I didn’t know Atta Kwami well but our paths crossed occasionally over the years through his partner the artist Pamela Clarkson who I’ve known since the 1980’s. So it was a sad shock to see that he has passed. My thoughts go to Pam, a printmaker of distinction whom I briefly mentioned in my Cloughies Eyes blog.
One of Atta’s great strengths as a painter was his mastery of colour, something I rather struggle with. My solution has normally been to go towards pastels and darkness…though in the past decade I’ve tried to be bolder with my use of the palette. At the moment I’m working on three new canvases where, alongside the colour, I’m trying to let in the light too. Perhaps a response to the gathering gloom of late autumn as we hurtle towards winter. The first of them is finished I think and uses a fragment of text from July 1964, a poem by Donald Davie.
The generation of an idea for a painting, or a series of paintings, isn’t really that hard.Actually finding the form for the notion and then committing it to canvas or paper (or whatever other support you come up with) is a darn sight more tricky – for me at least.I sometimes envy those painters who go to work day after day (even year after year) knowing that it will be more rectangular stains or oily stripes or spots or whatever, and that these vehicles can encompass all their feelings for what they think the picture might stand for.
And as I come towards the end of a group of like minded pictures (occasioned by either a natural or practical conclusion) I start thinking about what may come after.But rather than moving forward with freshly minted thoughts it seems like one of those times to think about mining older shelved projects. So I’m toying with a set of canvases that will be based on the stack of collages made off the back of a trip to the Minervois way back in 2007…
But for the present here’s one that started out down in Dorset…text then from Robin Robertson’s poem of the same name…
‘It bites the cliffs, fondles the coast and swings away again out to sea waving, waving,making no promises” from the poem Its The Sea I Want by Elma Mitchell Off to a show ‘up north’ – details to follow.
I can’t really explain why this seems important right now but it does. So I’m reading a good deal, mainly poetry (of which I have a pretty decent, if rather ancient for the most part, collection). When a fragment takes my fancy and fits with the emerging form of the painting I’m working on (as usual there are several on the go) then it is plucked from it’s context and put to work around the edges.
How the originator might feel I do not know, but for the most part, so far, those chosen have shuffled off this mortal coil. In Tomas Tranströmer‘s case some four years back but I like to think he wouldn’t have minded too much…
So you like to think you can extract yer digit when required…but then you go somewhere that makes you realise what a hopeless slowcoach you are. Still here’s Priestly Acoreus, number ten in the water subset of my Landscape & Memory series. What with the first group of eighteen filed away, the eight others of this lot well advanced and fourteen of the eighteen of the final Rock lot underway not so shabby really (after all I only started this particular project a couple years back!). But of course I had to go and spoil it by visiting the Picasso at Tate Modern…and crossing Millennium Bridge on a fine Spring late afternoon I reflected on how inadequate me and lets face it, most of us are compared to real genius!
I’m occasionally rude about ‘stuffism’ – you know it…the bits and bobs artfully arranged, the texts, video, sound, etc. with ‘socially engaged’, ‘environmental’ and ‘action research’ labels. Very much what you expect from a pig ignorant dauber such as me. But – just like paintings, drawings and sculpture actually – there’s good, bad and so so in ‘stuffism’ so today I’m pointing you to something called art that could just as easily be historical research or – gawd help us – museum ‘interpretation’ but isn’t it is art…of – imho – the very highest quality.
I just came across it through the excellent Hyperallergic online journal and am now an avid consumer of The Memory Palace…with a lot of catching up to do. So try out this one that I’m sure is as close to great art as can be…and yes I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Met…but I’m pretty sure I never visited this room – but I’m also damn sure if I can get there again I will.
Imagine its around 1420 and a ship is sailing north, away from the leading Hanseatic League port of Bergen, having left Bremen or Hamburg some time ago, and making for Hillswick, its destination to trade goods for salted fish, lamb and skins. Although on the last leg of its long journey it espies rough weather from the west and puts into the natural harbour of Schaldewage or Scalloway as we now know it. At that time the place is part of the Norse rule of the Islands, in fact it is only a couple miles south of Tingaholm, the Thing, where laws are debated and enforced. Until a century and a half later when Earl Robert Stewart moves it to the town, where twenty or so years on his son Patrick Stewart (presumably before becoming ‘Professor Charles Xavier’ or Jean Luc Picard – ha ha) builds his spanking new castle in the ‘town’ and the ‘ancient capital’ of the Islands. The town sits on the bottom end of the Nesting Fault, a splay of the Walls Boundary Fault, itself possibly connected to the great Glen Fault.
So The Booth is situated in an immensely rich and interesting location. Literally on the edge of the fault, the Castle a few yards away, the water of the harbour right below our window. Do learning about any of these things influence the production of abstract paintings I wonder? I’m just one of many artists who occasionally talk airily about ‘a sense of place’…but what does it actually mean? I’m ploughing my way, painfully slowly, through Mary Jacobus’s Reading Cy Twombly (its a very rich and rewarding book but requires a great deal of contextual understandings!) and she quotes from Shelley “Naught may endure but mutability” in regard to Twombly’s Letter of Resignation. The line has resonances for me every time I look up and out into the harbour and the ocean road beyond it…the sea and its ever changing moods and cadences. And perhaps its that, more than anything, that creates ‘a sense of place’.
Given that it has been raining cats & dogs for over eighteen hours now there’s plenty of opportunity to get on with the work! So I have at last finished at least one piece to my satisfaction. It derives its title from both the context in which it has been produced (on the waterfront here in Scalloway) and a poem by the late Peter Redgrove entitled On Losing One’s Black Dog. The view from our French Windows reminds me a little of the time when, albeit briefly, I knew Peter as a student at Falmouth where he was, luckily for us, the Complementary Studies tutor. He was very finely attuned to the Cornish environment and spoke eloquently and imaginatively about the ‘Black Dog’ in its several senses, one of which (not the one referred to directly in the poem) concerned the melancholia that descends on all things Cornish in the winter months. After today’s performance here (see photo below) during August one can only imagine what mid-winter brings to the folk here on Shetland!