from prior experience; they tell you new things about familiar places; they are about places that you can visit and revisit, and never lose the sense of wonder; they do not depict a ‘real’ place, a place that can be photographed, but they are composed of essential elements that we all know and understand, and they depict an archetypical inner landscape that we are all familiar with.
Stories or Poems
I was used to describing them as ‘stories without words’ but, the use of language in poetry is indirect, is not prosaic; language is uised as much for its evocative capacity as for its descriptive capacity. We are so lucky being the speakers of a tongue unafraid to borrow, not to proud to appropriate words, and thus concepts, from other languages. A word not only embodies the concept of the original speaker, and thus a smidgin of cross cultural embrasure, but also other flavours such as the perception of the borrowees culture held by the borrowers, socio/political/historical nuances associated with the period of borrowing and the reason for that loan. In poetry language may be chosen for onomatopoeic or alliterative reasons, or because of its metre or inflection.
The language of symbol that I use, similarly uses shape, form, object and symbol as a multi-dimensional communicative device. An object, for example a fan, may be used because the half circular shape is needed in that position of the artwork, it may mimic the form of another element, it may provide balance for another shape or image of differing complexity; the method of rendering – spray stencil, outline, solid shape, graphite pencil etc – will both punctuate the dynamic of the form, but also qualify the intrinsic value of that object. The fan symbol may fundamentally be interpreted as a device for keeping cool, for speeding the evaporation of perspiration; its purpose can also be extended to a means of disguising defect such as dental decay or scarred facial features.
A less pragmatic interpretation of the fan symbol can include the indulgences, affectations and social mores and restrictions of some cultures, and, simultaneously, provide a vehicle for the demonstration and display of both artisan skills and aristocrats wealth.
Less objectively, particularly in the light of modern day mass production, the fan could be a symbol of a time past, possibly a time of more refinement and attention to the finer details of life, than are given today. Or maybe this is a romantic construct of C21 Western Europeans. And more subjectively still, the fan may have an inarticulate, deep seated, unrecognised connotation, born en the ‘fancy dress’ box, the cinema, or anywhere else that we receive sensory input and influence. These individual experiences will differently colour each of our interpretations of the fan symbol.
Thus, as with all forms of communication, at the semantic/technical level the meaning of a symbol, whether a word or an image, is almost indisputable, and readily resolved using a dictionary, but as language progresses along the torturous and fraught path between two individuals and delves into the region of personal association, communication becomes less and less specific. With written and spoken expression there exists the presumption of precision and exactitude. The use of visual symbols – whether figurative or abstract, is not accompanied by this presupposition thus allowing the communication of subliminal sensations within the structure of readily interpretable pictorial language.
My works are poems without words – the forms and images are my vehicles of expression, selected as much for their shape or structure or resonance or dynamic, as for their intrinsic definitions.