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SEE

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Appetite and decay

Animal instincts in the 

paintings of 

Francis Bacon

Colm Toibin

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Reproduced from the Royal Academy

website

https://www.royalacademy.org.uk

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 As a curtain-raiser to the exhibition Francis Bacon: Man and Beast

(January 29 - April 17, 2022) the celebrated Irish writer, Colm Toibin, encounters one of the most renowned and unsettling of Irish artists

In literature, the dream of being an animal creates stark and memorable narratives, mixing grim comedy with unrelenting nightmare. In Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, for example, or the short novel by the filmmaker Neil Jordan, Dream of a Beast, or the man/animal poems of Thom Gunn, the male figure senses a body within his body struggling for a more intense, authentic and earthy life. While all around him the genteel world conducts its affairs, in the shadows, or in another room, the animal stands poised to display itself with a mixture of shame and sudden self-delight.

 

Finally, a man has permission to say or show who he really is. Beware. In Kafka’s story, as in many of Bacon’s images, the animality of the figure is disguised or clothed or kept in check. Gregor Samsa, in The Metamorphosis, realises when he wakes “from uneasy dreams” that he has been transformed into an insect, but, as he contemplates his new state, he does not panic all the time. Sometimes, he thinks that he will soon be running to catch a train and continue his life as a salesman. He is surprised that his family are shocked by him and wish to shun him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Bacon’s Figure Study I and Figure Study II, from 1945-46 (thumbnail), for example, or his Three Figures and Portrait, from 1975, the sense of animal in the figure is both exposed and concealed. The drama comes from the same source as it does in Kafka, in the gap between the clothed human and the snarling figure hidden within the clothes.

 

In Kafka, there is always a sense of parable. He is demonstrating, with considerable subtlety and irony, the gap between social veneer and some dark hidden space within the self that is vulnerable, shivering, afraid, but anxious also to emerge, to be seen and known. The conflict in his work is between what is ordered, rational and what connects to fears and longings that cannot

be easily named.

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Kafka’s work is filled with pre-Hitler premonitions, as though he is an alchemist or a prophet, a writer whose psyche has been darkened by knowledge of what is to come. Bacon makes most of his paintings in a time after the Second World War, a time when philosophers and writers confront man’s isolation and the forces of evil that lurk energetically within the self. Even Bacon’s earliest works, such as Crucifixion from 1933, have the figure on the cross as a sign of helplessness and cruelty rather than something that might lead to redemption. 

As well as writing about the insect that lurks within us all, ready to surprise the world, Kafka also wrote a story called Investigations of a Dog, told from the canine perspective. His narrator, of course, can use language, so his doglike condition is provisional. In the way he speaks and notices, he is also human, even though he does not notice actual or genuine humans. His efforts to make sense of the universe are absurd, and their very absurdity mirrors the efforts humans make to come to terms with the meaning of life. Kafka’s dog often seems more humorous and decent than Kafka’s humans, but this does not make his dog noble or wise.

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When dogs and chimpanzees dominate the canvas in Bacon’s paintings (Study for Chimpanzee - thumbnail), two things occur to us. The first is that the artist has now come clean about his concerns. He has stripped his figures of their human costume and made them bare, and all the more present for that. The second thing is that he has placed his beasts in an arena normally reserved for his human subjects, thus giving them a comic dignity. 

Neil Jordan’s novel The Dream of a Beast, published in 1983, mirrors Bacon’s work in the way it explores the solitary male figure, uneasy in any social setting but even more uneasy as he looks outwards into the dark. In the novel, it is as though the protagonist had been covered with a mask that is now fading. “I felt a sudden terror that the whole of me was about to be laid bare. Whatever adjunct of our persons it is that maintains this demeanour, it was slowly leaving me, I realised that now.”

