Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Art critics have often declared the "death of painting", much as literary critics have declared "the death of the novel".

As a vehicle for innovative thought painting is clearly a reduced force. It simply isn't easy to respond spontaneously to a medium which has such a long, distinguished pedigree. Even artistic trends which were once perceived as wayward, and radical are now weighed down with academic discourse. Abstract expressionism, for instance is now a considered tradition, with "masters" and "schools", as is Surrealism. And images and information about individual works is much more readily available. This means that when you're working on a piece it's hard to avoid making comparisons with the work of other artists- comparisons which "cramp your style".

And personally, I feel when I am working in other media, such as wire, or playing with paper a lightness and creative energy that can be hard to find when mixing paints.

However, in the right frame of mind, there really is nothing comparable to the expressive wit of painting. I mean, the delightful process of applying pressing a paint laden brush to a canvas, of mixing colours- the physicality of this is delicious. Although the painting I worked on yesterday (above) falls into the Kupka -Klee - Nicolas de Staël - Franz Kline school of geometric abstraction the physical pleasure of handling paint is enough to make it worthwhile, and its possible failure to explore new creative territory pales in significance.

For such sensory reasons alone- the pleasure of handling paint- I think that even if painting declines in importance, and ceases to be taught in art schools, it'll never totally disappear.

The painting above is a tribute to Paul Celan, and is titled, "Where did the road lead when it led nowhere?"

There was earth inside them, and they dug.

They dug and they dug, so their day
went by for them, their night. And they did not praise God,
who, so they heard, wanted all this,
who, so they heard, knew all this.

They dug and heard nothing more;
they did not grow wise, invented no song,
thought up for themselves no language.
They dug.

There came a stillness, and there came a storm,
and all the oceans came.
I dig, you dig, and the worm digs too,
and that singing out there says: They dig.

O one, o none, o no one, o you:
Where did the way lead then it led nowhere?
O you dig and I dig , and I dig towards you,
and on our finger the ring awakes.

by Paul Celan, from the 1963 collection, "Die Niemandsrose"
Translated by Martin Hamburger.

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