Tuesday, April 29, 2008

My painting XXIII

Late April 2008

Peter K asks whether I’ve found a title yet, having noted my reticence about that problem lately. Well, almost, I think, as the work itself moves quietly on. Strangely enough while this picture stands in need of a title I spent most of last Sunday at the Bloomsbury postcard fair with a title that is in search of a picture.

In the vein of the exhibition We Are The People, where I showed a sample of my embarrassingly large collection of old photographic postcards, I have one card which shows two anonymous boys with their teddy bears, which I want to use for half an evenhanded diptych. It will be entitled ‘Our teddies are called Mahomet and Ali. They are always fighting’. This refers of course to the glum affair in Sudan where a teacher was imprisoned for allowing her pupils to call a teddy bear Muhammed, the world’s most common first name.

The other half of the diptych calls for a postcard image of a similarly anonymous girl holding a golliwog, the title of which will be ‘My golliwog’s called Jesus’.

I did in fact find one card that may be right. In case a better turns up I’ll wait to put it up until the next entry at which time I will also divulge the title of my painting, on which multiple cliffhanger…

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My painting XXII

Mid April 2008

How predictable is the unpredictability of art and the artist....

No sooner had I vowed to move forward, leaving unresolved areas to the end, than I was scuttling back to the middle South of the painting, to the chief disaster area where a calligraphic motif has been quietly strangling itself for weeks; an event that was robbing the work of much of its rhythm.

An interim operation brought immediate relief, though this kind of surgery is difficult since a new tracery has to be teased out of the old in negative fashion. Scraping back to the underpainting seems not to be allowed: I don't know where such constraints come from or why I declare myself not free to use any strategy I fancy. It is yet another aspect of the picture's tendency to dictate terms and my own tendency to accede to its wisdom. Perhaps the painting is protecting its own integrity of surface, an imperative in art from Cimabue to Jackson Pollock and beyond.

Also it needs to guard its nature as a composition, which is that of a continuum. Apart from the early radical gesture of replacing the North East corner panel, all procedures have been additive. The rightness of this current emendation was proved by how, once the incision was complete, the separated section floated free; like a released balloon.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My painting XXI

as at April 8th 2008

I begin to suspect as I forge on eastwards that I leave too many worries in my wake; a mounting toll of passages which do not quite work. Some I will no doubt be able to nudge into life while, with others, I can lean on my favourite Zen mantra, These problems will tend to disappear. There are however one or two trouble spots that, in that fine imagined last westward sweep of revision and adjustment, might continue to prove intractable: yet my instinct (which may well be cowardice in disguise) tells me to move on.

Every picture has its puzzle-solving crises and needs, at some juncture, either a small but daring manoeuvre or a grand gesture (eg turning the whole thing upside down). To proceed unchallenged is as unsatisfying as beating a weak opponent at chess, or breezing through a Sudoku in merely the time it takes to fill the squares.

A good Sudoku however, will usually bring one to a point of exasperation, after which miniature agony one suddenly spots the critical move and all remaining numbers tumble into place. So with the picture I trust to the late intervention of the Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke to crack the problem.

It is not irrelevant to invoke Richard Dadd since this painting too has its lunatic aspect. Its dogged intricacy has much in common with the art of the mad, as Harry Birtwistle (himself only just released from the million-note labyrinth of a new opera) was quick to remark last week when he came to take a look at the picture.

In art you have a chance to repair the past so it’s forward ahead for the harmless artist self-sectioned in his studio and clinging to the words of William Blake… If a fool would persist in his folly he will become wise.

Friday, April 04, 2008

My painting XX

Early April

To get oneself talking, ask oneself a question. One reason for laying down the splodgy field of random colour is to have something to respond to other than the frightening white of a newly primed panel [see the unworked panel here in the southeast of the painting ].

Even as a child my first instinct was to mess up the paper before beginning, hoping to find in that mindless confusion of runny posterpaint some suggestion of event. Although I did not know it at the time this is Leonardo's recommended method for the young artist whom he instructs to gaze at a stain on the wall until landscapes emerge and are peopled with figures.

With my painting, by perverse extension, I set up one abstraction to feed another.

In addition to banishing the virginal white [the only time any picture is perfect] I thus drive away the fear of finding no colour in my head.

For I am not one of nature's born colourists. Just as at art school there will always be, amongst one's fellow students, one that cannot make an awkward or ugly mark there will be another who is tone perfect… I can see her now… she has put down a vibrant crimson and is mixing some kind of twilight blue… and yes, it nestles against the red. Each makes the other sing… and now a yellow green satisfyingly completes the chord.

Such harmonic certainty one can but envy and congratulate, and then pass on to find one's own mode of plundering colour's endless resource. The same has been the story in my musical life where I have struggled to attain even a modestly reliable sense of relative pitch.

It was through music in the early sixties that I found release. John Tilbury was my mentor and through him I became friends also with Cornelius Cardew, Christian Wolff and most especially with Morton Feldman. I learned to value every and any combination of notes and timbres. So, by analogy, I saw that there were no colours that did not go together. Each conjunction has a character and reverberative identity to be sought and used. To free myself further from the Euston Road I also used chance (via the I Ching via John Cage) to trap myself into making bolder decisions.

I found my motto in the usual place – the inexhaustible pages of A Human Document.

The process of mining such fragments from Mallock's text, I suddenly realise, is the mirror image of making this picture; working over the colour field, selecting parts of it and using the shapes that eventuate. With A Humument I am of course, by mining his field of verbal colour, standing on someone else's shoulders, whereas here in the painting (despite the anatomical difficulty) I am standing on my own.

In music one plays best by listening, even just to oneself. When I'm improvising at the piano (the only kind of playing I do these days) it is by hearing some shift in the bass that I am made to divert the right hand from what it was poised to play and reach for something more inventive. I am not much of a pianist so I need my own self to give me all the help I can get, and then not to be afraid to take it.

Slowly one makes progress. I used to be scared of yellow which I never seemed to be able to control. Now I've learned to let it have its way. I have, however, yet to learn to use black confidently as a colour.

Perhaps not being a natural colourist has had its advantages since I've been forced into discoveries by treating all colours alike: it is a version of democracy.