We’ve all heard the clichés - “That’s not art.” “My pre-schooler could do that.” A visitor to one of my exhibitions once said to me – “Why can’t you paint something I can understand?” I suspect that this person was referring to an image-based visual language. Our world, our culture, is flooded with image-based art. We all understand these images. We can ‘read’ this ‘language.’
Perhaps you sometimes feel confused when you see non-representational artwork, just like my outspoken gallery visitor. Perhaps you wonder if it may be a case of ‘the emperor’s new clothes’. Or perhaps you can appreciate the colours and patterns, but wonder if it’s just that – beautiful marks, colours and patterns but rather superficial. Does the work have any other meaning? Where do marks come from? Are they saying something? Or nothing? Are they just a doodle or a scribble – meaningless and somewhat childish?
I can’t speak for all abstract art, but in this post, I’d like to explain why my way of working has become an exploration of mark making in an abstract and semi-abstract gestural style.
“Any mind worth calling a mind must have needs beyond the existing categories of language.”
Ezra Pound 1885-1972
We know that a single verbal language cannot express all meanings. There are words in foreign languages that express ideas not expressible in our native language. In the same way, abstract art ‘articulates’ in a visual way, ideas, memories, thoughts and emotions that representational art cannot. Artists create new ‘languages’ when existing languages become inadequate.
This is where originality comes from. Artists don’t create something new for the sake of it. They do it because the tools they are given are not commensurate with their experience. They must create something new in order to explore and understand themselves and share their humanity with others.
The language I often use, of the abstract, gestural mark, is not a representational, image-based language. It is a language of the heart and of the sub-conscious. A language of emotion and unarticulated memory. Perhaps it is prescient too, revealing something about the world that is not yet obvious – that is still only a vibration.
My gestural style is also grounded in the idea of recording my presence in the moment – in the moment of creation. I’m fascinated by the process of how my hand, via my eye, breath, the pulsing of my heart – this physical body – connects to something often semi-conscious – to create marks on a surface. Like a seismograph recording how the world registers upon me. The hand, the eye, the heart, the mind, now, in this moment, registering presence.
In isolation, this doesn’t always reveal meaning, or tell a story, just as a single letter or word is not a language. But over time, and as a part of a larger body of work, all these paintings and drawings are telling the visual story of my life, at an almost cellular level perhaps, within the world in which we all live now.
I hope this goes some way to explaining why I work the way I work. I hope it helps you to become more curious, not only about my work, but about art in general and about abstract art in particular.
And if you’d like to read a story about where some of my marks come from, read on to my next post – The Evolution of a Mark.
Thank you for reading.