29 June 2022

doubt is our passion


Evening Prayers, Brunswick Heads, 25 June 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This delicious study came to me the other day because each week Facebook throws up memories on a certain day of the month from years past, almost always on the same day of the month, hence, June 25 2020, 2019, 2018, etc, etc going back five or six years. It's an interesting window, a commercial one no doubt but one which I have come to appreciate over time as one can see old things anew. So, to my surprise, this one came up the other day and it really gave me  a jolt. 

Since I began this series I have struggled at times (most of it) to find something from this motif which really knocks my socks off and will carry me to the stars. To be honest, I schlep through so much muddy failure that I have sometimes felt like a German soldier stuck outside of Stalingrad during Hitler's failed attempt to conquer it in 1944. Thankfully, it's subtropical here, but failure is still always failure. 

And yet once in a while, I do manage to succeed beyond my own still obscure and yet to-be-detected visual ideas, my inchoate longings "to settle things once and for all" in this creative loop. This one study has everything I have been looking for in the motif. How to describe that feeling? I am suddenly reminded of something Henry James once said:

"We work in the dark, we do what we can, we give what we have , our doubt is our passion, and passion is our task -- the rest is the madness of art."

What I do like, most importantly, is that there is nothing in it which bothers me, there is no fault with it, all the ingrediants have come together as when a chef has created the perfect meal. Its colours are right and they are balanced in both value and hue, and these create 'the drawing' of the picture which has given us just enough of any idea to understand what we are looking at out in Nature.  And yet it is fluid so unlike a realistic likeness which, frozen in time, cannot breath into the wind nor exhale the clouds. The picture is also flattened, compressed like an excited candy bar, wrapper and all. This flat quality is everything I have been secretly coveting since finally 'seeing' Matisse only a just few decades ago. As a painter I came to him late in my life because I didn't know how to jump off Van Gogh's cliff and survive. 

Moreover, I see all of my painting heroes in this small unpretentious study. Of course, I am grateful that I am the author of it, but if I saw it anywhere, on any wall, celebrated or otherwise, I would run to it like a child does to a happy and furry dog. I just love the immediate feeling of joy in this painting. It sings, and I can say this because it is so rare that I have been able to get it right for myself. It is the feeling of surreal clouds at sunset, and for at least once in my life, I managed to get it right. And, it is not locked to the horizon line but can exist beyond it.

But I do not expect anyone else to feel the same exuberance or surprise as me yet at the same time I would certainly wish for it because for me this is what Painting is about; a communication of non-verbal feelings, not about relaying messages. I think this kind of art lives in the shade of humanism and no longer under the shadow of the Church. Today, messaging is best communicated by tweet.

Painting like any other art form is a uniquely personal experience so unlike the messaging of ideas too often shared cerebrally, almost with banal excess and without much of a commitment to any emotional investment. 

Painting and non-fiction literature have so much in common despite their different means of conveyance. A good picture is like great fiction because it’s invented, made up. And every novelist knows that fiction, like a great painting, has more truth in it than real life.

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