Monday, September 14, 2015

House, St John's Wood, London; naive painting


House, St John's Wood, oil on card, 65 x 65 cm  NOT FOR SALE

This picture was painted back in 13 years ago in Hamilton Terrace, NW8, in North London. It's  a handsome street with grand Victorian Villas. 

Looking back on the paintings I did then, I sense that they were animated by an idea of how paintings ought to be made and appear, which in their insistent "correctness" might be described as naive

I did not think much about Rousseau at the time, but I see that they share a good deal with his pictures. There is a similar insistence on explanation, completeness. This is expressed through absolute clarity of delineation (note how difficult the natural messiness of foliage becomes to an artist with this mindset!). There is also an underlying sense of certainty about what a picture should do. Thus the images are unambiguous representations, usually placed centrally (none of the messy lopping off of corners or showing only half of a thing that you get in Impressionist art). 

There is a sense of certainty in how a painting ought to be executed technically, Rousseau followed the manufacturing conventions of nineteenth-century Salon painters such as Bouguereau. I had very clear notions of "truthfulness" which I followed rigorously - only working plein air, insisting that the piece was uniform in terms of finish, omitting figures, and ensuring that all parts of the painting "fitted together" (as opposed, for instance to the geometrical discontinuities of Cezanne).  These values often lend naive painting the qualities of furniture. Everything has to be very solid and make complete sense, like a farmhouse chair. Naive paintings are frequently heavily executed.

Behind all this is an absolute clarity as to the role of the artist in society, in which his function is very plainly to present and record for posterity the higher values of the day. I recall that when I was painting this picture I was convinced of the importance of my role as someone sustaining the art of painting (as if it were about to become extinct) and, moreover, the higher values of art. I was enthusiastic about architecture because I could see in it a clear expression of social ideals (married to design and practical skills)- thus my motivations were greater than mere subjectivity. In naive art the subject is chosen for it's obvious consequence (in Rousseau's case, such images as War (1894), or Liberty Inviting the Artists to Exhibit at the 22nd Salon des Independents (1906)). Indeed, Rousseau's art would be pompous were it not for the childishness of his drawing, which takes away the threat inherent in pomposity.

 One might observe that such self-important notions are commonplace among painters, and could be heard from representatives of romantic, modern and postmodern schools. I would suggest, in response, that what distinguishes naive painters is that while romantics might hold similar views of their own importance, their attitudes are coloured by anxiety; and the positions of post-modern artists are usually "ironical" (and extremely tiresomely so as well). There is little posturing among naive painters.


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