07 February 2023

Dreams and reality On Chesil Beach

As a creative person who believes in literature as a conveyance of truth, I almost always find more reality in works of fiction. I've been thinking a lot about how this relates to Painting over the past few years. 

I came to Ian McEwan quite late in my life, late like I've been late to nearly everything else in life, so it's no surprise that I've only just discovered his novel On Chesil Beach, that I recently found on the bookshelf which a friend had gifted me a few years earlier. 

But as a matter of fact, I've been late to many authors, late to many musicians and composers, even too late to some painters too. It's not surprising because I have been late to so many other important parts of my life; late to discipline and hard work, but also late to work, period. And I've been too late to love as well, way past my expiration date. I arrived much later than I would have liked at sobriety too. But like they say, better 'late than never' for that one. 

In any event I am not alone, there are many other latecomers besides me because Life is both difficult and quite complicated in this worldly space between dreams and reality. And even under the best of circumstances when life starts out for some in a cute pram off Regents Park, they can end up living on the streets in King's Cross. There are late bloomers too, some of whom spend their lives teetering on the edge of bar stools. And for too many in the Third World, life begins on a dusty dry road which they are then condemned to march for the duration. Who can say where any choices are made?

But how one awakens to the great Reality of what we call Life is also quite varied, and it's also kind of mysterious, especially as one ages, but then many of us for some reason, never awaken to reality at all, regardless of our age. To me Life is a great parade, marching in it, or watching it, oftentimes between the two. 

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 27 January 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

But, anyway,,, I love really good authors, not the cheap-reads but the ones who take us to a space where we can be confronted with Reality, the ones who show us where they fell and how got up again.

And this is equally true of the Arts in general, but I'm mostly thinking of how really good painters can also move us into this space of a wide reality through their own failures and successes.  

From the very first page of this wonderful and intimate book I was transfixed and transported back in time, to a Britain I had never even known. McEwan has the power of narrative and not unlike a great painter, he has a love for detail and mood. I highly recommend it for anyone, who like me, hasn't yet discovered this side of postwar Britain. 

Ian McEwan paints a picture of a complicated and unified order that is just on the verge of a social earthquake. I had seen lots of great British films, the edgier ones from the 40's and 50's that foretold the social unrest of the 60's to come but I had not read too many books about it. The 60's in every way, was a collision of several great forces that changed the landscape. 

Painting of course, changed dramatically like everything else as it went POP! But this movement seemed like a shallow display of ostrich plumage though I know many would strongly disagree. And hey! Who cares in the end? With perhaps the exception of Bacon and Freud, most visual artists went for the flashy gag which they managed to sell!! Silly money that made a few savvy investors wealthy.

But getting back to the world Painting, I ask always, how does a painter render a narrative, a voice, or a mood for instance? Is there a technique, or does it lie-in-wait, deeply inside a painter's soul for the right pictorial idea to surface at some point in his life? 

What I often think about in Painting is the specificity of detail that never bogs us down with tedium but lives in a generously grand operatic space. Ian McEwan paints this British social landscape with an eye like Chardin, but better yet, maybe Pietro Longhi with a twist of Goya thrown in.

Like a great writer, a great painter depicts the world at large by pulling it apart then only to piece it back together again whole and fresh as if by magic. The result is not a copy but an entirely new and believable world for the rest of us to experience. And with the subtlest of skill, his character development in On Chisel Beach pulls us into his drama within barely a few sentences. 

This reminds me of why we love Vincent Van Gogh's paintings so much. In front of his work we surrender ourselves obediently and give him the power to yank us into his feelings without a hint of defiance. He was that kind of painter, absolutely unique, he was a bonfire of feeling. Sometimes when I hear old scratchy recordings of Blues singers I feel heat from the same bonfire.

Don't we succumb to this because we have been seduced by his empathetic persuasion towards his characters like we do for an author? Both the artist and author seem to cast a spell over us, the really good ones are witch doctors while the bad ones are priests.

Lastly, and speaking for myself; why am I so much more moved by Truffaut's The 400 Blows than I am about my own childhood experiences of family life and boarding school? Is it not that Art pierces both dreams and reality by recreating the concrete out of our own abstract memories?

And what is it about truth and fiction in this space of memory in which we all live together, but separately? And how does a work of Art, a book or painting in these cases I have cited, possess the power to transport us to a particular place in ourselves that we recognise even if we have not yet been there? So many questions.... 

For your perusal and as a change of heart, a little like a tiny bowl of sorbet between gourmet dishes to change the palate, here are three different skies at three different times, from the same hand.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 1 May, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 30 March 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

1 comment:

  1. I must say, it has been a while, to me you are a blooming marvellous translator of life in picture and words