Monday, 21 September 2015

"Ideas in Progress" aka "what now..."

To the non-artist there often seems to be a certain mystery to the way an artist works. Perhaps this is partly because it is usually just the “finished” artwork that is presented to the viewing public. The process from inspiration through distillation to realisation is mostly hidden as it takes place in the artist’s studio.

However, one of the aspects many of us love about working at the Glasgow Print Studio is the communal, open access nature of printmaking that goes on there. Recently I was at an informal "show and tell" with many of the new-comers and regulars when I was asked which direction my work would be taking next. I had to admit that I wasn't really sure.

But chatting with others while looking at their own work in progress made me realise again how important it is to just "put in the hours", to simply turn up for work when inspiration is slow or on holiday somewhere nice and sunny.

Although the eureka moment does sometimes happen when we are not thinking about stuff, I also believe that sitting around and staring out the window isn't always the best way to solve any of my art problems, enjoyable though staring out the window may be. It was the wonderful John Byrne who, in a recent interview said something like "Inspiration!? That's for amateurs...just get on with the work".

So over the last few months I have been making an extensive suite of small-scale A5 sized mixed media collages without aiming to have presentable or finished works of art. Initially I was just having fun and putting in the hours…turning up for work and seeing how it would all pan out. I had also started noticing a few of my oldest works, some of which I had uncovered when I was packing up my old studio last year for the big move. I’ve been kind of back-tracking or reviewing it from a distance of many years, more than three decades in fact.

It’s the first time I have ever done this but I actually spent time studying and analysing some of my oldest work. I began to question what I had then that I don’t have now, which enabled me to make such raw and edgy marks, images and compositions? How do I relearn and recapture that? Searching for those answers lead me to start some more collages based on the really old stuff.

These, and a selection from the A5 series are what I’m launching on-line for you.

But enough of me staring out the window writing blog posts. Maybe I'll go for a run, focus on nothing much and wait for a eureka moment, or maybe I'll just get back to work. Difficult decision. The trouble is, both sound like fun.


Monday, 29 June 2015

"We don't inherit the world from our parents, we borrow it from our children"

When I was thinking about what to write for this launch I thought about the final paragraph I wrote in my last blog post (“one day peace will come…On that day we will all have to ask ourselves what we did for peace…did we capitalise or contribute…). I question that if we have borrowed this world from our children, then what kind of a world are we going to give back to them and to future generations?

Don't we just seem to be making the same mistakes over and over again? Are we going to leave a fragile and fragmented world destined to a history repeating itself?

Or do we learn from our past mistakes?

Recently I re-read Thomas Cahill's The Gift of the Jews in which he demonstrates that one of the major contributions to the civilised world from this historical tribe of semi nomads is developing the belief in a future that could be different from the futile cyclic repetition of predestination (the general Mesopotamian and Egyptian beliefs at the time). It was a monumental shift in thought, believing that we can take an active part in shaping our present and also what is yet to come. And I found that very encouraging.

But in our modern world it also seems that frustration, marginalisation and disempowerment can push many to the point of believing they are justified in taking the law into their own hands. And this is only made worse when we label atrocities such as the massacre in a South Carolina church as perpetrated by a "lone wolf". It allows us liberal types to rest easy, to shun our collective responsibility especially when the lone wolf is a white guy. If he is anything other than white then he can be conveniently be labelled “thug” or “terrorist” and as such we can act (militarily?) to defend ourselves. But this white guy is a loner so we mourn with the bereaved but also shake our heads and get on with life. But take note. He may not be part of any particular group but in fact he shares a widespread and dangerous ideology with many larger and more powerful organisations, influential individuals and Governments.

Are we finally waking up to the realisation that we have to become an "inclusive" society in order to survive? I keep coming back to those two words again. Compassion and coexistence (blog post of 14 May 2013 below).

"We actually need to recognise that Britain in particular (has) a kind of moral responsibility when we have left certain states [or individuals?] behind in a very unstable situation. I want my country to be governed by those who are prepared to look at the faces of the desperate, be it the desperation of the asylum seeker or of the food bank client, and to look at them with compassion." David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, UK. we learn from our mistakes? Absolutely, because it seems we can now repeat them almost perfectly.

About the new works...

"To see the truth as others do" has as its central image what is known as a Christian Kabbalah. But as Kabbalah has its roots in Jewish mysticism it struck me that this may illustrate the propensity of one religion superseding another, where it deems the other religion redundant, dated or perhaps heretical. Nothing new there. It also hit home that the cultural destruction and devastation that ISIL are inflicting on our heritage throughout the Middle East is also nothing new...wherever we look in the world. We've been there, we've done that and seems we keep doing it again, and again. This artwork is a call to open-mindedness.

"Illuminatus – obscuratus" translates as "having been illuminated - having been covered" again playing around with how we “interpret” the truth as we see it. The triangle shape enclosing the Hebrew, Arabic and Greek logos/letters also hints at the idea of exclusiveness and initiation in relation to knowledge or relationship (the opposite of which is inclusiveness; something that as both a printmaker in open access studios and regular at our community church I strive to practice).

