I expect that I may have been unsympathetic when pupils have played the “don’t feel inspired today” card. I now know how unfair this must have (sometimes!) been. Nonetheless, I have treated the word ‘inspiration’ with the same disdain as those same pupils who used to mock art teachers’ use of the word ‘unique’ …. red thesaurus opened.
I have to admit that I found great incentive today in the British Museum, first in the ‘Germany divided: Baselitz and his generation’ exhibition then in the Study Room in the Prints and Drawings department. My moment of insight came when I was looking hard at a Gerhard Richter ‘Untitled’ ballpoint pen drawing in the show. He (probably) traced his drawing from Johann Tischbein’s famous portrait of Goethe in the Roman Campagna, painted in 1787.
I was consciously looking for examples of line work that I could refer to help me with my attempts at painting lines, which have been occupying me artistically. My twin technical aims – to expand my brush control while using limited colour and to walk the literally (in this case) fine line between drawing and painting, are all well and good but I don’t seem to be adept enough t0 apply these approaches to be able to say something more universal. Specifically I am trying to paint something about how we view paintings of the figure, and consequently how our preconceptions, expectations and more visceral (or at least biological) responses to images of the nude are keeping pace (or not) with our status as inhabitants of our global village, in which political, societal and cultural tropes must be challenged fundamentally. As I have mentioned before here, I am trying to look for some sort of painterly language that is up to this task.
Suddenly, my attention was engaged by a coincidence in the words on the helpful notes provided under the Richter drawing by the British Museum (I have just started reading Theodor Adorno’s Aesthetic theory):
motivation followed. A revelation. My vision had arrived in the nick of time, not directly from the Adorno namecheck. In Aesthetic Theory, he is concerned not only with beauty, but also with the relationship between art and society. He does not feel that the overtly politicized content enabled by the semi-autonomy enjoyed by art is a strength. Instead he invented “truth-content”. His aesthetic theory locates truth-content within the art object, rather than in the perception of the subject. His dedication of the book to Samuel Beckett is perhaps a clearer indication of his interest in the value of formalism. I have to include Barnett Newman’s fabulous aside that “aesthetics is for me as ornithology must be like for the birds”, quoted in the translator’s introduction to Aesthetic Theory. Having noticed this reference, I looked at the drawing again, enjoying the scribbled numbers sitting so well around figure and realised that this was the next logical step for me – to include the written in my line paintings as well as the drawn. This afflatus seems to be to be that this extension of the idea is inevitable, given my drawing from Degas’ sculpture, from his wonderful green study of dancers (again, a year later).
This awakening is all the better for providing a structure and a direction for my line paintings:
Making large paintings from my own slight life studies, often quite small, has already led to ‘Caught Old Degas’
a work very much in progress. Now I can work in colour from his green work above (also working from painted lines for the first time. Removing the pre-occupation with the colour palette has allowed me to concentrate on the found line and to enjoy the unity of such a seemingly simple language. In fact, painting by pinching out lines with the (pictorial) background colour (white usually) is harder but so much more coherent than painting the lines on later (Degas and Picasso excepted).
These Picasso linocuts are being exhibited at the British Museum in the adjacent space to the Baselitz show. I know this linocut well, but again the colourways printed from his reduction prints at each stage seem now to be pointers towards a painting language of lines.
I can use clumsy photographic details to explore the signature, the embossed name, the edge for starters. I am very much looking forward to refining this approach, towards how I can render pencil, ink, paint and charcoal lines more sensitively, while working in reverse – painting just the negative spaces almost entirely. Photographic accidentals will be part of the game.
This was probably all started when I came across these at the Gagosian in Britannia Street. Here Baselitz is engaged in an extraordinary homage to Willem de Kooning, using his own self-portraits to conjure up the essence of someone else entirely …
Across Room 90, this by Markus Lupertz:
had this revelatory signage:
To finish with another Howard Hodgkin quotation:
“Matisse was very clear about saying that you have to blow your own trumpet and explain yourself”
perhaps a strap-line for WordPress?
… now to paint.