Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Lost Estate

"Sentimentality is when it doesn't come off – when it does, you get a true expression of life's sorrows." Was Fournier’s response to an accusation of said soppiness from his friend, the critic, Jacques Rivière. When I was painting the footballers from my childhood I was aware of the danger of leaving myself open to perceptions of sentimentality and in many respects this is what drove me on. Not out of sheer contrariness (although that always plays a part) but because I have made a pact with myself to follow hunches in my work. My hunch here is that this deep ache of longing is a real part of being human and not something to be drilled out of one’s system. The way to capture this is not to revel in it but to coax it out into view somehow. In the central room of my exhibition - Trope - there is a triptych I embarked upon about the time I bought the book le Grand Meaulnes. The title of the book has been awkward to translate and the English version is called The Lost Estate. Ah I thought a book with the name residents give to the estate I live on with my family in Dulwich and I snapped it up just in time to flee the shop and jump on the number 37 back to said estate. Later that week I was driving to my studio and Julian Barnes was on the radio discussing the above novel. He clearly found its lack of irony troubling. It was as if he saw this passion as a thing of the past and not a universal thread. Being an historian he saw the relevance of this manner of expression of longing for something lost as stopping at the First World War. The phrases on the bottom of these footballers came from listening to what I felt was his struggle to accept the psyche as an independent entity. “Romanticism is no longer possible” “But then I’m a realist” and then he added later that the writer Fournier was “Half passing through reality” before he went on to be killed in the Great War (mystery still surrounds the circumstances). To follow rational ends would mean that all art is an irrelevance in the face of global suffering but we are not merely rational beings (witness the Jubilee celebrations a surrogate ritual of sentimentality if ever there was one). To see ourselves as such would be akin to seeing the man poking a fire in the living room hearth as a coal miner. My work is not all about this half feeling of longing rather it is, amongst other things, about “how do I accept this longing as part of me in an age that sees it as a thing of the past?”

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