Painting the face of it


Painting?? Hardly! I am 53 and it is coming to Christmas 2019.

I am awake again at 6 this morning and listen to the crows cawing and the magpies scratching the tiles on the roof. It is a beautiful dark grey outside and I feel warm beneath my quilt but I have a yearning to be out there, in the gentle daybreak, before the maddening traffic rumbles into my ears.

I have made tea and returned to the warmth of my bed to sip it whilst making a valiant attempt to consider the rest of my life and the value of painting to me thus far. Over the past month or so, alongside the rising water table and the ever-increasing puddles in the park, I have felt a lifting within. It is in the quieter moments of the early morning that this elevation is felt to be the most sincere, the most tangible.

I am accustomed to the habit of peering at the patterns on my quilt and wait for it to surface. I try not to act on the impatience that races alongside in equal measure. I understand that life (well mine) has always moved between two poles and I begin to feel resentment at being forced to assume the position of a tightrope walker. My actions usually failing and the consequence identified as the counterweight to keep my balance. I have teetered along a misguided line shuffling forward only to have to continually pause and rectify my footing.

Perhaps this is why so many of my photos are of the scenery I see at my feet?

I notice, now, even my titles are yelling at me to stop looking only forward or back. There is a world around, above and below.

Pondering the truth of it

From here I can see my small bookshelf.

In an attempt to clarify purpose I have, from time to time, given away the extraneous in my life. Mostly this has entailed giving away or leaving behind books and paintings. Shelves of books, in fact, that caused me sorrow in parting but a notion of weightlessness where I could begin to listen. Usually, I listened too readily to echoes and proceeded to purchase again a new library consisting of old favourites along with newer voices and different thoughts on painting.

I suspect, once again, this was nothing but an attempt to regain my footing on the slow crawl to that far point of support, a splaying out of my arms to stop myself from falling. A clamouring chorus of other voices that I would read, absorb and discard with regular habit. I am not sure whether this was an automatic response to a ‘desolation’ but surrounding my self with other stories cleverly allowed myself to avoid my own.

However, there have been authors, artists, musicians, dancers that have had an impact on me and remain constant companions. Books I have always carried with me, artists that afford me inspiration, musician’s that gift me solace and dancers that remind me that movement is not necessarily a horizontal thing between two points.

Since a teenager, I have never been without a copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy. I can see now that a book about a journey, downwards then upwards, within and without, both poetic and called a ‘comedy’, yet can still proclaim the Divine is nothing less than a kick up the arse. ‘It does exactly what it says on the tin’ as we English are so used to postulating.

And of course Rilke

The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge - Rilke

Whether it is the Notebooks, or the Letters to a Young Poet or the crushing opening to the Duino Elegies

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’
hierarchies? and even if one of them pressed me
suddenly against his heart: I would be consumed
in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.

Who, if I cried out? Indeed.

And Antoni Tapies

My stumbling into the art world was through barely comprehensive education and a rebellious attitude to show my Dad what’s what. As a teenager, I thought I would like to be a book cover artist, painting the seductive science fantasy novels that I devoured; heroes, good gods, bad gods and magic. Once again, components that require a great deal of faith in which to be fully immersed.

A persistent memory of my childhood was my first noticing of a clear night sky ribboned with more stars than I could possibly imagine. I immediately understood that there were more glimmers than I could count, more stars than people, or even blades of grass. My first moment of humility … and it is important to note that I did not feel insignificant. On the contrary, I felt connected to something entirely ‘other’.

So when I finally decided that the art world was for me (much against my Da’s wishes… and after declining a position as an apprentice at the car factory, where he worked) and painting was something I could do, you might think I would remember that feeling of being awestruck and carry it with me.

Call it education

A year’s foundation course and the 1st year of a degree course in Expressive Art (Painting and Dance) left me with nothing but a frustrated and failed attempt at painting Science Fantasy … and then along comes Tapies.

I am a great believer in the rewards of asking. Not asking for material things, but universally requesting guidance. Whether it be to God, Buddha, Allah or the Universe, the act of request indicates a humility to something which IS greater than ourselves.

I was stuck and feeling helpless, without direction or even a clue as to what my tutors were trying, in their impatient way, to teach me. A trip to a library where I was an infrequent visitor, and a literal ‘finger walk’ along spines of big, fat art books… and I pulled out a book on the paintings of Tapies.

Tapies and the Catalan Spirit

I was hooked

What is more, for some inexplicable reason, I understood…. well, what I understood is still to be identified. I think, what I mean more accurately, is I recognised.

I diligently studied and was able to recreate Tapies-like works with some ease. I used the sombre dirty tones of my own city Birmingham, the age rendered appearance of soot-covered walls and old ephemera … well, I was quite at home. I scraped and tore, scrubbed and burned and created paintings. And the added benefit was that my tutors seemed happier with my progress and I was left to my own devices.

Of course, I now understand that emulation is not comprehension but a further false trail away from my truth.

Tapies remains with me. But more so, the notion of depicting a history, creating something that has been before me and will live on after. The quiet acceptance of material and the relationship of faith that one has to have in it. A drip or an unintended splurge of paint is more vital to my progress than the masterly use of a pencil and the ability to accurately replicate a photo of a celebrity or cartoon figure. By copying Tapies style I learned more about my own language, my own faith.

My Tapies education #2 and #3

Rising to fall

So my ‘awe’ was not for the miracle of the stars but for my own progress. I was smugly satisfied that I had found a way to begin my development… I was on my way … the bee’s knees.

For many, this is fine and an entirely satisfactory path to improvement but it just led to more frustration for me.

I paid for a studio in Spain ready to show the world who I was and though I surprised myself with the creation of 2 works, that I actually like… I failed as a human being (that story is here). It began my journey of shuffling along the tightrope of blindness.

My constant companions

I have had the words of Dante and Rilke, the paintings of Tapies and my musical inspiration David Sylviantapping me on the shoulder for 30 years. Gently, with no recrimination or judgment… just like the unintended drip of paint… there is faith in me, from without.

When you come to me
I'll question myself again
Is this grip on life still my own

When every step I take
Leads me so far away
Every thought should bring me closer home

And there you stand
Making my life possible
Raise my hands up to heaven
But only you could know

My whole world stands in front of me
By the look in your eyes
By the look in your eyes
My whole life stretches in front of me
Reaching up like a flower
Leading my life back to the soil

Every plan I've made's
Lost in the scheme of things
Within each lesson lies the price to learn

A reason to believe
Divorces itself from me
Every hope I hold lies in my arms

And there you stand
Making my life possible
Raise my hands up to heaven
But only you could know

My whole world stands in front of me
By the look in your eyes
By the look in your eyes
My whole life stretches in front of me
Reaching up like a flower
Leading my life back to the soil

And now… painting?

I have for the past 3 decades worked as a bookseller, academic publisher, poetry publisher, graphic designer, pictureframer and web designer. I have been there to handhold and cajole people and customers who wanted to voice their own expressions, to help artists choose and frame their art, poets publish and perform their work. Even now I am extolling the virtues of social media and teaching artists how to use it effectively in order to increase their audience.

I think my balancing is coming to an end.

I have a wanderlust for the up and down. I aspire to be humble and am extremely grateful for this opportunity to begin again.

And so, I say to you … any reader … if you will … come join me.

I am to step off the wire and discover treasure in this darkness.

I will paint.

Tapies of sorts #1


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