25 August 2021

un ange qui passe ici, mais peut-être, pas par là


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 17 August, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This past week has again left me with that sinking feeling that that Painting is an indulgent escape from a world in which there is just too much suffering, where existential uncertainty cloaks the world. 

I am thinking of Afghanistan this week. But there are so many disasters going on around the globe at any given moment one cannot escape their shadows. If it isn't Afghanistan, then it's Yemen, or Central America, India, or Manhattan even. Before the extraordinary invention of the smart phone we could live in a smaller world by choice, selectively choosing the size of our own windows. Disasters for the most part existed elsewhere, out there, and beyond if we were so lucky. Inside our own cosy lives we only feigned interest in death and destruction by maybe watching Samual Beckett's dark work in the comfort of a protected theatre. Basically, we want to avoid all this really existential stuff if we can. This has been our survival technique. 

This life of Painting (or Art) in the face of so much suffering has been a re-occurring problem for me. I think everyone has to deal with it in their own way, and some people are just more sensitive about this than others. And yet there are people, many even, who are happily oblivious to it.

In my first year in France, we read a few books and essays in French Literature, one essay was by André Gide. He wrote, as I remember years later, something which shook me to the core, (I paraphrase) -if there were even just one person left to suffer on earth, he would (could) not allow himself any happiness- (Ok, he was heavy,  like so many writers of the early 20th century France and smoked too many Gauloises) but this hit me over the head because it confirmed so many messages which I had received from my own childhood. And it surfaced every time I exercised a creative endeavour. But one cannot live like this, and I was suitably neurotic as a result. Then I changed (when I got sober), and I have learned to let go of this kind of thinking. But I am still sensitive like many people. How can we live sanely with a full heart in this cruel world?

So now, I do paint, but without all the guilt of my youth. How did I imagine that I was so powerful that I change the world anyway?? This is work for the Gods.

A woman in France wrote of the painting above: 'Un ange qui passe' which I found quite lovely and appropriate. The French have a saying that when a conversation ends, leaving everyone with a slightly awkward pause like there isn't anything more to add, then 'an angel has passed'. 

This (top one) was done last week. It was the last one of three studies made that evening. I enjoyed working it mostly because I had no idea what I was doing unlike the two (below) which were made barely 20 minutes earlier. In those two it was easy getting to the heart of the picture (the drawing), and I was able to finish them somewhat quickly.

But because of such uncertainty in pulling off this small study (top), it felt so much more rewarding for me. It is also clearly superior to the other two. 

Too often, in Painting there is always this moment of terrible uncertainty when one feels that they don't know what they are doing, fearful of destroying what they might be lucky enough to have already started but then clueless how to proceed, how to finish, how to put an end to it for God's sake!!

Unlike composing music or writing stories, one cannot erase or crumple a piece of A4 paper to begin over. Canvas is capricious. The mistakes one makes, if one is clever enough to hide them, simply become 'issues of style'. 

A painting done quickly is even more fragile. It becomes a divine craft propelling the artist forward without a compass but for their own intuition. It is a worthy vocation for anyone despite the state of the world. I have to believe this.


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 17 August, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 17 August, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

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