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That realisation has also come to the male figures in Bacon’s Study of the Human Head, or Study for a Portrait, both from 1953, or his Portrait of George Dyer Crouching, from 1966 (thumbnail). It is not merely that their pose suggests the animal within, but the way they are painted also shows and dramatises what is human about them, until this sense of them as individuals who feel and see, who live in knowledge, who suffer in ways that animals do not, comes to the fore

very powerfully.

Thus we have the tension in all of Bacon’s paintings between the isolated solitary figure, fearful, self-aware, and the same figure as snarling, predatory, ill-intentioned, chilling. Bacon is playing the human against the animal, playing intelligence against instinct, playing vulnerability against brute strength.

In August 1937, Samuel Beckett, in a letter about the work of the Irish painter

Jack B. Yeats, offered his version of what the human figure in painting can achieve: “The way [Yeats] puts down a man’s head & a woman’s head side by side, or face to face, is terrifying, two irreducible singlenesses & the impassable immensity between… A kind of petrified insight into one’s ultimate hard irreducible inorganic singleness. All handled with the dispassionate acceptance that is beyond tragedy… Simply perception & dispassion.”

Although Bacon’s paintings evoke human isolation and dramatise the savage in battle with the self, Bacon does not ask us to pity his figures. His image, as Beckett puts it in his account of Yeats, is dispassionately made. The vision in Bacon is unsparing, pitiless, stark.

While his figures are captured, on display, pinned down, this does not mean that the images Bacon creates are stable, easy to read, all surface work. His energy as a painter suggests a rough and dynamic interior life for his subjects. This struggle can be witnessed in the very way the paint is applied, especially on the face. The figure in Bacon is created with both textural energy and tonal variety. It is filled with work. This allows his human figures, including his portraits of women, to emerge ambiguously, to have a sort of suffering dignity, as well an animal response to fear and pain. The vitality comes from this doubleness. 

But it is still not true to say that Bacon’s paintings of men and women have both a body and soul. Rather there is an outer body guarding or concealing an inner beast. The English poet Thom Gunn explores this idea of an inner beast evolving and emerging, living close to the skin. In his poem ‘Tamer and Hawk’, he sees a human relationship, filled with images of power and dark sexuality, through the metaphor of man and bird of prey:

You but half civilize, 
Taming me in this way. 
Through having only eyes
For you I fear to lose, 
I lose to keep, and choose
Tamer as prey.

In Gunn’s ‘The Allegory of the Wolf Boy’, the boy “open and blond,/Breaks from the house”. Soon, “spikes enter his feet: he seeks the moon.” By the end of the poem, he “Drops on four feet. Yet he has bleeding paws.” In ‘Moly’, the man has become a beast: 

Nightmare of beasthood, snorting, how to wake. I woke. What beasthood skin she made me take?

These poems by Gunn dramatise forms of energy and self assertion. They deal with the self as a mask for some inner set of strengths that emerge as a kind of power or do battle with more gentle and social forces, and win. In Gunn’s ‘Rites of Passage’, the poem’s own diction replicates the new certainty and sense of masculine toughness evolving as the man becomes beast. The poem opens:

 

Something is taking place.
Horns bud bright in my hair.

And soon:

My blood, it is like light. 
Behind an almond bough, 
Horns gaudy with its snow,

I wait live, out of sight.

The ‘I’ here is both ominous and vulnerable, the voice is both confident and hushed. From this drama between man and beast, Gunn finds complexity, images that remain unresolved, as the figure remains powerfully unresolved in Bacon’s work. There is a sense of primitive pain in Gunn’s beast poems and in Bacon’s figures that border on the animal, but are experienced by a creature who has known language, howling out a word rather than a cry, or a cry that has the persistent memory

of a word. 

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Bacon likes the simple idea that flesh is meat, but simplicity is never enough for him. His figures may look as though they are born to hunt and forage, but their wildness includes a sense that they are in possession not merely of instinct but dark knowledge. Their quest is not only for food or blood but something unnameable and unobtainable. Bacon’s task is not to give them symbolic value or have them on the canvas as metaphors; they must be real and particular, they must be fully themselves. They must menace the viewer with their duplicities and their strangeness. They suffer in a way that is particular.

