Tuesday, 29 June 2010

accidental bodies

I love Jim's story about Kandinsky discovering the beauty of his own painting by not recognising it. For a long time, I felt that I didn't really understand what (contemporary) abstract painters were doing. When I was at St Martins in the mid 70s, I was eased out of the life room by a subtle culture that told me that 'working from life' was meaningless, old hat. I tried to 'do abstract', and made a lot of flat rubbish that had no life in it.

I carried the sense that 'life' should not be a source of any art I might produce for decades, and yet I kept returning to life - to the sharp green edges of a pink flower, to the strange depths of lichen on a branch close up, to the shape of a thousand pebbles under a turquoise sea. How could this not be something to do with art?

But, most of the drawings and paintings I made of 'life' were also flat, appeared pointless. Why try to make an image of that gloriousness, I thought in the end, when it's simply there before me, in a much more interesting way?

Having done nothing for 25 years, two years ago, doing something that was nothing to do with art, I suddenly looked at the way green pigment was flowing into yellow. And suddenly it all made sense. It suddenly seemed so simple. Of COURSE you aren't trying to make the wonder of the pattern on the shell, as it is, when it's a pattern on a shell. You're a prism. The light that comes out after it has passed through you can't possibly be the light that came in.

You're not looking for something nice out there to paint - you're looking for shapes and patterns that move you, that excite you. So that you can make something new.

So now I'm working on getting out of the way... as things come in... as they enter the pool of my awareness. And as my awareness starts, for the first time in decades, to link up to my body.


  1. "Baldessari confessed to a "major philosophical problem of balance between the reflective and active life, between reading and working and absorbing material. If you're going to a movie or a performance, that's ingestion, taking in material. . . . (But) I feel guilty when ingesting. And when giving birth, working on the art, I feel I'm taking a chance of it coming out flat, without the ingestion. I've never been able to get the balance right."

  2. This is interesting. I've realised recently that the balance between input and output has been completely screwy in my life - is this the same thing? I realised that I was outputting endlessly, out, out, out. Somewhere along the line I seemed to completely forget the need for what I now think of as feeding....

  3. I really like the idea of the "prism", transforming the light as it passes. Much better than the idea of a conduit as I've previously conceived it. But what about generation - where does this fit in?

  4. Generation, if I understand what you mean, is Emergence, as far as I'm concerned. Here the prism idea needs to be modified. Stuff comes in, but it filters in from all over the place, rather than coming from a single source. And what comes out hasn't just passed through, changing colour, like piece of cloth being pulled through a tray of dye. What filters in mixes together, and mixes with what's there, and bumps into objects, and gets tangled up in shapes and constrainers. And then, suddenly, something new appears, which doesn't seem to have a direct line back to anywhere...

  5. Yes, it's all to do with combination and intermixing isn't it? It might be useful to think of photography in this regard. With photography we capture something and although this may be deeply reflective of our feelings and thoughts, it’s nonetheless almost exactly the idea of the prism which you mentioned: it’s the channelling of light and the focusing and recording of this upon a surface. Creative control in this instance comes from selection - selection of the subject matter, selection of the position, selection of the qualities of the medium and selection of the final image as well as , to some extent, the manipulation of the presentation and contextualisation of the resultant image. Most other more “traditional” media tend to require a greater degree of direct intervention or mediation by the maker. So at one end of the spectrum we have something that approaches the idea of the camera (prism or conduit) and at the other end of the spectrum we have what I described as “generation”, in which the work appears to have been created without precedents because the sources of imagery and ideas are so elaborate and multifarious that it’s impossible to retrace them.

    It’s a little crude as an analogy perhaps but I think it encapsulates the idea that somehow all artists channel experience, they just do it in different ways.

    I think it’s probably the same with your following post about the head and the gut. Perhaps they’re not so much a binary but rather two features along a spectrum. The great thing about a spectrum of course, is that the two ends merge into one another – with the visible spectrum at least.



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