|Self portrait, bitumen, styrene and mesh on particle board, 73 x 91.5 cm|
"He would be able to follow his mind into its secret places. This portrait would be to him the most magical of mirrors. As it had revealed to him his own body, so it would reveal to him his own soul."
(Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray Ch. 8)
"Look out on a summer's day
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul"
(from the song Vincent, lyrics by Josh Groban)
"Beneath the social mask we wear every day, we have a hidden shadow side: an impulsive, wounded, sad, or isolated part that we generally try to ignore."
(from Romancing the Shadow by Connie Zwieg and Steve Wolf)
"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious."
(Carl Jung, "The Philosophical Tree” (1945). In CW 13: Alchemical Studies. P.335)
".. this thing of darkness I
(Prospero in Shakespeare's The Tempest, Act 5, scene 1, 275-276)
Initially i deliberately didn't add my voice with explanations but just wanted the image and quotes to resonate (or not) with each viewer and each viewing. But Gary's questions and conjectures had me thinking, and before long, writing.
The painting is not a whimsy but born of a troubled few years and chronically disturbed dreams since my mother's death. Anyway, i take myself far too seriously to be able to enjoy a mere whimsy, haha.
Made from stuff lying around my studio? For sure! This work belongs to my research into expressive mark-making. I see two prime routes to expressive mark-making.
One is to leave a trace of your handling of materials so that your character or emotions register and are preserved in the paint. This usually requires some kind of impasto. Vigor or lethargy, doodling or purposefulness, rage or melancholy are as trapped in the paint surface as a bug in amber.
The second route however, is to set up media to do their work, giving agency to the paint and solvents, enlisting gravity and capillary action, oozings and drippings, mixings and repellings. As i mentioned in an earlier discussion, Heidegger's concept of "at hand" materials is very salient to working in this way. Happen-chance, synchronicity, my material environment and the history of that environment, remnants of my past endeavours, under-workings and palimpsests, all come to the aid of my semi-sighted questing for an expressive image that tells a truth.
And i have been much concerned with truth - emotional truth - in my work.
|Albert Tucker, Apocalyptic Horse, 1956|
Tucker's art dealer said of one series of his works, that he dealt not in prettiness, but unsettling truths. The same could be applied to most of his life's work. "Often difficult and abrasive, the work reflects the artist's struggle to come to terms with a society he was at odds with".
|Albert Tucker, Apocalyptic Horse, 1956, (detail).|
In my case, i guess it is a Self i am at odds with.
Because the painting is so dark and 'blotchy', it may seem formless at first glance. It may look nothing like a portrait at all and viewers might imagine i have simply entitled a black blob of asphalt a self portrait in a metaphorical way. Not so. If you look with a squint you might see the left side of my face lit in the painting rather like in this recent photo.
Just a word about the media, especially the bitumen. It has long been used by artists but not without criticism. Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa suffers areas that were once bitumen's velvety brown now having become an indiscernible black mass with age (Wikipedia). The Pre-Raphelite's emphasis on brilliance of colour was in reaction to the excessive use of bitumen by earlier British artists, such as Reynolds, David Wilkie and Benjamin Robert Haydon. Bitumen produces unstable areas of muddy darkness, an effect that the Pre-Raphaelites despised. On top of that, there are OH&S issues - bitumen is carcinogenic.
So why have i used it? Well, in archival terms it is a durable medium, even if its brown is fugitive and turns to black. It is cheap. Very cheap compared to oil paints. It has interesting tactile properties in use, ranging from treacle-viscous to free-running stained-turps wash. Like with charcoal, images can be created by building up by applying, or created carving out by removing from a previously applied layer with a turps-dampened rag.
And i like the idea that it is a reject material from passé art movements. I like the idea that is unvalued, undervalued, devalued, even shunned. I like that is not to be found in art supply shops but on the bottom shelf in hardware departments. It is a humble material.
In other words, mostly i like its poetic qualities. By that i mean its direct appeal to the senses and its metaphoric associations.
It stinks of Hell. It has oozed from the hidden bowels of the earth. It is the very substance of our unconscious.
Qualities all apt, i believe, for the subject of this work.