Saturday, 29 November 2008

On Beauty

As a painter I am very interested in the way things look. Likewise, when I write I consider carefully the aesthetics of the words I choose and the allusions they create.

For those of us whose day to day business is the pursuit of what might be regarded by some as light fancies or vanities there are many misconceptions to navigate beyond and pitfalls to avoid.

Beauty is both objective and subjective- being a virtue we all seem to admire yet likewise being in the eye of the beholder and so forth. There is something universal about the beauty of the sunset, the spring blossom or fluffy kitten but our taste in painting seems to vary from person to person / culture to culture. We might say that beauty is both subjective and objective: subject to personal choices and preferences whilst working within an objective framework of absolute values. What are these values?

The Greeks understood beauty in terms of symmetry, clearly illustrated in the geometric order of their pantheon. Plato described beauty in terms of the harmony and balance of aesthetic order deriving from advancements in the understanding of mathematics, physics and philosophy. The Greek system of aesthetics greatly informed the thinking of the Modernist abstract painters and minimalists of the mid to late twentieth century such as Mondrian, De Stjil, Donald Judd, De Kooning and their infamous champion, art critic Clement Greenberg, in their quest for an absolute aesthetic.

Many of our popular notions of beauty are still influenced by the Greeks but the Greek notion of aesthetics should not be confused with biblical concepts of beauty. The Greek system of aesthetics moved beyond the visual language of architecture, art and design towards a higher meta-narrative. We should be careful not to confuse the Greek notion of beauty in metaphysics with God who transcends all. Whilst the bible affirms the absolute values of harmony, balance and order (we see this in the Genesis 1 and God’s creative method) it likewise gives great dignity to fallen humans who are a broken reflection of the beauty of God. If you over invest in beauty in the Greek sense you will eventually come to loggerheads with the gospel which recognises not just ugliness but also the noise of children and the beauty of someone singing out of tune.

The bible makes a distinction between aesthetic beauty and redemptive beauty.

In Genesis 2:9, before God describes his trees as “good for food” he first declares them, “pleasing to the sight”. The visual qualities of his creation are declared good along with the rest of the universe. God is clearly interested in the way things look as well as their function. Rachel, Sarah and Esther were all noted for their beauty.

In the bible, notions of beauty is aren’t just limited to formal aesthetics. This is where God’s word has much to our contemporary creative culture, cutting deep to the false values we place on how things look on the surface. God’s word also describes beauty in terms of redemption.

In Revelation the church as Christ's bride wears beautiful garments. These beautiful clothes aren't from Armani - rather, the beauty is the good deeds of the saints. In Proverbs the woman of noble character isn't noted for her looks but rather her godly character. Why do we sing of the beautiful Saviour? We sing of the beauty of redemption.

The arts can serve to enhance our lives, enlarging our understanding of God and His creation and offering glimpses of hope to the lost. Where the arts reflect the redemption of Christ they are at their most beautiful.

Paint Thin Boy Paint

Follow a Painting in Progress

Four weeks into the residency and finally I'm painting!

Monday, 24 November 2008

Tea, Prayer and Painting

Today has been fueled mostly by prayer and tea. Three weeks into the residency and an idea for the final work is emerging at an encouragingly rapid pace. Paul and Richard (two of the church leaders) have just left the studio after a very helpful discussion on how its all going.

I decided to make the central figure of the painting a woman to reflect the high demographic of Mums and toddlers who come in and out of the building for one of the weekly nurseries and mothers groups. The Factory also hosts the Options pregnancy resource centre.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Working Sketch

Last night at the studio in the Factory we enjoyed something of a consultation about the ideas so far. Thanks to those who came and for your contributions. This working photo-sketch is the closest I have for a working drawing of what the final piece might look like and below - an image of what it might look like in position.

Imagine the background of the painting to be a little mute in colour, allowing one or two of the characters to stand out in vivid colour. I've been working on the idea of representing those who are 'alive' and in Christ and those who remain under God's wrath but showing this as an everyday scene in raynes park where no-one really knows who is who. The working title of the painting is onean(d)other. What do you think? CAn you imagine this as a painting?

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The Fear and Expectation

Monday morning I arrived to the studio to find one gargantuan canvas all wrapped up in cardboard. All primed now and ready to go. Writers talk about the fear of the empty page. For painters it's much the same - the intimidation and expectation of the blank canvas.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Painting and Theatre, Light and Dark

When I walk into the Factory it reminds me of the theatre. There's something very dramatic about the broad sweep of the auditorium and the layout of the chairs all facing forward towards the stage.

