By the time I left school I had both discovered Subud® and all but decided to go to art school. However, my art teacher, no doubt with my interests at heart, steered me into architecture. So, there I was, still a callow seventeen year old, embarking on a profession which, in those days, was widely taught as quite an arty subject.
Over the years I’ve had numerous art projects on the go, in the background, as it were, but have always regretted not taking the art school route. In more recent times, I’ve sought out advice and comment on my work from experienced art teachers and practitioners, and twice I’ve been told I go off in all directions like a box of fireworks.
As far as I was concerned, I painted in the manner I thought best expressed what I was trying to ‘say’. I just wanted to know how well I was doing it. This, apparently, is not what art school’s like. They prefer to see an evolutionary theme in a student’s work. That sounded reasonable, especially for a young student, but it did not address the needs of an old student with lots of life baggage. To me, it was baggage to build on. To them, it was baggage to lose as quickly as possible.
I concluded that since the demise of the classical academic rules – narrative, laws of composition, light from a dominant direction, etc. etc., it had become harder and harder to evaluate a piece of work for what it was. For a very long time there had no longer been absolutes and certainties, which offered yardsticks and criteria for appraisal, and adequate substitutes had still not been found.
On that basis, I can see why they tend to be comfortable only when confronted by a ‘body of work’. They are reassured by repetition and exploration on a single theme, where there exist enough markers within the totality of the student’s work to demonstrate it is ‘meaningful’. I suspect it is for this reason that some artists are able to market work which, had it borne the name of an unknown author, it would be dismissed out of hand.
As willing to be persuaded as I can be, I have not yet encountered a convincing case for the ‘body of work’ principle to be the basis for evaluating a piece of art work.
Call me an old reactionary if you like, but I think performance art belongs in drama schools, video art belongs in film schools and conceptual art belongs firmly in the mind. There I find another problem. Far too much of what is presented to me as art, simply does not communicate without the mediation of the brain. I do not, for example, want to be an expert in, say, “social hierarchies” or the “disposable society”, and nor do I want to be obliged to sit through a lecture, before I ‘get it’. In fact I don’t want to ‘get it’ at all. I want to feel it, to experience an immediate rapport with what lies within the four sides of the picture.
Of course, history is full of pictures produced to record events, describe places or to inflate egos, but without any knowledge of their intended purpose, the great pictures have an innate power which communicates directly to our feelings. The intellectual understanding may contribute to our enjoyment but it is a different layer of enjoyment; it is not a visual layer.
So, where is all this leading? Well, I think there is a Subud element at play which I experienced in my own modest way while producing my piece, ‘Solitaire’ (which is actually thirty related paintings). It came about without much mind-full intervention. Out of the blue I had the notion of portraying the game of Solitaire, all thirty two moves, from start to completion. I had little idea how it might turn out and just painted the next move as an image, as it came to mind. I never had more than two ideas in reserve and once I was stuck for a few days until I could ‘receive’ the next image.
The pace of execution of all thirty pictures ebbed and flowed over a period of some four months, during which time I felt it was a bit like life itself. It was certainly like a real game of Solitaire. Sometimes it was obvious, sometimes the obvious was difficult, sometimes it could go any way and sometimes it was impossible to see the way ahead.
The strange thing was, I never knew what feeling an image might convey until it had been completed. That was new to me since I usually try to convey a specific feeling as I work. This time I was not going to be able to sense the overall feeling till the whole set was finished.
In the event, I found each picture in the series ‘spoke’ differently, sometimes glibly, sometimes more profoundly, sometimes jokily.
For the viewer, certainly following the series and working out each move, takes about as long as a real game of Solitaire and contains about as many emotions – frustration, puzzlement, impatience, satisfaction, elation etc. (that is, if you make it to the end!)
I would like to think these notes might increase your interest in the work, but if you enjoy some of it without reading the notes first, I shall be even more delighted.