Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My painting XXXVII

As at 23.9.08

Approaching endgame on the painting. Nervous times. There is always the fear of the image merely falling off the eastward edge it has been surging towards so slowly and for so long. The last elements have to conspire not only to sustain the momentum but to make sure the viewing eye is persuaded to travel back into the choreography of signs.

The analogy with ballet is not inappropriate: the problem on the theatre's dancing stage is to perpetuate the action: the corps de ballet has to command the whole territory. Its larger actions head towards the wings with strategies for return.

Stage, force field, battleground, microscopic slide, astronomical image, book-page, monumental inscription, diagram, weather system, planetary surface, map, musical score... all these and other ways of imagining my picture in its boundaries occur to me. Most constant is the dialogue between the microscopic and telescopic; that I am visually inhabiting either a minute event in the subatomic world or a huge one on the gigantic slow cinema screen of the cosmos. The other analogy most frequently invoked is, as here, the dance.

I once saw the dance of life and death, briefly and by accident. Opening the wrong door in an apartment block in Havana I chanced upon a young couple in a completely bare room dancing the tango to a quiet gramophone. They did not notice my entry and I watched the grey clad figures seeming to flit through each other, merging as they parted, separating as they drew together; all noiselessly with unhurried speed. After a few minutes I quietly shut the door on that entrancement but have been haunted by their magic motion ever since.

Friday, September 19, 2008

My painting XXXVI

As at 9.9.08

My friend David S, who is trying to have his unofficial portrait painted, occasionally looks over at my picture. Once, glancing at it while sitting, he asked "What happens if you make a mistake?" The only answer is the standard philosopher's escape clause, "It depends what you mean by 'mistake' ".

Since the painting is an improvisation following neither drawing or (as in a portrait) objective event, mistakes are difficult to define.

On both the level of detail and of the larger design every mark compensates for the one before, nudging the balance this way and that, as instinct leads me. Each mark is in a sense a mistake that has to be corrected by the next. This, in turn, will be corrected by its successor to restore the equipoise of the part and the whole. Like tightrope-walking it is an endless sequence of adjustments (I recommend the film Man on Wire for those who want to see art in its final form and purest beauty of madness and risk.)

The whole painting is in one sense made of mistakes. One is reassured by looking at the Michelangelo crucifixion drawings done at the end of his life, when he faced the fact that outlines do not occur in nature. These little epics are battlegrounds of indecision in which the uncertainty principle visits art before it finds a home in science. They are compounds of truthful error that quiver before the eye.

Two other possible questions suggest themselves, one too metaphysical and the other too cruel to contemplate:-

What if the picture makes a mistake?


What if the painting is itself a mistake?

Yet David S is a part-time jazz trumpeter and is therefore aware that there are no mistakes in jazz - if one sounds a false or split note one immediately repeats it to show that it was deliberate. In painting as in jazz there is both need and room for creative bluff.

Friday, September 05, 2008

My painting XXXV

As at 27.8.08

This coming week I am to meet a postulator... a new word to me, whose meaning I should not easily have guessed. It is the title of one who states the premises and investigates the grounds on which some already venerated figure might make the leap through blessedness to sainthood. In the present case it is Father Paul Chavasse of the Birmingham Oratory who is in charge of the soon to be expected (and not uncontroversial) elevation of John Henry Newman. Fr Chavasse will give the homily at the Mass which precedes the public blessing of my mosaic of Cardinal Newman. The announcement of the ritual does not mention the name of the artist. Perhaps this is a secondary postulation regarding the work itself as having, like certain of the ancient ikons of St. Catherine's Monastery in Sinai, miraculously come into being and therefore to be designated as 'not by human hand...'

However I am asked to be there, a shadowy presence at a bells and smells occasion much looked forward to. All readers welcome (See events).

Study for mosaic of Cardinal Newman, 2007.

Quite early on in the evolution of my painting, at the point where I decided to expand from the panel that seeded it early last summer (see blog July '07), it became itself an act of postulation. In short, not to be bashful, I postulated a masterpiece, albeit a flawed one by this all too human hand.

Masterpiece is a word that hardly dare speak its claim. It is the pcitorial equivalent of sainthood, alhtough it originally signified a work which proved to the guild of St Luke that one had graduated from apprentice to full membership of the profession.

Now as I near the eastern edge of my painting I see the gap between postulation and confirmation. Decisions have become more significant. The picture has acquired so much identity that any move that does not comply with its implicit rules and constraints, or that shows a misprision of its rhythm and dance, will break what spell it has. I now spend more time staring at the picture than actually painting it. Like John Henry Newman it needs a miracle or two.