Artist’s Statement September 2017
“Gold in the Mud”
When you first look at a stranger, you tend to see only their main features. So it is with my work: the initial response will be to the colour, composition and texture. But look more closely, “get to know” the particular piece, and you will see countless marks and ciphers scored into the surface. As with experiences that shape a life, these range from random to deliberate, half obliterated (discarded/forgotten) to more obvious and indelible (retained/remembered).
There are initials and dates, as written by people on walls throughout the ages. I have been recording old graffiti in different countries for many years, moved and inspired by the way they provide such a personal connection with the hand of whoever made them and such a direct link with the past. The18th century equivalents of “I was here” can be seen in our village church. There are also crosses inscribed on a pillar, thought to have been made by Crusaders.
My ways of working with what I call “Wall Fragments” are constantly evolving, most recently incorporating chalk in the ground, which makes it easier to inscribe than plaster on its own. I collect lumps of chalk from the South Downs nearby and grind them to a powder with a mortar and pestle.
The “Wall” concept first came from looking at ancient walls in old Greek villages which are annually whitewashed but still bear the imprints of the passing years. This has become for me an apt and meaningful metaphor for the way life marks, and sometimes scars, us. We continually remember and forget but some things never go away. I use my artistic experience and intuition to tease out the right composition and create a unique beauty from what I see before me, however rough, misshapen and unpromising it may at first appear. To quote Baudelaire; “I seek gold in the mud”.
Artist’s Statement February 2017:
My work has been described as “in the stream of Modernist Abstraction”. It explores surfaces in two different ways. In the one, evocations of light on the surface of the sea emanate a life-giving energy or ‘prana’. In the other strand of my work, each piece is itself a surface, like a close up section of a time-worn wall.
The meditative wave upon wave of the ‘Seascapes’ looks different from the ‘Wall Fragments’ but the multilayered way of making the latter is similar. I replicate the patina of age: the surface is built up in layers which are successively scored,obliterated and overpainted; the process corresponding to the imprints of experience and loss, the workings of memory and forgetting.
In his poetry, Baudelaire sought “gold in the mud”. From the mess of random marks, including initials, dates and symbols as observed in old graffiti, I seek an aesthetic order; a meaningful shaping of the indelible and an equilibrium unique to each piece.
Extract of a letter from a friend (2016)
I felt a real connection with the paintings. I have been thinking, over the last week in Rome, about immortality through Art. There were so many poignant messages from the past engraved in stone in the museums we visited. Your recent paintings/reliefs bridge that gap between ancient and modern. They speak of the past but are very 21st century. They have an enduring quality.
“Oh, that I may join the choir of immortal dead who may live again” Although, George Eliot wrote that about her writing, I feel that it can apply to painting too.
I first started making what I call “Wall Fragments” in response to the time worn walls of villages I visited regularly on Greek islands. Looking closely, I found them just as interesting g visually as the more obvious beauty all around. I make textured surfaces which I repeatedly score and scuff, drew and paint on, then overpaint; thus replicating the random marks made on the real walls and their annual whitewashing.
Metaphorically, these works signify the processes of time: imprints of human experiences: the things that have marked or injured us, the things that happen to us by chance and are then obliterated by forgetting and the things that have marked us so deeply that they cannot be eradicated.
A major commission that I completed in 2014 was of 12 large oil on canvas paintings for the restaurant on the top deck of P&O’s new cruise liner Britannia. Although sharing the same general source i.e. the light and environment of the Aegean, and many superimposed layers, those were of fine oil glazes on a very smooth surface. This kind of work has been described as having a meditative, calming quality.
My subsequent return to developing the “Wall Fragments” was fired by the visceral effect they have on me. The process of using plaster which I work on while it is still setting, as well as afterwards, keeps me very alert, in a state I can best describe as “painting mindfulness”. The methods entailed, which I am constantly inventing and developing, make me feel fully alive in an exciting, physical way and they allow me to say more. Though possibly less accessible than the ‘seascapes’, they are truly mine. I am finally following the advice of my tutor at Wimbledon, Prunella Clough, to “be less polite”.
An important part of my working process is the conscious ‘shaping of the indelible’. That is to say: seeing how all the different random marks, lines graffiti, numbers etc can make formations; a kind of symmetry, an aesthetic order reached for intuitively. It is a way of making sense of the apparently arbitrary and random, a way of making meaning.
I am mindful of Baudelaire’s aim in his poetry to ‘find gold in the mud’ and also of Racine’s motto:” faire quelque chose de rien” The use of minimal means to maximum effect.
I deliberately use simple materials and basic tools.
Sculpting tools I have inherited from my grandfather, who came from a long line of monumental masons/sculptors, have been useful for scoring and working into the plaster. I can remember as a small child seeing his men engraving lettering in marble and I have always been interested in handwriting and developing my own. This way of working enables me to incorporate this as well as elements of language and poetic concepts derived from my first degree, in Modern Languages (Cambridge) which was mainly literature.
The move to a very old house, with its patina of nearly 300 years of dwellers visible on the uneven and asymmetrical walls all around, has no doubt also contributed to the feeling of rightness about this new body of work. I have also long been interested in old graffiti i.e. marks made by ordinary people, to testify to their existence or for other reasons, and have recorded them over the years with photos from different places and countries.
Our village church happens to have 18th century graffiti and also crosses scored into pillars which are said to have been made by Crusaders. The same kinds of crosses can be found in other local churches and in Chichester Cathedral. In chapels in Normandy, I have found many drawings of ships, some dating back to the 16th century, scored into pillars. It is presumed they are votive offerings, made by sailors for the safety of their vessels. I find running my fingers over these graffiti strangely moving, as they are such a direct link with people long gone, but sharing the same urge as myself to make their mark.
I hope that the people who see my own wall paintings/drawings will similarly share a sense of connection, and will themselves not be afraid to touch them.
MG updated 01/2017