In the paintings, Bacon sets out not to represent, but to find hidden energy as he deforms the image, twists it, smudges it, moves the brush closer and closer to see what might emerge. As the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze writes, Bacon “dismantles the face”. In working with the image of the animal, Bacon is not interested in “the animal as a form, but rather the animal as a trait.”

Bacon’s paintings are a kind of anti-Darwin, playing with the possibilities that evolution moves sideways and backwards and inwards. His faces are distorted, uncomposed, unplacid. He liked figures crouching, bending, darting, snarling, screaming, pouncing (Triptych – Studies of the Human Body, 1970). Their surface life is all disturbance, a disturbance that moves inwards. In most cases, they are profoundly alone, and, as Beckett would have it, terrifying in their irreducible singleness. 

 

Pain in Bacon’s work is registered not just on the face itself but on the pose, on the way figures seem to flinch and smart, shrinking away from something. The pain is felt by the animal, even if the animal comes in the guise of the human. Bacon realises the visual possibilities of the hybrid form, the biomorphic form, the weirdly erotic shape, the strange body part. His men, women and beasts share an emphatic appetite. Bacon likes teeth and is fascinated by the shapes the mouth can make.

Bacon began to put monkeys into his paintings in 1949 when he painted Head IV (Man with a Monkey), a sombre image in which both man and monkey seem oddly merged. His Figure Crouching, from around 1949, has a man’s head but the pose of an ape. This occurs also in Crouching Nude and Figure, both from around 1951, Crouching Nude from 1952, and Study of a Nude, from 1952-53. In Figure with Monkey, from 1951, the man feeding a caged monkey could almost be a supplicant. Behind the criss-cross wire, the monkey dominates the picture.

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In this same period, Bacon made six large paintings of dogs. The first one, from 1952, shows a snarling mongrel in a green circle, more menacing because of the calm road in the background with a single palm tree. Man with Dog, from 1953 (above), has the man as mere shadow, palpable absence, his proximity emphasised by the lead. It is the dog who dominates the picture, all coiled, moving, it seems, towards the grating beyond the pavement. The scene is made in washed-down muted colours that create an abstract landscape except for the line of the pavement, the grating and the dog.

Bacon’s animals do not resemble humans. They are given their full animality. On the other hand, even his paintings of Popes look as though their fear and hunger are visceral before they are spiritual. What excited Bacon was not the idea of this but its visual possibilities. For him, the time had passed when a figure could pose as civilised and at ease in the world. His genius was to work with this idea of man and beast and make images from it that are not only disturbing but visually arresting, and not clear in their meaning, but fully strange, astonishing the nervous system before there is time for the intelligence to resist their impact.

Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, Royal Academy of Arts, London

January 29 - April 17, 2022

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A magnificent experience

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A memorable fusion of the art and setting in one of  England's great cathedrals

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Something truly visionary has been happening at Wells Cathedral in the early autumn of 2021, as Europe started to emerge from the darkness of the Covid pandemic . You might expect something truly visionary from one of Europe's great palaces of worship, so often caught up in the story of the nation. This spectacular yet warmly welcoming church was dramatically rebuilt more than 800 years ago, as the first cathedral in England to fully adopt the Gothic style.  One of its bishops had been Chancellor of England in the reign of Henry VI, as the Hundred Years War with France finally ended in defeat. Another Wells bishop was elevated to the role of Archbishop of Canterbury, in the tumultuous seventeenth century. But he was beheaded for treason for so fiercely attacking the Puritans. And back in Wells, Cromwell's warriors used the cathedral as a stable, taking pleasure in smashing some of the most beautiful stained glass ever made. A few decades later, troops supporting the Monmouth Rebellion tore lead from the cathedral roof to make bullets, and then entertained themselves by firing cannonades at the stone carvings on the unique West Front.

