Sunday 23 October 2016

Giants in Thimbles VII - Principium et finis

'A Walk Through H' by Peter Greenaway is one of my favourite short films. The film is roughly 40 minutes long and tells the story of an abstract journey using a combination of one vocal narrator, the music of Michael Nyman and a series of 92 maps which hang on a wall. Like all of Greenaway's films, it moved me in the first few minutes. 

060820162014 Catalpa bignonioides, Watercolour on paper, 13 x 19cm
Work in progress

This is what Peter had to say about the short film:

"The map is an extraordinary palimpsest to tell you where you have been, where you are at this present moment, and where you could be, and even in subjective tenses, where you might have been, where you could have been. It’s a total consideration in the sense of temporality as well as spatiality.

Map from 'A Walk Through H.'
'A Walk Through H.' would suggest certainly a question or a query of what 'H.' stood for. I am sure that one will not have to travel very far before coming up with the notion that it could very well stand either for Heaven or for Hell, also in consideration that one man’s hell could be easily another man’s heaven and vice versa. So here is a presentation of a series of maps that would lead the soul, if you believe in reincarnation, from the moment of death to the nether place whether that indeed would be heaven or hell.  In this film, armed with his ninety two maps, an ornithologist makes his journey from this life to the next."

041120151203, Poplar x canadensis, Watercolour on Paper, 1m x 1.20m
As the pieces are finished and the process of painting is steadily grinding to a halt, I am beginning to focus more on the other elements of the collection, such as the book and soundtrack. My original idea was to line the linen bound book on the inside with a star chart, but I have in the last few weeks changed my mind and am now looking at maps again. In Spain they make these fantastic military maps which are a bit like the Ordinance Survey in the UK, only much harder to get your hands on. In true style of the Leafscape project and 'A Journey Through H.', there is this mysterious map shop hidden somewhere in the back streets of the old Arabic quarter of Granada. It's location is elusive. It seems it is the type of place you accidentally come across only never to locate it again in your lifetime. I myself have never seen it, so I might be in luck. 

As a consequence, I am thinking a lot about maps at the moment, their meaning and what it is to observe and experience something and then to map it out. I am beginning to feel that a map is not only a means of representing space, but also of time and presence. Through a combination of art forms - drawing, writing, music and film 'A Journey through H. does exactly this. The entire film can be found following this link, although I do recommend buying it.

041120151613, (Morus nigra), Watercolou
on paper, 13cm x 19cm, Work in progress

Whatever will line the inside of the Leafscape book, it'll be a map of sorts, for maps are codes and therefore anything can be a map. The sequence of our DNA to climate change models. They are all maps. Maps are abstract because they only contain what the recorder wants to put in it and can be interpreted differently depending on the observer. They are representational abstractions and a surrealist fantasy.

Art's concern is the edge, and the making of a form out of the 
formlessness that is beyond the edge. (Oliver, 2016)

300620161138, Acer sp., Watercolour on paper, 13 x 19cm
Work in progress

When I look at any standard geographical map, I always take notice of the boundary lines. When I watch 'A Walk Through H.' I consider them too, but as I start to slowly understand the nature of the journey the maps are taking me through I begin to think about the metaphorical boundaries, the ones I cannot see, that haven't been drawn out.  Where is H? Where is this soul migrating too? Where are we all going? Then I am less concerned about the roads and footpaths and lines drawn on each piece of paper and more concerned about the edges of the paper. Like a medieval monk, I become anxious that we might fall off the edge of the flat papery view of the world. I manage to convince myself that the edge that marks the end of the sequence of 92 maps marks the biggest boundary of all. 

Everything will flourish at the edge . . . (Derrida, 1987)

080120161247, Platanus x acerifolia. Watercolour 
on paper, 13 x 19cm, Work in progress

When we paint on a piece of paper we are aware that we are working inside the matrix (space) that is held between the edges (usually 4) of said piece of paper. The world we are depicting however, be it imaginary or real, isn't like this - there are many edges in our three dimensional reality and the vista extends outwards on and on and on. What we do as painters is to distil a piece of that vista into a tangible boundary marked by four edges, and these edges will eventually work to frame the picture, but not limit it. In this capacity, the edges of a painting act not to close off but to open up possibilities for the emerging image (Casey, 2014). They act not to exclude further brush strokes but to expand their reach as the edges are where the picture meets the real world. Therefore it is really important that as painters we are aware of the power of these edges and what they can do to transform our work. 

Come to the edge, he said. They said: We are afraid. Come to the edge, he said. They came. He pushed them and they flew. (Apollinaire)

041120151708, Catalpa bignonioides, Watercolour 
on paper, 19 x 13cm, Work in progress

To understand the edges of the paper and of reality is to understand the bit inbetween the edges of the paper and reality. The two features require each other in order to exist - take away the edges and the in-between is amorphous. We need edges in order to define, but that defined shape is still organic - it can still take on a myriad of forms and sizes. There is no strict measurement for the area in between the boundaries. As painters we are aware of this every time we represent something. Any representation of the real world needs both edges and gaps to be present. History happens in-between the edges of things. It is in this space where art is created, philosophy is conceived and political actions emerge (Casey, 2014).

Respect the edges (Pavitz, 2007)

Section of leaf 100820151542

As I mentioned in the first chapter of Giants in Thimbles, I consider the edges to be very important in this collection, but at the time I wasn't fully aware of why. In Leafscape, the leaves often get chopped off and are placed on the margins of the paper. Right at the very beginning I thought that they just represented my feelings towards my own existence - of being on the margin all of the time and not being able to claim my space, or of even wanting to. But then some leaves did start to claim their space, but ended up being too big for that area, so even though they were in the middle of the painting, bits got chopped off. In plant terms, that's my botanical dystopia - them not being able to grow freely in a human world, but in personal terms its my feeling towards my own life. I am trying to find my landscape, I am looking for that place, which is always on the edge, on the horizon, and as I look for it, I unwittingly create a map of my own existence.

