Friday, March 07, 2008
My Painting cont'd XVI
(Seated one day at the easel…)
Something strange has occurred with the painting, unique in my experience.
As in the chilling stories of M R James this account begins prosaically…
I am in my studio chair with the winter light about to fade. It is teatime and I look across to my painting arrayed on the wall, hoping to identify some progress. A sudden shaft of lemony light illuminates the centre of the picture giving its colours new vivacity.
Concentrating on that troublesome area where much has yet to be resolved and where an indecisive hole of underpainting is still exposed. I notice with surprise that the surrounding tracery of paint seems to quiver as if trying to detach itself from the surface of the panel. A cloud passes and the effect disappears but after a few minutes, in another glare of low sunlight, it reasserts itself. I can now unequivocally experience parts of the picture lifted, as if on another plane, free of the mostly subdued colours of the random underpainting. As the light fades to evening greyness so the perturbation ceases, and when I switch on the electric light all returns to a fixed normality.
The following morning painting proceeds as usual. Returning from lunch however I find the studio more intensely lit, and soon, as if raising a spirit, I can begin to lift a layer of overpainting into the thin air above the surface of the panels in that same area. This now floats an apparent inch or so in space in front of the rest of the paint. I discover also that this is not a merely local phenomenon but one that can be summoned over the whole area though initially most apparent where the underpainting has been left alone. While the light holds I acquire the knack of switching the apparition on and off.
The next day I am disappointed (and also almost relieved) not to see parts of the painting floating free. But once more, after lunch the light becomes denser and the coloured veil begins to lift unbidden. Now with more constant illumination from a clear sky I find a second layer and then a third projected one in front of the other occupying a conjectured three inches or so.
In essence this follows the rules of recessive and foregrounding colours that one learns at art school, with red things looking nearer and blue things further away etc. My Euston Road training with Euan Uglow and others still conditions me to think of a London Bus as turning lilac by degrees as it drives into the distance.
Here the colours do not follow the rule strictly: some reds hang back and some blues reach forward. Lightness and darkness also play their roles in relative position.
Still gripped by the novelty of the experience I wander mentally between the layers and find I can separate at least five of them out, the nearest of which now feels to be six inches or so in front of the panels. This front layer is sparsely occupied by otherwise homeless bright spots some of which travel through from the distant underpainting.
In the days that follow I both savour and resent the illusion for now I do not need, so to speak, to make any effort to have lift-off; it is always there and distractingly magical.
The phantom dimensions that are engendered and, with each looking, become more clear are not part of a rounded world but like theatre flats, or rather gauzes since they have no solidity. The nearest analogy is the world as presented by those stereoscopic photographs seen through a viewer which were so popular in the early days of photography. A great illusion of depth is produced but only in terms of receding two dimensional layers whereby papery people stand in front of wafer-thin houses against a background of flat trees.
The only difference here is that, in an abstraction, these divisions are only made of colour with no objective identity. Thus I peer through brane beyond insubstantial brane of patterning in which the colours have lost the physicality of pigment. They merely seem suspended in the air unattached to anything but the imagined plane which they inhabit (and which cannot itself in any way be seen).
I certainly had no such goal in mind when I started the work and do not see it as necessarily adding quality to the image. It is merely an epiphenomenon of the way in which the picture is made, however beautiful it is to experience as it grows in depth and complexity.
In a real M R James story, or a tale by Edgar Allen Poe, the layers would of course continue to advance across the studio until I became snared in their intricate webs and entrapped by the thing I had created……. if, therefore, this account suddenly peters out and there are no more entries you will know what has happened.