That doesn’t mean that technique isn’t important – it’s everything!
Every summer, as soon as the solstice passes and the nights begin to lengthen I know that I’ll resolve once again to capture the intensity of these colours in a painting. I did it today as I wandered around the garden of our borrowed cottage and photographed some of the wild fruits growing here. The trickiest subject by far was the hawthorn tree which resisted every attempt to capture its brilliance against the blue sky. Painting is a very tactile experience, from the texture of the paper, the sensation of freedom in a running line and the intense concentration of mixing and applying colour. The smell of the paint, even the resistance, heft and suppleness of a good brush can be exciting, as can the accidental granularity of the paint as it spreads on the rough surface of good paper.
But talk is cheap and whereas I can write easily, painting doesn’t come naturally at all. I have an uncompleted painting of a hyacinth that’s three years old, alongside a folder full of drawings, tracings and macro-photos but still it defeats me. The intoxicating complexity of the petals, lit as they are from every angle around the stem; their intense waxy blue; the stiff lanceolate leaves with their almost invisible longitudinal grooves make the process of painting into a profound and humbling experience. Far from envisaging the artistic process as flowing from an exceptionally gifted mind to the paper, I’ve come to see it as a challenge from the subject – the plant, flower or whatever – to the artist; an act of discovery through enchantment. Any kind of ego is an absolute barrier to understanding, and the greatest moments in my creative life have been more like meditations in which I am able to step aside and allow the work to happen. It doesn’t happen often, but then I have no deadlines or quotas to meet. That doesn’t mean that technique isn’t important – it’s everything! – and then you can forget about it.
I was painting in a group a couple of years ago and using a bit of a technical wrinkle to create the highlights in a painting of a decaying leaf. One of my class asked me what I was doing and so I explained what I’d been taught by our teacher who is always worth paying attention to. “So it’s just a trick” she said disparagingly. “No it’s a trick but not just a trick, it’s a technique”. I think she was under the impression that learning technique somehow interferes with the artistic process. You can’t blame her, art schools are full of lecturers who believe the same thing. It’s not a matter of being – not everybody who wears a beret and smokes Gauloises is going to become Jean Paul Sartre! It’s a matter of sheer bloody minded doing.
So here I am at the moment full of aspirations that must be defended at all costs from the siren temptations of cooking, gardening and loving our family. About once a year I pull off something worth looking at, but the process is as slow as a sloth’s bowel movements and we need to eat. Today we went for a walk but mistimed the high tide due to my inability to read a 24 hour timetable. So we went to a gap in the clifftop bushes and leaned on the fence gazing at the view. We agreed that you can do too much walking and so we thought we’d just lean on the fence and take in the smell and sound of the sea. Then we went to the shop and bought some cake. A perfect day.