Friday, November 30, 2007

My painting cont'd VII

Pictures as they progress tend to generate rules; rules of inclusion and rules of avoidance. Abstraction has the problem it sets itself of shunning representation or likeness. As the work develops, a deliberate and authentic breaking of such a rule can be a daring and stimulating manoeuvre, whereas an accidental infringement (a sudden unintended face-like image in a non-referential picture, for example) is merely bathetic.
While I was in Princeton my painting was in Peckham. I did however take with me a print-out of the state I left it in. I pinned this on the wall as soon as I arrived and looked at it every day. I saw that something was wrong but resisted the thought that the part I held most precious was now it's chief impediment.... how often and sorrowfully this turns out to be the case.
The top left hand corner panel, the little painting that had seeded the whole enterprise, was behinning to stick out like... but what if the rest of the hand was sore and the thumb quite healthy? Somehow it seemed now an anomaly in the dance of signs that the work had become.
I made some tests by cutting that segment out of the copy and supplying other marks on a piece of paper pasted in the space. This appeared to help the rhythm of the other elements in their spatial movement.
The little rectangle (1 1/4" x 1 1/2" approx) I pasted on to another sheet of stretched paper and surrounded it with eight equal spaces. I found that it naturally generated pictorial matter around itself as in the watercolour sketch below.
Perhaps it might go on forever serving to seed paintings from which it would have eventually to be itself banished....

Returning to Peckham I start to feel my way back into the picture. For the moment I have not renewed the panel in question, but, as a gesture have turned it upside down as a reminder of what to tackle soon.

Princeton improvisation, watercolour and xerox, 3 1/2" x 4 1/2". 2007

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

In Memoriam

A Humument p4, 1967 and 2007

As dawn broke on the day of my show’s opening at Flowers, Madison Avenue, I crossed the road from the Chelsea Hotel for my usual breakfast at the Malibu Diner, and, as usual, bought next door a copy of the London Times. My cheerful mood was dashed by reading news of the death of an old and dear friend, RB Kitaj.
As I made my way on foot for fifty blocks, in stages broken by coffees and lunch, to the gallery I thought of old and more innocent days, especially the long Saturday mornings we spent together at Austin’s of Peckham (Ron was then living in nearby Pickwick Road). There, opposite the place where Blake first saw angels, we rummaged amongst old books or hunted for some unnoticed old master etching in that furniture repository’s ritually revealed new stock. It was there also that I bought (on October 14th, 1966) for threepence, the copy of A Human Document, a victorian novel bound in faded yellow buckram which would soon start its second life as A Humument. With Ron as witness I vowed to work on the book for the rest of my life.
By the time I got to 75th St I had thought of a small way to commemorate my friend at the exhibition. The latest page of A Humument, a reworking of p4 to replace the original version of 1967 was in the gallery's back office. The best thing would be to pin it on the wall with a notice underneath dedicating it to Ron’s memory. This I did; to show his ghost that I had kept my word.

[note from studio – exhibition open until 24th November]

Friday, November 16, 2007

Heart of Darkness

There is much talk of a map at the beginning of the opera. On a visit to the Firestone Library of the University, Julie Mellby the Graphic Arts curator guided me through an intriguing show of African cartography. And there, in the equatorial section, was the exact depiction of the Congo that Conrad must have been referring to 'like an immense snake uncoiled'. This was Stanley's map full of what Marlow calls 'places with farcical names where the merry dance of death and trade go on'. It will now become a fixture of the set, seen three times in varying sizes. One of the bonuses of curating an exhibition is that one can never know what particular exhibit will spark off an enthusiasm in someone wandering through, or what almost unasked question it might answer.

The highlight of my month in Princeton had, of course, to be my return match on the ping pong table of the astrophysics department between Herman, a genial giant who works in the mail room, and myself. I yielded my hitherto undefeated record to him on the last day of my stay in 2006. On the last day of this visit I won by three games to one. Eric Maskin, of whom I made a drawing last week, could not have been more delighted when he learned of his Nobel Prize.


Meanwhile in Princeton and New York Heart of Darkness edges like Marlow's boat towards a healthily receding resolution. Two first performances of a full piano version have now been given, the first at the Institute for Advanced Study and the second in the much smaller hall in Brooklyn of American Opera Projects. Fiona on a warmly welcome flying visit graced the Princeton event, as did Ruth and Marvin Sackner.
Tarik and I did a short stand up routine before the performances, he giving some examples of earlier treatments and I describing a fit-up set (with photos by Billie Achilleos [as above] of the tiny paper model I had designed). This set (structured for robust touring to small theatres) has somehow become part of the promotion.
Rehearsing it and hearing it twice (under two conductors, Steven Osgood & Oliver Gooch) gave Tarik and myself proper opportunity to consider cuts and pastes and changes that could be made before its next outing in London, possibly in the spring with Covent Garden's Genesis Project.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Post from Princeton

Song Of The Earth, 2002. Earth & acrylic medium on paper. h106cms x w160cms

In Princeton once more for the autumn though the trees this year on Einstein Drive are turning late. In any case I am not, as on my last visit, that Wordsworthian eccentric the often-spotted leaf-gatherer combing the institute's grounds for the choicest fallen foliage, the most rubified or rusted or gilded leaves.
This time I am more relaxedly looking for samples of earth with an idea in mind that Halting the Fall [
see blog 19.10.06 + 16.11.06] which dealt with local beauty could be complemented by a work that spoke of the Institute for Advanced Study's international identity in that it attracts distinguished researchers and scholars from all over the world. This was in part provoked by seeing again a tantalising and mysteriously lit wall at the end of a long corridor but more so by the spectacle from my window of a soilmover at work creating a mighty mound of russet earth at the end of its track. As the profile of this heap gradually took on an uncanny resemblance to that of Mt Ste Victoire I began to think it had something to do with the sculpture that I knew had been commissioned from Richard Long. I soon learned however that Richard's sculpture was in a concealed courtyard best viewed from the library of the Astrophysics building where I temporarily had my office. Oddly enough I have since become a semi official apologist for the piece, and have already given a requested seminar to the astrophysicists on its meaning and virtues in their mid morning coffee colloquium. It seems strange to me that people who are used to dealing with events that happened before there was a when [in a place before there was a where] should be perplexed by a small and spikily elegant assemblage of exfoliated rock. I pointed out that the sculpture's first success was soon achieved by its provocation of such a discussion. We had some lively exchanges, along the inevitable lines that art argument is doomed to take, before they returned to simpler issues like what happens when a large black hole swallows a smaller one. I kept to myself the thought that celestial indigestion must result, culminating in a cosmic belch.

Princeton Earth Study, Mud & acrylic medium 2007