 In the Name of Revelation is a mixed media work on gesso panel, the content and format of which was governed by looking back at some of my very old Italian inspired work from the mid 1980’s. It also contains quotes from the writings of Julian of Norwich.

“Truth sees God and wisdom contemplates God, and from these two comes a third, a holy and wonderful delight in God who is love”.

The gate image on the left intrigues me. Is a gate there to keep us out, to keep us in, or is it something we can (choose to) pass through to another (physical, emotional, spiritual) place?

The printed Gothic text is from an illuminated Gutenberg Bible. This is actually one of the rare occasions that I don't actually know what the text I am using says! That for me seems a precarious position to be in but in this case I felt that the text would be virtually illegible and also dominated by the presence of the quotations. Therefore its presence is purely visual in this work.

The recurring saint image is based on a Simone Martini icon in the Siena Pinocoteca Nazionale that I was particularly drawn to.

In both ancient and modern times the Hebrew tradition forbids the writing or vocalizing of the name of G-d (known as HaShem or simply “the Name”). The Gothic letter “G” is a representation of this.


Thursday, 29 January 2015

"Freedom of speech is not absolute and responsibilities are attached to it..."

Living in the liberal western world where it is regularly taken for granted, I support the right for freedom of self expression. But although I may support the 'right' to do a particular thing, I hope I will always question if, given particular circumstances it is in fact the right thing to do (or say).

"Freedom of speech is not absolute and responsibilities are attached to it and more so when those living at the margins are subject to racism and discrimination. We should defend free speech but doing so while listening to the voice of the voiceless living in our midst..." 1.

This probably seems old fashioned, but whatever happened to "consideration for others"? Whatever happened to putting someone else's wellbeing on a par with our own perhaps even with some sacrifice on our part? Is demanding our right without consideration for others the right thing to do or as I've said before, is it not one of arrogance that says "this is my right and you are going to have to live with its consequences"?

Demanding our rights to something may indeed bring us into conflict with others whose rights are diametrically opposite our own. We can witness a battle of extremes where, for example, "on one side, freedom of speech is sacred. On the other, for all those who believe, religion is sacred" 2. Sadly it still needs to be said that although both have the right to defend their respective values, both are absolutely wrong to impose those values and views upon others.

So pervasive is our indignation at the attack on our Western liberal ideals of 'freedom' how many of us remember now, or even realised that the very first victim of the murders in Paris recently was a Muslim, a Frenchman, a policeman who, outside the offices of Charlie Hebdo died defending the right of those inside to continue insulting, and in my view irresponsibly caricaturing his religion.

Freedom of speech is a powerful tool but used selfishly can easily become a powerful weapon. With freedom of speech we should seek to "ask the right questions - the questions that need to be asked - rather than accusatory ones that fuel the stereotypes that have originated in mainstream media" 3. We can seek to build bridges of mutual respect and understanding therefore negating the need to defend our own position from attack.

With freedom of speech we have been given the responsibility, opportunity and tools to narrow the gap of misunderstanding and conflict, not to widen it.

The new artworks

Although I hadn’t planned on releasing these two new works until later in the Spring (as part of a larger body of new images), I felt that it was relevant to do so in the wake of the Paris atrocities. A friend of mine who lives in Jerusalem loves all things that start with  "keep calm and..." so, having added my now familiar tag of 'coexist' this became the title of the first new work. She and her husband are an inspiration for seeking the wellbeing of others. This piece is dedicated to them.

The second work is called "Orphans in an Orphaned Land" and was also finished well before the events in Paris. It is a graphite drawing and contains, perhaps somewhat prophetically the Latin term lex talionis; the law of retaliation. It was Gandhi who said that if everyone practised 'an eye for an eye' the whole world would go blind. However, no one deserves death for drawing a cartoon regardless of how intolerant and insulting it may seem to have been.  So perhaps limiting an eye for an eye, a cartoon for a cartoon may well serve as justice in our sometimes self-centred liberal society. Also written into this work is a second dedication "to all the children of Yitzak and Ishmael"

“One day…peace will come to our troubled region. On that day we will all of us have to ask ourselves what we did for peace. Did we capitalise on the conflict for political gain or did we contribute something of value to give hope to the region? Did we build boycotts or bridges? Did we pull people into a dark and primitive past, or help them envision a better future?” 4.

Shalom aleichem, salaam aleikum, peace be with you.

1. Yasmina Khadra. One of the most celebrated authors in France today whose real name is Mohammed Moulessehoul. He is Muslim and was born in Algeria, where he served in the military.  

2. Hatem Bazian. Senior lecturer in the Departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at Berkeley University, USA

3. Khalid Albaih. Sudanese artist, political cartoonist, illustrator, designer and writer.

4 Daniel Taub. Israel's ambassador to the UK. Source: Jewish Chronicle