In our less violent century -at least domestically- Wells has become famous the world over for the quality of its choir and its extensive role as a champion of music. Now it seems ready to achieve another cultural distinction. The cathedral has not only opened its doors but has cleared its decks to welcome a visual arts exhibition of memorable quality.

 

The Wells Art Contemporary 2021 was surely one of the best shows around, in the moment of post-lockdown euphoria for artists and public alike. A steely eye might suggest that the art on display could not really match its profoundly impressive surroundings, but that is hardly a fair comparison. Very little could.

 

 

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Dominic Weston  Flip Flop Films

What seems clear to me is that, working together, the cathedral and the artworks generated a magnificent experience. The wisdom and open-heartedness of the Dean and Chapter had a lot to do with this. It takes courage and, yes, vision to give artists the space and occasion to engage with a large and mostly general public, in such emotionally-charged surroundings. This lofty building inspires lofty thoughts, and intense feelings. But there was no lecturing and sermonising on display. The Wells Art Contemporary exhibition was a varied expression of free thinking, as most good exhibitions are. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dean and Chapter certainly deserve credit for the imaginative leap of their support, yet the full honours must go to a handful local artists and art enthusiasts who had the bizarre idea of focussing an international art competition on the smallest city in England. Wells is a city that has the character and the size of a small market town. If you took the mighty cathedral away, along with its associated school, you would hardly have a town at all, but that did not stop Kate Noble and a handful of friends from having big ideas.

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Kate Noble New Years Day Floods 

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Kate -now sadly deceased- was the first person to voice the idea of establishing an international art contest in Wells. She was a painter who produced impressive work in defiance of a severe impediment to her sight, so establishing a prestigious competition was no challenge at all for her. Yet even Kate would have been surprised that her idea could grow so quickly. In 2021 there were 3,000 entries from close to 50 countries - just a decade after her initial proposition  

 

The number of works selected out of this process was about 120, which is one-in-twenty-five of the original entry. The rest instantly became rejects. That figure provokes in me the nagging doubts that I have always had about art competitions. Immediately the artworks are judged, categorised, discriminated against. Inevitable maybe. But for the best?  And best for whom? 

 

I was a member of the WAC committee in the early days. My main responsibility was the website. I had joined the group with certain misgivings, which increased over the two years I was a member. I have long been ambivalent about competitions, and by the end of my brief stint I was confirmed in my dislike of them. As the web designer, I saw the hundreds (as they were then) of entries. I saw them as the judges saw them, low resolution files of artworks, accompanied by brief descriptions. Even then, the entries came from far and wide - each of them begging for attention and affirmation. For me one of the worst aspects of the visual arts game is that there is so much of this begging for attention and affirmation. It can make artists endlessly feel, and often react, like neglected children. This is a demeaning and unedifying process, and I wish there was a better way.

 

Standing among artists on the WAC prizegiving day, when most of then failed to win the much-desired accolade, was very unpleasant indeed. Not least because they seemed to have been awarded or rejected for no particular reason that I could fathom. Why was this better than that? The given reason rarely convinced. This was not really the fault of the judges. Their opinions are invariably valid and interesting  it is the fault of the whole enterprise, any art prize.  Judging art from on high, sometimes using criteria that are idiosyncratic or even perverse, is not a laudable occupation. Art, I still strongly believe, is an act of communication, stimulation, inspiration etc., not a race nor a beauty contest nor a prizefight. There is enough jeopardy in an artist's life. There is no need to increase it.

