31 May 2023

My audience is me and Monet

 Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2 April 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

I have been peeking at this picture for weeks now and wondering why it has such a hold over me ever since I found it in the photo library and dropped it on the desktop. Since then it seems to stare back at me. 

My diary tells me that it was raining a lot last year in this first week of April 2022 when the picture was made, and also that I had only had just three days of sun at the beach. The 'Blooms' were good but short and they dropped off quickly like Russian dancers at the end of their number when they hastily vanish off stage in darkness. It also tells me that I am preoccupied by the war in Ukraine. What would I have thought then if I knew of the destruction to come over the next year? Though I’m listening to Brahms's Intermezzo a lot that week, to maybe sooth my heart it tells me almost nothing about this painting.     

But this week, about a year later, I see something in it I really like. It occurs to me also that like so many of my things, it may be just too simple, possibly too boring for most viewers in this synthetic visual world of today. This contemporary scene is really congested with so many charged images and ideas that I wonder if such simplicity could possibly attract a public whose taste appears to run towards entertainment.

In truth, I typically paint for a small circle of friends but in the end, my audience is really me. Recently, I was asked by someone about how I could keep working from the same motif over and over again for several years at a time to which I found myself replying like a true mountaineer:
"I climb this because it's there".

And to a great degree this is the truth though like many truths it is somewhat more nuanced. When I paint for me, I also mean for all the painters, all the ghosts whom I admire, both still alive and deceased. 

In the French film I loved from long ago, "Tous Les Matins du Monde", a master cellist, broken-hearted after the death of his daughter, he retires to become a recluse and he refuses to play for the Court of King Louis XIV. He tells a young protegĂ© who badgered him about why he wouldn't come play for the Court. He explained that he only plays for the dead, and the unborn yet to come. I've thought about this line for years now because I, too, feel a supranatural connection with all the masters who came before me, and to all those unborn who will follow. I am surely not alone, I imagine that many different arts and crafts exert the same spell over each of their practitioners. 

This of course may scream of either megalomania or high melodrama, but truthfully, I was sincerely moved by this idea since I heard it in the film and it still stirs something inside me. It spoke about an historical lineage, but or tradition, something that for an American is confusing because we appear to operate in an open, circular system which, depending upon the vocation, spits out the past with an ease that shocks the rest of the world. Europeans, Japanese, Africans, Native Americans, all the older cultures of the world around us find our obsession with this American 'Manifest Destiny', a little too scary. We Americans seem too comfortable at habitually disposing our past in favor of our dreams for the future, one that never allows us this present moment. 

So I’m really curious about Art on a bigger scale, one that has a voluminous history, a world-wide one that has formed us, informed us, it has shaped how we think and feel, unconsciously, or by consciously ignoring it and offering us the Present. 

Although I like to think of my own quiet, discreet work as linked to the past I also think to the future, to where I might fit into this lineage of Art too. Leo, my teacher, always described this history like a large and special family, one that criss-crosses religions and cultures, histories and geographies up and down through time, a family large enough where its members share familial traits, even mannerisms across continents. This idea too, has worked inside me for decades,  and it too, has a future. 

Thus, I hope this little study which I like very much, can squeeze itself into the lineage of Painting History and find kinship with other larger works, ones certainly more grand and more visibly available in museums everywhere than in my small home on the Pacific coast of Australia.  

And just as I think of myself as linked into a communal past, I am also plugged into this mysterious place where I believe Painting can still go into the future. For somehow, I have this crazy idea that Painting could be re-attached to Nature if one can find the abstract means to navigate through the conceptual mine fields strewn over the international contemporary landscape. 

As I write this my thinking drifts over to someone like Claude Monet whose acute vision was formed by working from Nature from an early age. His vision expanded outward, certainly as much his ample waistline during his lifetime, and by the end he was able to create one of the mightiest works ever made by a painter; Les NymphĂ©as at the L'Orangerie in Paris. There he fused Nature to Art, compressing it into eight large heroic curved panels.   

After seeing them a painter might feel appropriately discouraged. But then he/she really should feel that discouragement, perhaps even be devastated by the truth, beauty, and grandeur of such a work. We are small next to this kind of artistic achievement and this is exactly as I think it should be. But at the same time it also foresees a future for us, one quite possible, if we could only find the bridge back to the past but for that we need humility, especially us Americans.

My little offering above is a fragment, but if it's a tiny fragment from such greatness, then I should happy.

No comments:

Post a Comment