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. 
At the edge of perception, weird things dance and howl. (Boroson, 2015)

Leaf 080120161241 Platanus x acerifolia next to leaf 100820151542 Catalpa bignonioides.

In two weeks time I will be drawing a line on my invisible map from Granada, Spain to Haselmere, UK, where my framer is. The three massive paintings are being put inside a van and driven all the way to England. These three beasts are going to be difficult to frame - we just can't get big enough mount board, so it might be that the leaves really do outdo supply. Painters have always agonised about how to frame their work. They are after all where the painting stops and a different world begins (Hodgkin, 2003). The frame affects the work inside and outside the space. Frames let us know where the artwork is, they contain the art from a logical view. 

Don't be afraid to step into the unknown 
(Lyrics to Come Down to us, Burial)

301020151949, Poplar x canadensis, Watercolour 
on paper, 13 x 19cm, Work in progress

Immanuel Kant thought that frames were necessary to make a painting what it is. He felt that if a painting didn't have a frame, it wouldn't deliver on its role in transporting us as viewers. That the unframed painting would look too 'made' and too much as a mere 'object' rather than a 'portal'. In this vein, the frame can belong to the painting just as much as it does to the wall. With this in mind, we begin to see that frames actually have the ability to totally deconstruct space, even beyond wall and picture. They are the Venn diagrams of the art world. The image in a frame exists in a world of its own, yet it also touches on ours. The leaves in Leafscape are precisely that - they exist within their boundary in their own worlds, but they touch our own and extend into a void we cannot see.

Beyond the edge of the world there’s a space where emptiness and substance neatly overlap, where past and future form a continuous, endless loop. And, hovering about, there are signs no one has ever read, chords no one has ever heard. (Murakami, 2005)

080120161240, Platanus x acerifolia, Watercolour on paper, 19 x 13 cm

David Hockney was the first person to bring me into a space where I begun to consider edges and frames more seriously. For twenty years I have remained a huge fan of his photomontages (or what he calls 'joiners'), mostly because they show what an edge actually is. You get to see how the edges mark time and space - the inbetweeness, and how in our world, there are many edges. I often feel that Hockney's joiners are the only non-digital, two dimensional thing out there that describes our reality fully. Now of course, we can find Hockney working with multiple camera lenses in a single moving picture, which is broadening his first concept - frames within frames. 

100820151540 Catalpa bignonioides, Watercolour 
on paper, 13 x 19cm, Work in progress

As I begin to concentrate on my next collection I am starting to consider moving onto board and not using frames at all, thus pushing us all to consider the edges even more intensely. The magical thing about being in the 21st century is that you can do this. Exhibitions are now being curated in a way that space is left around works so that the actual room or wall begins to act as a frame. Exhibitions are no longer jam packed like they were in Edwardian times. Curators now give us breathing space, like the universe expanding, the edges are getting ever further and further away. 

Of this there can be no question — creative work requires a loyalty as complete as the loyalty of water to the force of gravity. (Oliver, 2016)

301020151943, Acer pseudoplatanus, 76 x 56cm, Work in progress

I am now painting my last piece in the run up to seeing the framer. Rather like in 'A Journey through H.' I have journeyed through 34* leafscapes to arrive at my final destination - a Sycamore leaf from Bognor Regis, my home town, collected in a park I used to play in as a child. I am nicknaming it 'Honey Sandwiches', it seemed apt. The real leaf itself is a maroon tinted stunner. I remember seeing it on the floor and pressing it there and then in between the pages of a book on quantum physics, forever trapped. But my journey doesn't end here, at home or with a sycamore leaf. I am not a medieval monk and the world is not flat. I believe life is like a spirograph, it just simply keeps looping around. All I've done in the process of searching for a home to call my own is to arrive at my childhood. I have painted a complete circuit and now I am already off again on a new circuit; the next project and who knows where it'll take us.

Principium et finis

180820161420, Catalpa bignonioides
Watercolour on paper, 13 x 19cm

*There are 34 paintings: 3+4 = 7
Chapters of 'Giants in Thimbles' = 7
Exhibition opens on the 16th: 1+6  = 7
Exhibition closes on the 25th: 2+5 = 7


Boronson, M., (2015), The Girl with Ghost Eyes, Talos Publishing

Casey, Edward, (2014), The Edges and the In-Between, Unpublished essay

Derrida, J., (1987), The Parergon - The Truth of Painting, Bennington, G. and McLeod, I., (trans.) Chichago, Chicago University Press pp 37 -82

Duro, P., (1996) The Rhetoric of the Frame: Essays essays on the boundaries of the artwork, Cambridge University Press. Cambridge

Eastham, A., (2011), Aesthetic Afterlives: Irony, Literary Modernity and the Ends of Beauty, Continuum

Goffman, E., (1979), Frame Analysis. Pennsylvania Northeastern University Press

Hodgkin, H. in Daoust, P., (2003) Edge Trimming, The Guardian, 2nd January 2003. 

Kant, I., (1790), The Critique of Judgement, Meredith, J, (trans.) Oxford. Claredon Press

Little, S., (2004) 'Framing Dialogues towards an understanding of the Parergon in Theatre'. PhD Thesis. 

Murakami, H., (2005), Kafka on the Shore, Vintage Publishing

Oliver, M., (2016), Upstream: Selected Essays, Penguin Press

Parviz, M., 'Ten Guidelines for Painting', unpublished text of August, 21, 2007