A few strides from the main door of the church, the centre of Raynes Park is equally theatrical. The wide open space in front of the train station and Starbucks looks set for some kind of event, framed nicely by the backdrop of houses and shops.

Painting and theatre have always enjoyed a mutually inspiring relationship with artists like Degas and Toulouse Lautrec painting behind the scenes at the theatre and painters David Hockney and more recently Jamie Hewlett designing stage set for opera.

Both disciplines employ light and dark as a means to creating a sense of dramatic reality and likewise both are concerned with issues of colour, composition and visual aesthetic to create space and atmosphere.

How might Raynes Park might be used as a kind of backdrop to a painted event? What might that event be? Perhaps the busy comings and goings of commuters, friends meeting and lovers greeting. Perhaps the stage is set for an event of John 3 proportions, where those in Christ as illuminated or alive in contrast to those still in the shadow and dead. Painters have often used light as both a metaphor and a compositional device. Here, I wonder if a late night twilight scene might evoke a sense of the coming return of Jesus and the glory revealed through the light of Christ as the judge of all men. Some remain in the light and embrace it whilst others are exposed in the darkness. Some are in fear and trembling. Others ignorant or in denial. I've never made work with an overtly biblical theme before and rarely seen contemporary art that does it sensitively and credibly... so there's the challenge!

Resident What?

Two weeks into my residency at the Factory, it's going well and I'm encountering all manner of stimulating questions and dilemmas. The staff have been brilliant in accepting a strange arty lad into the fold and we're enjoying a good working relationship. Here's a few sketches so far.

Artist Residency at The Factory, Dundonald Church

I've just started a new job as the artist-in-residence for The Factory which is the main building for Dundonald Church in South London.

In the spirit of artistic endeavour I’ve decided to hijack my own blog for the next couple of weeks. As well as the usual stuff I’ll be using this site as a kind of artists journal, chronicling ideas and images as they emerge from my studio practice at the Factory. If you’re willing, I’d love you to join me in this new adventure. Please do feedback your thoughts on the work over these next two months and any ideas they stimulate.

What’s the job? Essentially, I’ll be making a painting for the main church auditorium that reflects something of the values the church share and want to communicate to visitors. The painting will hang on the large side wall that greets you as you enter the main auditorium (above) and will hang beside a quote from John 3:36.

At this stage I’m obviously very excited about making work for the church but also, if I’m being honest, absolutely terrified having never made work for a church setting or with a religious theme. The challenge is to make art in collaboration with the church whilst retaining artistic credibility. I’ve been given a cracking studio space (below) and there’s no shortage of ideas but time’s going to be a factor. I’d really value your prayers for this project and please do keep tuning in.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Beyond the Horizon

Hearty thanks to all of you who came down to my exhibition last week in Camberwell. I was very happy with the work and a joy to show with Jonathan and Charles. You should really check out their websites linked to the right.

Quite a few people took an interest in the Japanese paintings. If you didn't make it to the show here's a little background info on these paintings.

"In Denial of Horrific Events" (below - oil on canvas 190x160cm) documents the centrepiece of the theme park, Gulliver’s Kingdom, near the village of Kamikuishiki, which shut down in 2001 when the bank financing it collapsed. The 360,000 sq metre park, based on episodes of Swift’s novel, was built in 1997 as the village sought to shake off its notoriety as the base of Aum Shrinrikyo, the sect which released lethal sarin gas on the Tokyo underground in 1995.

"Shadow Beneath Mount Fuji" (above right - oil on canvas 65x54cm) juxtaposes the outline of Mount Fuji - traditionally used as a symbol for eternity in Japanese art - with the peaks of a temporary hospital cum market set up over the original meeting sight of the Aum Shrinrikyo suicide cult.

The Scottish Interface in Pictures

When Will It Ever End?...

Well this painting is fast becoming the longest endurance race of my painterly career to date! I think I've been working on it for over five months now in repetitive cycles of destroying and resurrecting it. Perhaps it's time to give it a rest for a few months then come back to it with fresh eyes. In the meantime I've been working on new paintings including some of the above. Sometimes it's hard to know whether a painting is within a hair's breath of completion or a few weeks off yet. This one will need to stay as it is for now. Any suggestions?