 

Of course, I am aware than an art competition is hardly gladiatorial combat. Nobody dies. Yet, for me, it is the verity antithesis of what art is for, and about. Or should be. I used to work in international television and, before that, journalism. Both are forms of mass media that thrive on jeopardy, vulnerability, aggression and pain, often in the name of entertainment. But the jeopardising is not usually directed at the makers of the work. Most certainly they can be bloody and unsatisfying arenas for creatives to perform in, but at least there is some kind of rational economy, a system in which to function, with a sense of possibility  of continuity, of growth. The art world is hardly a system at all. It generates a gigantic amount of activity but so much of this output is disconnected from a clear goal and evident achievement.  

 

The art world has a vast amount of money circulating around, let's say, 

one-twenty-fifth of this poutput, whereto system of investment, sale and profit can function. Perhaps another twenty-fifth is under the patronage and influence of the academy, working in concert with a few big funders. This "public" sector operates as a bloodless arena, you might say. But people do get hurt, and most of them are ultimately neglected or entirely ignored. The artists who fail to be patronised by the elite institutions  -the vast majority- inhabit an echo chamber of people calling out for recognition and praise, in embittered isolation or clustering together for warmth.And, sometimes, stabbing each other in the back, as evidence of their neurosis.

I do recognise that none of this is the fault of Wells Art Contemporary. In fact the ubiquity of competitions all over the world, and the attention and enthusiasm they engender, places me in a very small minority. Increasingly, during its short lifetime, WAC has brought the attention of a really extraordinary number of people to not only a hundred or more artists at a time but to the very idea of art as a virtuous enterprise. I can see that the consequences of my rather grumpy purism would leave most artists even more subject to the merciless neglect of the established gatekeepers. Perhaps the fatal fact is that there are too many artists for the available resources. Their determination -their need- to carry on regardless is the artists' problem and no-one elses. Perhaps. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So back, at last, to what I saw at WAC 2021in the Cathedral. Without question, the exhibition was a  triumph! At the risk of repetition, it was not simply the scale of the show that so impressed, but also the scale and majesty of the venue, and its overwhelming cultural authority. The fact that the vast nave was cleared of furniture magnified the impact of what the visitor could focus on in detail. WAC exhibitions have been held in the cathedral before, but this time much of the installed work had the scale and verve to encourage a complex and confident dialogue with the space that surrounded it. There is another important factor here. Most of installation pieces were curated and selected outside the main competition, with their relationship with the surroundings in mind. This had  a tremendously beneficial effect on the clarity of the experience for the viewer, and the way that ideas could flow freely between one piece and another and between the art and its environment. Consequently, although there was a diversity of theme, as you would expect from an open competition with more the hundred contributors, some unifying themes emerged.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the buzzwords of modern and contemporary art (to use that odd division we have inherited) is "aura". It was a word used, about a century ago, by the cultural thinker Walter Benjamin, to characterise that special something which, historically, had given art much of its value, ethically, aesthetically and financially. For Benjamin the uniqueness of a work of art, its singularity, was what gave it authority, and a kind of mesmeric power,. For many people, aura has come to mean not simply a quality of the one-off but of any work of art that holds us in its grip, transfixes us, transcends the mundane - the effect that induces strong feelings within us when we look into Rembrandt's eyes or Monet's pools or Rothko's voids.

 

Benjamin assumed that industrial technology, not least the mechanics of mass reproduction, would inevitably rob art of its aura  - perhaps to award it with a new democracy and authenticity. What in fact has happened in the intervening years is that there appears to be more aura emanating from artworks than ever before. And the digital means of reproduction add a radiant glow all of their own. So now Banksy makes a brief and sardonic comment on a wall overnight and, by the next night, people are hacking at that wall so they can take their block of aura to the art dealer with the best connections.

