Tuesday, January 22, 2008
If I already had a basic title for my painting I could qualify it with the words 'a fragment' as in 'X: a fragment'. One of the few things that can be said with any certainty is that the work squarely declares its incompleteness by implying at all edges (so far) its continuation.
Were I now, suddenly, to decide to increase its size and add panels all round I can only imagine I would continue in the same way and end up with edges which would again imply their extension into yet further panels. Thus my painting is a fragment of a larger conjectural fragment which in turn must be a section of a yet larger etc. etc.
In all directions my studio limits the size of the piece. Also, in the dimension of time, the finitude of my life is, unlike the universe (whatever that may turn out to be), contracting rather than expanding.
There is another dimension also which a picture inhabits (one not often invoked by mathematicians) and whose questions it has to answer; this is the moral dimension. The testing factor here is whether the marks that meet the edge are genuinely capable of coherent extension in a world whose rhythm, colour, formal vocabulary etc. they have already played a part in.
These speculations seem by their very uncertainty to give the picture the character of a living thing. Perhaps it has indeed proved its organic nature by rejecting the panel with which it started (see blog 7 Aug '07).
A Humument. A particularly virulent strain is here seen to infect that most tired and cynical of contemporary British art's profitable tropes, the repeated spot. This is not their first appearance in the book (see blog 17 Jan '07). The case is well advanced in this page where as crypto ornamentalism attacks the motif's blandness an appropriate commentary emerges from the text to echo Brecht's song of Mahagonny "Oh show us the way to the next whisky bar..."
Friday, January 18, 2008
Here is the current state of play in my picture, put this week to a stern test by a visit to CERN and the Large Hadron Collider now in its final stages of construction. It is for the last time viewable in all its gigantic glory with its electrical nerves and engineering muscle anatomically exposed. Like a great beast of mythology it lurks deep underground awaiting its task and is huge in paradoxical proportion to its inconceivably small and evanescent prey. Returning from this cavernous Xanadu in the Jura to a small studio in Peckham was humbling but in no way dispiriting. If anything I felt that the things I saw (and only half understood) had been not merely invigorating but mysteriously endorsed what I was doing. The unknown is common ground and looking at my painting, which I can no longer think to call large, I see it has no boundaries [of which, or the absence of which, more anon].
Friday, January 11, 2008
By talking of the picture as an improvisation I seem to deny the existence of any preparatory work. In a sense, apart from the choice of the initial panel, there was none. The underpainting of the panels as can be seen is inconsistent and wilfully random: they are provocation rather than preparation.
All painting, since it takes the form of replacing nothing with something, is improvised if only by stealth. So yes, even here a bit of tentative drawing does go on slightly ahead of the brush. I snatch a piece of card that won't soak up oil paint too quickly and rehearse some marks on it. Here is a card currently in use with apologies to the designer bookbinders whose private view invitation it is, or once was.
Another strategy is to print out a photo of the painting in its current state and try out possible next moves on that. This is one I had pinned on my study wall in Princeton: it features also an initial idea of what might happen in the top left hand panel when it was replaced.
These are utilitarian drawings of the kind that, rather than featuring in exhibitions, usually find their way via the studio floor to oblivion.
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
State of play at Christmas 2007. Still no title. Too many analogies present themselves. Today I felt as if I were cleaning a picture which has long existed, moving along a murky surface to reveal a work obscured by time's dirt and decay. Sculptors often (as in Michelangelo's poem) say about carving in marble that the imprisoned sculpture has only to be released from the stone by chipping away the bits that are not it. Here in two dimensions I seem to be working in positive/negative modes taking my cue from what is light to make it dark and vice versa. Together with the ambiguities of the underpainting left untouched this seems to make Time's Arrow turn back on itself.
Meanwhile a work emerges from two years of revisions, changes of size, alterations of site, rewordings of text, and colour, switching of materials and reversals of method; all subject to debate within various committees of both church and Ministry of Defence. This not to mention my self-inflicted labour on battle sites of the past, digging up mud from, inter alia, Agincourt and the Somme and, most recently, at Princeton where a handy slice of the War of Independence was thoughtfully fought a few yards from Einstein Drive [you can't win them all].
The work in question is to be installed in Westminster Abbey, on the cloister wall, later this year. It is a War Memorial (sorry, Conflict Memorial, since we don't have wars any more) constructed of metal, earth and stone. The metal is welded copper and the border lettering is cut into the cloister wall itself. The earth is a mixture of the aforementioned mud of which blobby packages have been arriving from my daughter and, via a friend of a friend from Asia to augment my already large selection, now appropriately ranked in uniform storage jars.
Despite the long reversals and delays I am happy with the outcome especially since I was allowed to change all the wording from an initial committeespeak version. Most of all I am proud to have my work present within singing distance of the mysteriously intricate Cosmati pavement (a miracle seen from above) and the gravity-defying fan vaulting (a wonder seen from below).
The highlight of the committee stages was when I presented the preliminary designs as seen here to the memorial board at the Ministry of Defence to enter whose premises (though only armed with a watercolour drawing) I was podded, checked and scanned. After an extended and largely approving discussion a puzzled army officer of very high rank said "Well, I've been looking hard at this and feel... I'm no art expert mind you... that I ought to point out that the writing is a bit wobbly." It was as if he had expected letters to stand at attention when he inspected them.