Saturday, 18 February 2012


I remember someone once saying to me that it was the simplification of nature's complexity which was so interesting in any form of 'naturalistic'* art. And I remember thinking, but I don't want that simplification, I want that glory and that complexity, that's the thing I love...

Another comment that people have made a few times recently relates to what they call 'the artist's hand'; the distinctiveness of an artist's mark. This reflects the idiosyncracy of the individual, but is perhaps also something about this simplifying treatment. It occured to me the other day, after I had worked exactly from a photograph and then done another in my own way (the photograph one was flat and uninteresting) that perhaps it is my own 'hand' that I have been objecting to all these years.

I have wanted the painting to be as beautiful, or complex, or interesting, as the thing that I'm looking at - in the same way as the thing I'm looking at. In other words, it's almost as if I want to copy it exactly, somehow transfer  its beauty and mystery precisely onto my page. But why? We have photographs, we have the world itself for that. Trying to make the same beauty on the page is forever doomed. It cannot be. You have to accept your 'hand', your type of simplification. You have to accept it and explore it for what it is.

Perhaps it's not so much that you don't like your 'hand' but that, similar to the relationship with voice (in both a physical and larger sense), when it finally comes out it simply gives you a fright. You aren't used to its presence, its qualities. It's like a stranger.

The real issue is that you are a stranger to yourself, disconnected from yourself in some way.

* Interesting book review in the New Scientist about the patterns of nature being abstract rather than 'naturalistic'!



  1. Just read the following and was reminded of your post:

    Cott: You’ve always had a unique, playful drawing style – just think of your book “In His Own Write” or the album cover and inner sleeve of “Walls and Bridges” or your immediately identifiable “Lennonesque” cartoons.

    John Lennon: I did the “Walls and Bridges” drawings when I was 10 or 11. But I found at art school they tried to knock it out of me. They tried to stop me from drawing how I draw naturally, which I wouldn’t let them do. But I never developed it further than cartoons. Somebody once said that cartoonists are people with a good creative gift who are scared of failure as painters, so they make it comedic. My cartoons to me are like Japanese brush paintings – if you can’t get it in one line, rip it up. Yoko got me into that notion a little when we met, and when she saw that I drew, she’d say, “That’s how they do it in Japan, you don’t have to make changes….This is it!”

    *Taken from “The Last Interview,” by Jonathon Cott. Rolling Stone, January 6, 2011.

  2. That's great - the very thing. Funnily enough I was also talking to someone today about the idea of rhythm and habit, and they suggested that the habit evident in the physical gesture or mark is what's interesting, whether it's in someone else's work, or one's own. She talked about a distinctiveness in physicality, whether it's the way you walk or paint; that you need to 'relish the way that you are'...

  3. Strange that you mention habit - I've just read about that too:

    I'm not sure about the 'relish the way that you are' story. I think one of the major reasons I was drawn to photography as a student was because it bypassed the autographic aspect of mark making. Of course, even with photography it soon turns out that you can't escape yourself there either - but for me the reflection was a little less brutal and a little less familiar.

  4. Mmmm, I wonder if we could argue here that, especially when we're young, it's difficult to know how to connect to 'how we are' (interested in that word autographic)? I don't mean in some fixed, essentialist way, but in the sense of connecting with something even vaguely authentic. I think that perhaps finding the beginning of that connection takes time and living.

  5. Maybe, but then again how would that fit John Lennon at 10 or 11? Not sure. Do we ever connect with how we are? Or rather do we ever disconnect? I guess so… but I’m not sure if I understand what that actually means.

    But perhaps I’m misunderstanding you. For me this issue with markmaking is closely related to handwriting. I don’t particularly enjoy seeing myself and my familiar idiosyncrasies reflected in the marks I make on paper. But at my age it would take an enormous amount of work to improve my handwriting and it would seem like vanity even to try.

    Perhaps if I practiced a lot I could reinvent my writing style to the point where I could pick and choose between styles. But somehow that doesn’t seem likely. Or even if it were, it seems that there would always be a style that would be more ‘me’ than any other - a default style - probably not appreciably different from the one I currently use. Do you see what I mean? – I’m not sure we can ever really escape ourselves or be truly disconnected, at least not in this sense: of the way our bodies move, of the pressure we apply to the nib, or all those minute uncertainties and certainties that place the pencil exactly here and not there.

    In this sense that authentic self was never apart from us and the quest to find it was as futile as chasing our own tail. TS Elliot said it best:

    “And the end of all our exploring.
    Will be to arrive where we started.
    And know the place for the first time”

    And when you encounter something for the first time it is indeed a stranger. But who is to say whether we will be any more comfortable with that stranger the second time around?

    I guess it comes down to how we accept things that we can’t ever divorce ourselves from. We can fight it, or we can find an accommodation (that perhaps develops into a love) or we can turn our attention to other things.

    My face follows me everywhere but I’m only really drawn to think of it when it stares right back at me. The rest of the time I’m looking out on the world. Oblivious.

  6. Well, it would fit John Lennon fine, in my view, in that everyone's different. Some people seem to be, as my mate put it, 'who they are when they're not pretending to be someone else' from a very early age. They don't seem to get so lost in cultural expectations etc etc.

    All of these things are so problematic in language, aren't they! Connection and disconnection works for me, in terms of understanding my life, but it isn't a universal.

    Reading on... yes, I think I agree with you that it's always there. I certainly can't imagine going in search of an authentic self. On the other hand, in my own case, I gradually became somehow distanced from at least some aspects of that thing that was always there. You're right, I think, that I perhaps wasn't as distanced as I might imagine from here. For me it had quite a concrete form in the sense of completely giving up painting and drawing for a couple of decades. When the need in me to do that busted up from the depths it was quite dramatic and strange and unexpected.

    It's not particularly comfortable being in my new relationship in one sense, but it feels like breathing fresh air compared to being an academic in Education. I suspect it's a very different situation to your own - it looks as if you never sold out on your need to do art, whatever you may feel about being an academic (which I think, perhaps, you really like anyway?).

    Oh, I like your last comment but one about turning our attention to other things. I guess that might be it, for me. I turned my attention to other things. Which had many pleasures and rewards, I have to say, just that over many years it just took me too far away.

    Your last comment about your face... Perhaps, or perhaps you are constantly being reflected back at yourself by other people, by reactions to yourself in different roles, and by things you hopefully project outwards in search of the reactions that please you? That's probably fine if the reflections come back in some sort of accord with what you think you're doing. When they come back as the dead face of a stranger, that's uncomfortable. Well, it was for me.

    I've come back at all of your points, but I'm also going to think about all of them. Lots here to help me develop my understanding...



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...