 

Of course, great cathedrals, temples and mosques have been generating aura for thousands of years - and still do so, even for many unbelievers. So, place an artwork within such a setting, and you can get a glorious howl of aural feedback. Only someone with a heart of stone could fail to be moved. (Yes, I know I am getting carried away here. Some people will be more than able to resist being moved. But many of us are suckers for aura. It nourishes us. Often, it is the closest we can get to the transcendent, the divine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

This brings me to the individual artists. I open with the shimmering work of Bob Spriggs, not least because of its audacious relationship with the setting. The Chapter House, built in the early thirteen hundreds, is as close to perfection as any building I know. The octagonal structure of limestone and clear glass is like a premonition of Bach's music, in its precise order of rhythm and harmony, and the clarity, subtlety and invention of its unfussy detail.  Bob Spriggs' installation showed no compromise. It is as if Ligeti has joined in with Bach. That should create the most outrageous cacophony, but it proved to be a stimulating, invigorating, fascinating counterpoint. I am reminded that such an effect was created by Shostakovitch in his reinvention of Bach's Preludes and Fugues.) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bob Spriggs calls his symmetrical construction of metal, rainlike lines and aleatoric moving balls Gathered from the Four Corners of the Earth. This is from his label:

 

More than ever, we are conscious of interdependence, with each other and as elements of a living planet. The parts of Gathered are linked by unseen forces. Movement of one moves those around it. Yet some remain unmoved, part of the whole but separate. Different, by choice, exclusion, inability or some other reason. Whether we move or not, we are parts of the whole.

The chapter houses of great abbeys and cathedrals were built as meeting places, locations for discussion and debate. They were made distinct from the ecclesiastical parts of the building because these meetings dealt with worldly matters such as finance and property - the church as a business. The Chapter House at Westminster Abbey was where the KIng's Council gathered and, in 1352, it became the first meeting place of the Commons of the English Parliament. Appropriate then that Spriggs' machine should invite us to move beyond the mechanics of the divine order, to contemplate the natural order, the scientific order, the political order. Complex interconnectedness, interdependence, mutual responsibility, symbiosis, democracy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

When I visit Wells Cathedral, which I do frequently, I almost ritually climb the fourteenth-century steps to and from the Chapter House. And doing so, I sense the company of people who have preceded me centuries before or might do centuries hence. This is a pleasant feeling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But the invasive presence of Nicola Turner's invertebrate form, slothly slithering down (or is it slowly slithering up?) seems to disrupt such musings. It emerges that this piece is actually expressing ideas related to those in the Bob Spriggs' installation, in the Chapter House above. As the label makes clear, 

...this assemblage of material from organic "dead" matter (including horsehair) embodies memory, as do the Cathedral steps. Exploring the interconnection of humans to matter and each other, and the awareness of the vitality in all things, [the artist] investigates the entanglement of life forces and influences that run through and across bodies, both human and non-human.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It emerges then that Nicola Turner and Bob Spriggs are investigating overlapping territory, yet the materials and sensibility they use are so different - and both use materials so different from the soft colours, warm limestone and gradually shifting light of their surroundings.

 

I find myself unsettled by this amorphous, forbidding creature, reminiscent of a coagulated community of slugs. Yet I catch myself and ask why should I be alienated from an implied lifeform, simply because it is so unlike me. Isn't that one of the presiding reasons why we have managed to get the world into this shocking mess, our sense of apartness from the natural order and chaos we are part of ? I have a hunch that creeping, soft organisms like Turner's will have a much better chance to survive the coming Fall than the muscles, bones and brains of arrogant humankind.

And yet, isn't that a hint of human presence emerging from the lumpen mass?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I proceeded through the cathedral I could see all around me evidence the rich conversation between the order of nature and the order of geometry. And when the organ plays or the choir sings I could hear it in the air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zara Saganic's impressively, compellingly ambitious drawing explored the processes on which all existence is based, the one's invisible without scientific instruments. But the images she produces are not what a microscope would show us, or those instruments that peer outward towards other galaxies. They are imagined - and meticulously realised - in act that is meditative and deeply personal. Her brief statement is revealing, and moving:

