Each line was “the actual experience” of making the line.
Could Twombly be thought of as a Phenomenological painter?
I’ll admit, when I lived in Philadelphia, my least favorite room in the art museum there was the Cy Twombly room. It was hard to appreciate.
But nowadays, I almost view Twombly’s work as I view a tree. To see a tree is to feel it reaching for the sun light, encapsulating its growth in its very form.
I came across this Kandinsky quote recently:
…I see no essential difference between a line one calls ‘abstract’ and a fish. But rather an essential likeness. This isolated line and the isolated fish alike are living beings with forces peculiar to them, though latent. They are forces of expression for these beings and of expression on human beings, because each has an impressive ‘look’ which manifests itself by its expression. But the voice of these latent forces is faint and limited. It is the environment of the line and the fish that brings about a miracle: the latent forces awaken, the expression becomes radiant… …The environment is the composition. The composition is the organized sum of the interior functions (expressions) of every part of the work. (Paris, March 1935)
Kandinsky, from “Artists on Art – from the 14th – 20th centuries”, ed. by Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves; Pantheon Books, 1972, London, p. 451
It seems like Twombly found a way to close the distance between the act of painting and his paintings themselves, without pretense.
In this dissertation I investigate vision and landscape through painting. I identify landscape as a diverse and lively critical field of study as I have come to understand it through my reading. I recognise that a problem occurs between my painting practice and my understanding of landscape as a lived practice. Vision has a deeply rooted epistemology of detached observation and an ecological practice requires engagement. To continue painting landscapes, I must find a way to inhabit vision.
I begin by comparing landscape as a way of seeing (Cosgrove 1998) with a phenomenologically placed account of dwelling-in-the world (Ingold 2000). I explore how vision in a landscape operates in both accounts. Of the two models, dwelling presents a more ecologically engaging account of living within the landscape, but it seems to advocate more immersive bodily experience (i.e. movement, touch, smell or hearing) and has no place for a detached vision. Must vision always be constituted by detached observation? I turn to Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology in order to come to an understanding of embodied vision. In doing so, my conceptualisation of practice and method has changed. I find a theoretical framework that will support future inquiries into living and painting as an inhabitant of my landscape.
Today, after swimming in the Dart River, I walked barefoot up a sloped field to get to Dartington College of Arts. (The shell of what is left there) I found it very interesting that the field was sporadically covered in thorny plants that hurt my feet. I thought about the cows that normally graze on this field and how they probably don’t like to eat the thorny plants. A mechanical lawn mower wouldn’t mind thorny plants. I wouldn’t have noticed them if I wore boots. I tip-toed through this field, avoiding prickles where I could—marveling at the way the field was shaping my trek across it. Was the grazed grass my infrastructure, provided by the cows? Are the thorny plants encroaching ‘nature’ or are they arising specifically because of the grazed grass? Barefoot, I weaved my way through this entwined patchwork of land, shaped by human practices yet shaping my path.
I still have a few thorns in my feet as I get ready to sleep.
“Space hides consequence from us now.” (Berger in Soja 1989 p.22)
Space does hide consequence from those who have power.. We throw out rubbish and it goes ‘somewhere.’ We use electricity that comes from ‘somewhere.’ Our food in the super-markets comes from ‘somewhere.’ The western life-style and model of consumption is propped up on patterns that have real world spatial consequences that we do not typically see. Many people live with these consequences and learn to find opportunity, however slim.
“…social relations become real and concrete, a part of our lived social existence, only when they are spatially “inscribed” –that is, concretely represented–in the social production of social space.” ( Soja 1996 p46)
My experience in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia was largely influenced by a post-industrial condition. It could be argued that the factories first stood a consequence of a particular mode of production. But then the ruins of the old factories seem to become more complicated. Ambivalence about the future of the space prevails, an absence of belief in industry for the community takes hold as the factories somehow seem to become symbols of extraction instead of production. The structures atrophy as space hides the consequences of a globalized industrial world elsewhere.
“By the same token, it is also man developing into nature. Or in other words, human actions in the environment are better seen as incorporative than inscriptive, in the sense they are built or enfolded into the forms of the landscape and its living inhabitants by way of their own processes of growth.” (Ingold p. 87)
[singlepic id=70 w=400 h=300 float=center]In Totnes, I find that this process of incorporating social relations into the landscape is on a larger time scale. Eventually ruins become the new norm. Before last fall, I was incredibly short sighted. The history of the US in the landscape is a few hundred years at best. Here in South Devon, the area is deemed an Area_of_Outstanding_Natural_Beauty, which has been confusing to say the least. Culturally, it is considered natural, but many forests can be plantations, many fields are enclosed and grazed. Even Dartmoor, the neighboring national park has a longstanding history of military use.
It is roughly 100 days until the MA show here at the Dartington Campus of the University College Falmouth. It is a very strange experience—the Dartington Campus will move to the main college at the end of the year. There is a definitive sense of a winding down of place happening here that is both unique in the perspective it brings, and a bit of a burden.
I am preparing for another suite of paintings, trying to continue with the theme of painting landscapes where something is missing. In recent work, this has been mainly centered around the post-industrial condition, but that specific land condition is slim Totnes. I am attracted to the idea of an implied narrative through depicting an absence and how painting a local landscape can evoke discussion of simultaneous experiences of place.
In Space and Place: The Perspective of Human Experience, Yi Fu Tuan is discussing intimate experiences of place. Calling places “centers of value” (Tuan, p.18); the sense of place is developed by an accumulation of everyday events. Yet, intimate experiences are elusive to descriptive language.
Pictorial art and rituals supplement language by depicting areas of experience that words fail to frame; their use and effectiveness again vary from people to people. Art makes images of feeling so that feeling is accessible to contemplation and thought. Social chatter and formulaic communication, in contrast, numb sensitivity. Even intimate feelings are more capable of being represented than most people realize. The images of place, here sampled, are evoked by the imagination of perceptive writers. (namely an Isherwood passage) By the light of their art we are privileged to savor experiences that would otherwise have faded beyond recall. Here is a seeming paradox: thought creates distance and destroys the immediacy of direct experience, yet it is by thoughtful reflection that the elusive moments of the past draw near to us in a present reality and gain a measure of permanence.
(Ibid, p. 148)
Some potential sites that I will paint for the MA show include:
A former, now vacant, squat near my flat. Squatters were evicted by court order. Landlord came in and smashed up the plumbing in an effort to make the places uninhabitable.
A former forest that has just been logged by the forestry service. Neighbors are upset.
A former quarry that is not used now, roped off for fear of falling rocks.
A former swimming pool on the Dartington Estate, next to an abandoned school and tennis court.
I am still scouting around for further ideas. The above quote resonates with my approach to my current landscape painting work, specifically the last aspect. I believe I am trying to crystallize spaces that are fading or shine light on spaces that are hiding consequences.
Is it possible to have an intimate experience of the views here in Totnes? I am confounded on how to interpret the land from this perspective. I want to paint the vista’s because, I mean wow. How to frame it? Below is not natural, it is a beautiful landscape with an absence of the signs of labor that shaped it. What will this land look like when it starts to return to forest? Perhaps that is one way to try to paint it.