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autumn 2011 Adventures in the Art of Abstraction

All artists, be they painters, sculptors, musicians, poets or street jugglers are beset from time to time by a loss of inspiration. The moment of realisation that the muse or the mojo has deserted the scene can cause terrible anxiety. This loss of inspiration is often only temporary but for the artist it can feel like the end of the world, particularly so if bills have to be paid.

At such times one’s artist friends are always ready to give advice and to make well meaning suggestions, but often to no avail. When you’re ‘blocked’ the nature of the problem is such that you’re unlikely to take on board even the simplest piece of advice. Everything you hear is wrong. You just think no one really understands – even those closest to you. As with depression once you are in the mire you just can’t see your way out. The irony is that when the boot is on the other foot, one is never too short of advice to offer a stricken colleague. This is because you don’t really understand them either.

Thus the whole sorry cycle is completed.

As a painter I’ve often found the best way to deal with these dark periods is to take a random, rambling walk through the city, absorbing as many colours and shapes as I can. It’s important to have no preconceived ideas when I do this, to have no conscious goal in mind other than to mentally drink in the surroundings. I’m hoping something gets lodged away in the brain allowing inspiration to return, and often, I’m happy to say, it does. It may however, take a few days to show itself.

If I feel a breakthrough may be imminent I take a blank canvas and just start dawbing and see what happens. This kind of ‘freestyle’ approach works well in other disciplines like writing and is a well known technique for getting the creative juices flowing. The real problem is in being able to motivate yourself to do it, given the depression-like state you’ve fallen into.

The two approaches go hand in hand. A day or two of strolling about may not have produced any obvious stirrings but you if you can force yourself to get out the paints and begin experimenting redemption can swiftly follow.

For me, more often than not this leads to an adventure in the art of abstraction.

Though I have written previously of my love of portrait and landscape painting I harbour an almost reverential respect for the abstract. In certain moods I feel abstract expressionism is the purest form of my art. There are no pretensions to realism, no inadequate two dimensional reproductions of something you may well be far better off capturing with a decent camera. I don’t always feel this way, but sometimes it’s how I see things.

In abstraction, colour and form are the only things that matter. How you arrange your elements will create the very essence of the painting. No one is going to identify a person or a building, nor nod in recognition of a familiar landscape. Ideally, what you create is a thing uniquely of itself.

You do however hope that viewers will see something of what you are trying to convey, will feel that shock of connection between a deeply felt emotion and the elements of the painting. Perhaps they will be in sync with your own thoughts? Maybe; maybe not.

My painting ‘The Night They Won the World Cup’ was painted this way, a combination of days spent absorbing the colour and feel of the city and an evening with an open mind and a empty canvas. I feel it captures perfectly my experience of that July night in 2010. Whether it chimes with anyone else’s experience is a question I can’t answer. Painting it did get me moving again though and lifted me out of a period of inactivity. Happily Spain weren’t the only winners that night.

A selection of my paintings and photography

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