Nothing prepares you for the act of painting as much as memory; forget sketching, forget studies and most of all forget photographs; digital or otherwise.
‘Memory’, as Bonnard observed, ‘is the best filter’, so it’s to memory that I’m committing my first studies in my new project of The Dales. It’s so easy, so seductive, so instant to take that snap – and with my iPhone – snap after snap after snap; as if the act of looking is in any way comparable to that of seeing.
It’s just not, and as I’ve written elsewhere in this occasional blog, devices don’t see things like we do. They record everything of a scene, but nothing about it, they have no bias, nothing they store is filtered through the lens of our experience, and worst of all they simply don’t store memories as we recall them. Committing an image to your device, in the hope it will be a reference, is quite possibly the surest way to ruin a painting before one starts.
So here’s the plan; a full scale show based on observation and recall; all about the visual and emotional traces impressed upon me , and not about what was there.
Landscape is a metaphor for so much of our being, standing in – and out in it – roots one in a time and place in a way one can’t experience secondhand. You can’t feel a place and feel part of it through the lens of a device only the lens of actual experience. Time spent outdoors locates us in a place, we experience it physically and recall it viscerally, and no where is this more true for me than the Dales.
For me the Dales is life writ large; beautiful, unexpected, mutable, by turns enchanting and hostile. I was drawn to it as a boy,escaping from the smoky congestion and industry of Pendle, and return this year to look it in the eye on new terms.
Much has to be done, how to visualise it, evoke its moods, express my own and most importantly impress that vision upon the viewers of my work.
I made a start today, a 2M canvas wrought from memory, the sky mutable, the Dale cast into shadow and spotlit, cottages huddled against the scarp. Is it good Art? Not at all – but it’s a good start, and I trust in those more than a thousand oil sketches painstakingly transcribed from photographs.
There’s nothing new in this of course, as Pollock noted his work was no more – or less than ‘energy and motion made visible’, and what could be more useless in meeting that aspiration than a still image?
I’ve heard it said that a painting, like a conversation, is never definitively finished; I now understand how true is this when one talks not of one work but a whole project such as my 2016 show The Painted Garden. So the Dales and my work on the Painted Garden will need to sit side by side on my easel for a year or two, will one mellow the other, or will the garden take on something of the spirit of this new landscape?
These aren’t questions which can be answered quickly, and certainly not by seeing,experiencing and recording life through a lens.