Monday, 29 June 2015

As I ask you to Focus on - Paintings about David Bowie

I have recently considered the validity of making some telephone paintings in the vein of Maholy Nagy as a means of exploring Art in the age of Mechanical reproduction. This is still a salient text but the title is anachronistic. I mean it implies some kind of delay whereas now the dissemination of an image is instant. Also with the arrival of the meme we have managed to weave our over awareness of imagery into language itself. This is Derrida’s idea of the trace gone literally mad if madness is life led by neurosis. I mention this because I think it get me close to the reasons I make paintings in oil on canvas, which in a chronological sense are even more anachronistic. It is understandable that  people believe that progress means that using a certain look of painting is not valid as a serious art form because its “been done before”. Sometimes we are more comfortable with a deliberately mechanistic strategy, which unmasks the fake universality of the individual mark of expression. My gut feeling is that we should get over this but that doesn’t stand up in the court of art. The idea with my painting is at least partially that there are still nuances of innovation to be explored within the painted language, which may lead to a liberation from the loss of meaning we experience and chose to fill with fear, anger, desire, hate, confusion, frustration, alienation and so on and so on. Picasso removed the sailor from les Demoiselles D’Avignon instinctively to make the work function on a totemic level. To imbue it with a self sufficient power in much the same way that the African carvings that inspired it resonate within the culture they were made within. The point here though is that placenta of western art had become separated from the wall of the womb and les Demoiselle was a one off which really did join art and life. However, this particular attribute of the painting was not what changed art but rather the breaking of the picture plain gave rise to Analytical Cubism as rationality got back in the driving seat (progress).

I am interested in deliberately making art that fosters an anecdote and the sharing of stories. This is not because I want to be a story teller but because I am not convinced by the idea that Art should be self-sufficient. Art in its inspired exhilarated form does not happen in a linear fashion so why should it be experienced in this way. Is it a homage to the pilgrim who approaches the icon with head bowed in a vacuum of reverence? This idea choses to over look that the pilgrim knew exactly what she was looking at and all the resonances around the image because it was still attached to the wall of the cultural womb. I’m not interested in how commodification has separated art from function because this is not a creative line of enquiry. However, the most famous contemporary work does seem to be attached to the cultural wall of commerce. It is generally work that resonates with the idea of cultures centrifugal energy around finance that gets the most attention.

My show of paintings made around the idea of David Bowie’s Life on Mars were about creating an atmosphere of shared experience and resonances. Admittedly some of them are more specialist than others as having grown up with a father who painted and taught art my relationship to painting is very personal. These narratives are not overt in the works because I want there to be space for shared experience. My paintings of an abstract nature are on one hand an attempt to make some art that I would like to see. Something that reveals the individuals nuanced relationship to skill and material without trying to hide this in a mechanised process or overt displays of virtuosity. You might look at my collection of representational work and semi-abstract paintings as a puzzle, which is only correct if you see poems and songs as things to be decoded (which I don’t). This brings me to the nub of what brought me to the keyboard. Am I trying to explain myself? I’m trying not to be in a position of explaining myself because this undermines the all-at-onceness of my doctrinal stance. I want to make work that I respond to along with the viewer (I recently told my painting father that at some point I always see painting like reading tea leaves, you have to imagine that your own work is really trying to tell you something). This position is a challenge to explain and I think I came closer to seeing its outline in the introduction to a book about The Beatles. This would make sense because music and (Beatles) records played an enormous part in how I learnt to make a cohesive idea of life. In Revolution in the Head Ian Macdonald describes Lennon and McCartney as “instinctive rather than rational, as artists” who rather than making songs with a sustained line of thought wrought them in a “collage spirit”. I am sure that this mode of thought is one I have absorbed as an elemental starting point for a group of works. It makes no sense to me to not have paintings that are outwardly dissimilar because I am interested in making a show not a style. A show is about “participation mystique” not entertainment for the sake of it. This connection to the primitive brain via “participation mystique” is what made the Beatles so popular. I thought about how the Beatles were careful to make lyrics that allowed the song to flow rather than demonstrate insight or intelligence.

The second revelation from Revolution in the Head comes from Macdonald’s deft skewering of the Post Modern idiom. I think it is particularly relevant in a book about the Beatles because they drew on so many sources with an innocence that prevented the bind weed of appropriation strangling the loving feeling. When starting out on my research I spent a few months both enjoying Derrida’s insight but developing a sense of misgiving at the grip its overly specific interpretation had developed on our culture. Macdonald describes a “malignant rot” (p.33), which had “spread through the western mind since the mid- seventies: the virus of meaninglessness”. He goes on to explain so effectively the rise of cultural relativism through the popularity not of Derrida but because the essence of Deconstruction suiting the trash aesthetic of the media and the philistinism of Essex Man. And so here I hope we find ourselves back at Life on Mars and David Bowie. For the story I told myself and tried to test the veracity of through my paintings was that David Bowie had infected himself with this virus so that we, his acolytes may catch a glimpse of freedom from Anomie and the symptoms of this virus of meaninglessness.

Returning to anecdote I was tempted to state that my paintings were haunted by the story that David Bowie might have become a painter had he not been a pop performer. But to say these semi-abstract images were his would have been trite and missing the point. However, the white space in the life on Mars video makes a perfect point about the terror of the blank canvas and the idea of infinity. I love how it illustrates the anomie of the song without being literal. This was the starting point for the paintings directly of him. My stream of consciousness paintings were a deliberate attempt to cut my way through a self-grown thicket of meaninglessness. This is their relationship. It also turns out that Bowie’s frst acting job was in the role of a young man who steps out of a painting to haunt the artist who painted it. Even more aptly it’s called “the Image”. The cover to Heroes was inspired by this 1917 painting named Roquairol by German artist Erich Heckel. Bowie said that Heckel was a big influence on him as a painter, which reveals yet another persona somewhat hidden from the mainstream media.

The point here being that as an Absurdist I return often to the idea of synchronicty and backwards causality not that my paintings are an attempt to reference Bowie’s love of Heckel. My paintings do look sort of old fashioned but I'm interested in trying to be culturally relevant through personal endeavour and magical thinking. I had a instinctive feeling that making work about David Bowie would lead to ideas about painting and bridging line of Life on Mars "as I ask you to focus on" is uninteresting fulcrum because yes in someways a painting does ask this of you but in other more mysterious ways it does not disappear when you are not looking at it.