My practice explores control, repetition and the relentless pursuit of perfection (Kodawari). This is a drawing journey in which I have

embraced new levels of obsession, solitude and diligence. I only experienced the little section that I was working on, always dealing with the immediacy

of the present.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This piece records the passing of my pandemic time in isolation; in many ways this has become self-perpetuating; as restrictions have lifted, I have missed time alone to work and have mourned the solitude that lockdown gave me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everywhere I looked across this extraordinary piece, which covered the full width of the low wall that separates the quire from the Lady Chapel, I could see the threatening shape of the coronavirus, as it has been represented to us. For me though, in this context, the image seemed to have lost its menace. It did not appear uniquely evil but just one more organism in the infinity of organisms that surround us, or are part of us. Its capacity to mutate in the interests of its survival does not appear satanic, or even motivated, but simply an example of what organisms do to survive and replicate - with an inventiveness and determination that astonishes us even as it puts the fear of God into us - a  god that for me, as a child, was always presented as a vaguely menacing force, confusingly intertwined with thoughts of love and kindness that I could never disentangle. Even today, I look up with a tinge of anxiety when I think, let alone express, a blasphemous thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In her installation in the cloister garden Leah Hislop worked with a different kind of organic language. I was reminded of those amazing sheets of white, silken web that ermine moth caterpillars create to cover trees and hedgerows in the spring. These act as protection so that thousands upon thousands of caterpillars can munch their way towards moth-hood without being attacked by  predators. Leah also creates an informal geometric structure as a means of protection.

She states in her label:

The concept of sacred geometry and Wells Cathedral itself have inspired this site-specific installation. The shapes and patterns surrounding the central figure reveal the concept of  divine protection from evil forces outside. It is also representative of the geometric and labyrinth-themed patterns of the cathedral's architecture.

Such sacred geometry is almost as old as art itself - appearing in cultures and traditions throughout history and prehistory, and across the globe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For his video projection Oak Tree, Mark Hill generated digital patterns to represent the experience of observing an everday natural phenomenon. This abstraction of the organic removes the viewer from the original experience but rewards with a concentrated experience on its own terms, of kinetic energy and flow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WORK IN PROGRESS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WORK IN PROGRESS

Oak Tree uses data obtained while circling an oak tree at different intervals and observing changes in the play of light filtering through the branches overhead. This experience is represented as a set of concentric circles rotating at different speeds to convey a sense of duration.

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As I reflect upon this piece, I am reminded once more of the connection back to music - with its intervals of sound and silence, movement and stillness, harmony and structure. Further reflection leads me to the celebrated statement of Goethe, the German poet and polymath:

"Music is liquid architecture; architecture is frozen music." Checking on precisely what he said, I discover that Goethe only coined the second phrase, and the liquid music idea is a later addition from someone else. And another thing, "in stone" might be a better translation of the original German than the word "frozen". The facts of all this are much less interesting than the richness of the concepts. One of the incidental pleasures of going often to Wells Cathedral and other such establishments is that music is so much in the air, as choirs and organists rehearse or a service comes to life.

On the three visits I made to the WAC exhibition music enhanced the experience, and enriched its many meanings. 

 

 

 

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Unsurprisingly, many of the installation artists followed a personal line. In fact, the surprising thing was that so many artists shared overlapping concerns. But all of them took the opportunity to explore ideas and aspects of the human drama. There was a seriousness of intention about the majority of the work on display, notwithstanding a lightness of touch.

Stella Tripp's structure-within-a-structure placed translucent abstractions inside the ornately carved stone of a small side chapel. She describes the work as an intricate painted construction related to the themes of fragility, vulnerability, displacement.

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Sometimes art feels like a displacement activity. I would rather be changing the world, making everyone safe and more humane. Reflecting these concerns through art, I use a rich, delicate abstract language in a very deliberate and meant way; selecting materials and processes that embody ideas. A kite-like construction is used here for its association with being blown by forces beyond our control; scraps of paper reflecting fragility, vulnerability and displacement.

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