Friday, September 19, 2008

My painting XXXVI

As at 9.9.08

My friend David S, who is trying to have his unofficial portrait painted, occasionally looks over at my picture. Once, glancing at it while sitting, he asked "What happens if you make a mistake?" The only answer is the standard philosopher's escape clause, "It depends what you mean by 'mistake' ".

Since the painting is an improvisation following neither drawing or (as in a portrait) objective event, mistakes are difficult to define.

On both the level of detail and of the larger design every mark compensates for the one before, nudging the balance this way and that, as instinct leads me. Each mark is in a sense a mistake that has to be corrected by the next. This, in turn, will be corrected by its successor to restore the equipoise of the part and the whole. Like tightrope-walking it is an endless sequence of adjustments (I recommend the film Man on Wire for those who want to see art in its final form and purest beauty of madness and risk.)

The whole painting is in one sense made of mistakes. One is reassured by looking at the Michelangelo crucifixion drawings done at the end of his life, when he faced the fact that outlines do not occur in nature. These little epics are battlegrounds of indecision in which the uncertainty principle visits art before it finds a home in science. They are compounds of truthful error that quiver before the eye.

Two other possible questions suggest themselves, one too metaphysical and the other too cruel to contemplate:-

What if the picture makes a mistake?


What if the painting is itself a mistake?

Yet David S is a part-time jazz trumpeter and is therefore aware that there are no mistakes in jazz - if one sounds a false or split note one immediately repeats it to show that it was deliberate. In painting as in jazz there is both need and room for creative bluff.

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