Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Before the Party

Before the Party was painted back in 1993, when I was living in Maude Road, in Camberwell, London.

It shows four men- three are dressed to go out, while one remains in bed. He is ill, or sleeping. A putto urinates in one corner; there is an elephant, a fantastical bird and a giant snail in the room too. A demon lurks behind the bed.

It was a breakthrough painting for me, bringing to a close several years of doubt about what sort of creative art I should be doing. I had graduated unhappily, knowing somehow that the art I'd made for my graduation show did not do what I knew in my gut art should do, which is, in Hamsun's words, to reveal the "unconscious life of the mind".

I'd been oscillating uncomfortably between art that was essentially impressionist and art that was very directly autobiographical and illustrational for some years. I'd wanted to incorporate elements I'd gained from the sort of literature I like - (fables, fairy tales, Kafka, Bulgakov and Waugh) - into my work but hadn't been able to find a format. I think I'd felt embarassed about how close my work was to children's book illustration, as if that wasn't sophisiticated enough.

The themes of the painting are friendship and strangeness and death, but I do not understand it entirely myself. I made it very instinctively, following no sketch. I think sometimes art is made like sleepwalking, following deeply set patterns of movement and consciousness. Perhaps it's a false idea that art can be "understood", anyway? No-one would talk about "understanding" a game of football or a plate of asparagus, other sensory experiences.

Artistic breakthroughs are solutions, but the solutions they bring bring problems, -artists often get stuck repeating the same solutions for their entire lives (the worst case being Chagall, I think, whose work turned into a a series of catch-phrases with the same forms, colours, settings, faces and hands used over and over again from 1930 until his death in 1985. Miro likewise, alas). For me the risk was that I would do "room" paintings forever, and I baulked against that, going on to produce a lot of architectural pictures in a sort of realist style, while continuing to work on these more idiosyncratic images.

It was painted at an odd, lonely juncture in my life, but after I painted it things improved for me, at least temporarily.

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