Tuesday, October 07, 2008

My painting XXXVIII

As at 1.10.08

An encouraging thing about the painting is that, for all its pleas for revision, it does begin to benefit from its barmy method of execution.

As I had hoped it really offers two distinct experiences for anyone looking at it. Moreover these almost contradictory perceptions cannot quite be had simultaneously. Thus it protects itself from at-a-glance appraisal by the casual spectator (or lazy critic).

From any distance it reads as a relatively simple image of large calligraphic shapes floating in a variegated ether of lighter colour. Close up however it presents a continuum. Both light and dark areas are inhabited by ornament on a scale that keeps itself more or less a secret from even a few feet away.

A crucial part of the game (and every work must have the combative playfulness of a game) has been, from early on, to explore what Owen Jones described in the title of his unwieldy and wonderful Victorian tome The Grammar of Ornament. I have always regarded ornament as a high art - as distinct from decoration which is added to something rather than being the matter from which it is made.

Ornament often goes hand in intricate hand with script both in the great illuminated pages of Christian illumination and the masterpieces of Arabic art which respond to the restrictive anti-representational challenge of Islam.

One of my art school tutors said of some work I was doing that it was 'just like knitting'. He meant this to be caustically damning but, as time went by, I realised that what is originally seen as a fault in one's work can be its particularity; something that should be intensified rather than adandoned. So here I am, fifty years later, knitting again and with unflagging enthusiasm for the variations that can be performed on the themes of net and maze, interlace, foliation and meander. A thousand streams of influence come into play in this abstract vocabulary.

One such I am daily reminded of at the moment as I prepare my long delayed book (promised two years ago to Hansjörg Mayer) on Akan goldweights of which I have an embarrassingly large collection. These miniature bronzes, some figurative but most abstract, were used by the Asante (Ashanti) for weighing the gold dust that was their currency for many centuries. They exhibit a rich repertoire of ornamental strategies as in this sample group of the miniature boxes (cast via the lost wax process) for carrying an individual's tiny packages of gold.

1 comment:

Xanthe said...

this is a most amazing description of the two levels of your painting. i can hardly see the ornament when i click on zoom but now you've said how it works it's easier to detect. Thanks! And carry on!