|'In the Park' 165cms x 210cms|
Having a look at these early, emotionally charged paintings again recently and seeing how they stand up over time, how strong they are, I feel now is the time to tell their story- especially because of the links/references to the Garden of Eden in my current 'City of Glass' series. Reflection: in each life there are many different lives - back then I was not yet fully formed as an artist or a person but this series - (painted between 1984-88) - gave a few more clues to who I was. There were many influences: the paintings of Edvard Munch, John Fowles's novel, 'The Magus' and music: Joni Mitchell's haunting 'Hejira' ' there is comfort in melancholy, no need to explain.....' and the title, 'The Fear & Thrill of the Chase' from 'Decades', the final track on 'Closer' by Joy Division.
'...here are the young men the weight on their shoulders.....'
I left Canterbury College of Art College in 1983, moving to London and sharing a flat in Battersea, near the park, with a close friend from college. The house next door was derelict and the top floor became my studio. It was Year Zero- time to start again- how much of what you make at college is truly yours? The first paintings- since destroyed- included the power station but it was the park that became the inspiration, providing the setting for the paintings. The paintings are about an idyll, about friendship and desire, the inarticulate self, communicating emotions through paint.
'In the Park' (above) shows river & lake, a mixture of aerial-view and looking through trees. A group of friends in the top left, and another hidden figure behind the off-white shape that establishes the foreground. It is the same figure- the rear view of a man in an overcoat - that appeared in my college paintings and re-emerged as 'Stillman' in 'City of Glass'.
|'The Lake' 90x72cms|
'The Lake', with the fiery willow tree, started off as a picture of a girl, the reddish bush in the background was the back of her head. (She reappears later). I still think this is my best ever depiction of weather and water. In parallel, there was a painting of the lake that became a figure painting, sadly lost.
|'The Garden of Eden' 175x300cms|
On the lake-edge I found a tree where a branch had been removed, leaving behind a perfect heart-shape. This became the setting for a painting about love, despair, desire and deception. What I took from 'The Magus' was the idea of the masque and the manipulations of reality and fantasy. Is the girl real or an ideal? - the statue/girl a devise for disguise. The motif of the yellow boat, scratched into the paint and surrounded by text, is taken from 'Melancholy' by Edvard Munch - in some versions it is called 'Jealousy'.......The heart-shape and the snake and the erection were all painted out - too obvious- leaving something raw, starker, bleaker- the message in the painting the enormous, empty space between the two figures.
The building reflected in the water is the pump-house, now a gallery, where we used to go late at night after a few pints. We also used to 'borrow' the boats and row out to the island.
|'Southolm St, SW11' 30x20cms|
The house on Southolm St was surrounded by railways and although the park was a few minutes walk away, I considered the railway-bridge/arch at the end of the street as a gateway, an entrance….. The upside-down arch became a motif, a reflection in the lake. The figure is probably myself, the house wasn’t pink and there was no tree.
|'The Girl' 180x60cms|
The bleakness of the ‘Garden of Eden’ was followed by a triptych of near life-size figures, boy on the left, girl, on the right and in the centre an embrace. All that remains is the painting of the girl and the face of the boy-figure, transformed into ‘The Tree’.
‘The Girl’ was originally called ‘The Awkwardness of Nakedness or The Look That Destroys Men’. Reality and fiction intertwined again, another John Fowles connection, this time a look that Sarah (Meryl Streep) gives to Charles (Jeremy Irons) in the film of ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’.
It is has been cathartic, looking back on these works and my life, as it was, contained within them.
|'The Island' 60x90cms|
|'The Tree' 30x20cms|
|In the studio|