'A Necessary Aimlessness'

I can't estimate how often and how many people have looked at my somewhat abstract paintings and (very politely) commented along the lines of…”but I don’t know what its about”, or “I’m not sure how I should be looking at it”.

It makes me wonder…

I rarely say more than ‘is there some aspect of the piece that you enjoy perhaps?’, thinking that the colour palette or the painting’s light or dark might strike a chord.

I’d love to hear more.

When I look at abstract pieces made by other artists, I respond to what I’d call their energy. And that may be a result of the nature of the marks they’ve made and the colour composition.

But this piece isn’t at all a ‘How to look at abstract art’.

I can however, share words written by more articulate writers than myself:

Jeanette Winterson in ‘Land’, on the general subject of ‘art’, offers….

“A lot of art is made while wandering about, either in your mind or on foot. It’s a necessary aimlessness….. the antithesis of goal-oriented… how-to manuals and inspirational talks. It isn’t organised…… (it) slows us down because we have to stop and spend time with it, not glancing or skimming… not looking for diversion.”

I like that. Necessary aimlessness. It describes fairly well how I feel before beginning a painting. I may have visited a site, maybe quite a few times in fact, and sketched there, noticing what it is about the place that particularly draws (!) me. I might also have a relationship to that place…I feel at home for instance, pottering about in the clutter and mess of boat yards. I may know something important (to me) about it: the threatened status of our coastal saltmarsh habitats.

Back in the studio, all of the above, will be shifting around in my mind. The sketches, may or may not provide a beginning, but what happens next is something I don’t seek to precisely control. A customer recently said to me that when writing, she needs her conscious mind to get out of the way. As soon as I begin to think about paper or wood, oil or watercolour, brush or palette knife, I am responding to some element of the subject that has impressed itself upon me.

My recent oils on board (“Black tar and rust’) for instance, are very dark, a joyful expression of my love of the old black huts at Southwold Harbour. Balanced with rusty reds and strong bright blues and ochres, the paintings convey, I hope, something of my joy in that messy and busy place.

Overall the on-going process is one of standing back, looking until I can see what works for my eye and what doesn’t, and what I want to change and how. And so it goes, slowly discovering the composition bit by bit, until it really is saying… yes: thats the place, the feeling, the light, the energy.

Jacky Bowring in ‘Melancholy and the landscape’ says:

‘Abstract art…. provides a challenge for the viewer to look within themselves for a reaction’. And quoting from Magritte: (people), because they don’t understand what they are supposed to think when they confront the painting…. (wanting) something secure to hang onto… to be comfortable, …. (they) hunt around for a meaning to get themselves out of (the) quandary, and save themselves from the void’ (of not ‘knowing’).

Remember, none of this is a claim about ‘the right way’ to look at abstract art. Its just an attempt to take a tour around some of what, for me, goes into making an abstract piece.