In part three of my painting blog ; the bit about why I no longer believe what’s in front of my eyes
It’s a complex place this world, and as a visual artist I should have done better.
They say that everything is obvious in hindsight and while I’m not sure that’s strictly true - nobody would board a plane which is obviously about to fall apart - this one is one me.
The world - my world, your world, our world, is a complex and mutable thing and it really is blindingly obvious that the idea it could be reduced to simply what goes in though the eyes is, well, just silly.
Yet as my previous two blogs attest, I ploughed on painting things that looked like what they were, but certainly didn’t feel like what they meant to me. Bad judgement? Stupidity? A lack of education, who knows, but the thing is that thanks to Picasso I know that I now know better. As he patiently pointed out visual art isn’t the world, its a distillation of it, a version of events, a point of view and if it’s to be any good - as Wilde added - it simply must also be a self portrait of the artist.
Lethe : A picture about how all the people who came before us and we could never meet determine whom we are and what we might become. This is about the canal where my great grandfather committed suicide, a family trauma which has a profound effect upon the people who shaped the boy I was and the man I became. Art is truth.
Stuff might come in through the my eye but we see with my brain, my experience, my biases and my life experience, in all of its untidy chaotic and messy glory. Everything we can imagine is irrefutably real because we only see, can only ever see, through the lens of our chaotic and biased life experience.
Regeneration, which closed just a few days at the Bowes Museum was exactly that; my version of events, the naked truth as I saw it, with no fig leaf of objective, observation to cover up my imperfections. Art is truth by other means and painting if it is to be anything in an age of mass imaging has to be the naked truth. Painting for me at least, is no longer of a subject - but about it - about what it was to me, how it appears in my minds eye, and often what my hopes and dreams are for it in the future.
Council House Days. 2022. 1.8x1.2M from Regeneration
’Painting,’ as the great artist observed,’ is the lie which reveals the truth.’ So my work is the world filtered through my version of events, which is why I never worry about perspective, sight size drawing and all of that.
I know its ‘correct‘ practice, but when I’m transported back 40 years by the sight of canals and mills, or the smell of coal smoke, those are not experiences to be transposed by a gridded drawing, much less conveyed and made manifest by observation.
So looking hard for me,is looking hard at what it means, not just how it appears on the surface; and if I can lay claim to any success in my career I’ll settle for the ex miner who came to Regeneration and was moved to tears by my evocation of ‘his’ North.
We are Building A New World 5.4 x 1.2 M 2022.
He couldn’t care a fig about technique, hadn’t the faintest idea about any of the ‘isms’ we artists package our work in - but he met with my work in his imagination, and found a mirror there to his life experience, and in that painting, the people he knew , the places he loved and the dreams he had seen shattered were reflected.
And if you’re wondering how I can claim to reflect a North East where I wasn’t raised, with authenticity, I can only say that I’ve come to appreciate that the art of Art is to be open to life experiences and be able to inhabit truths whilst, inevitably ,making your my own version of them. I came at the mining pictures on the back of a residence as the artist in residence for the Norman Cornish retrospective, and while my mill chimneys were replaced by his winding gear, the terraces, the boozers, the post industrial sprawl, hard livers and open hearts all felt very familar.
Shakespeare said as much - the job of the poet is to give habitation to what is apprehended -he meant poets of course - but you only have to look at the empathy for the underclass in Degas’ Scene in a Cafe to see that painting is the same gig.
If art is to be about anything, it has to be about us - irrespective of what it is ‘of’. Painting is a distillation, it reveals the truth behind the lie of simply what’s there, and if that’s not a worthwhile ambition for a painter, I don’t know what is; you simply have to close your eyes and get on with it.
Martin Kinnear is an award winning oil painter who creates works which tell stories about whom we are and where we are going. See more at makinnear.com or follow Martin @kinnearmartin