This might be a curio best forgotten, an embarrassing piece of juvenilia. Forty years ago this was my final year thesis at art school. Nowadays it would be called a dissertation. But really it was just an annotated photo album. I’d found a stripey beach towel which became a sort of security blanket for a while, it seemed emblematic of the striped abstract paintings I was making and I photographed it wherever I went. I put all the photos together in a book with lots of random quotes as if I’d swallowed a library, or more likely the Whole Earth Catalog and An Index Of Possibilities. It was all very 1970s and very pretentious, but what really strikes me today is how much it resembles a prototype blog post.
Hills and sea waves
Towering up to the sky
Are the mountains.
On the surging, thundering waves,
I am a nothing
Born but to die.
Kakinomoto no Hitomaro
As a matter of fact, symbols are precisely intended to awaken ideas sleeping in our consciousness. They arouse a thought by means of suggestion and thus cause the truth which lies hidden in the depths of our consciousness to reveal itself.
A design will start to emerge in the imagination when the relationship of spaces appears to have a coherent organizational pattern. At this moment of coagulation however, the cerebral exercise loses its abstract value as it is necessary for it to materialize as a substance.
All this fires my soul, and, provided I am not disturbed, my subject enlarges itself, becomes methodised and defined, and the whole, though it may be long, stands almost complete and finished in my mind, so that I can survey it at a glance. Nor do I hear in my imagination the parts successively, but I hear them, as it were, all at once. What a delight this is I cannot tell! All this inventing, this producing, takes place in a pleasing lively dream. Still the actual hearing of the tout ensemble is after all the best. What has been thus produced I do not easily forget, and this is perhaps the best gift I have my Divine Maker to thank for.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
when god decided to invent
everything he took one
breath bigger than a circustent
and everything began
E. E. Cummings
Art is the giving of form to the formless, where the giving of form is complementary to the formless.
Living and dead materials are arranged so that the distinction between animate and inanimate matter has no meaning, resulting in the attitude to an object or form as an event and not a thing or substance.
The old pond;
A frog jumps in –
The sound of the water.
I dreamed I was a butterfly.
But what if I were a butterfly
Dreaming I was a man.
Our whole life is a dream. The dreams of our present life are the environment in which we work out the impressions, thoughts, feelings, of a former life. As we live through thousands of dreams in our present life, so is our present life only one of thousands of such lives we enter from the other, more real life, and then return to after death. Our life is but one of the dreams of that more real life.
But then I saw that on the floor in front of the altar, facing me, was a yogi in lotus posture, in deep meditation. When I looked at him more closely, I realised that he had my face. I started in profound fright and awoke with the thought; ‘Aha, so he is the one who is meditating me. He has a dream and I am in it.’ I knew that when I awakened I would no longer be.
Swept away by the flood
How abandoned I feel,
Alone on the high sea.
No rescuing vessel is in sight.
Words. Words. Words. They shut one off from the universe. Three quarters of the time one is never in contact with things, only the beastly words which stand for them.
Our problem is that the power of thought enables us to construct symbols of things apart from ourselves. Because the idea is so much more comprehensible than the reality, the symbol so much more stable than the fact, we learn to identify ourselves with our idea of ourselves.
All in all, each man in all men, all men in each man.
All being in each being, each being in all being.
All in each, each in all.
All distinctions are mind, by mind, in mind, of mind.
No distinctions no mind to distinguish.
R. D. Laing
There is in all things a pattern that is part of our universe. It has symmetry, elegance and grace – those qualities you find always in that which the true artist captures.
Every diagram and system of number and every combination of harmony and the agreement of the revolution of the stars must be made manifest as one in all to him who learns in the proper way, and will be made manifest if a man learns aright by keeping his eyes on unity; for it will be manifest to us as we reflect, that there is one bond naturally uniting all these things.
Colour itself offers contrapuntal possibilities and, when combined with design, may lead to the great pictorial counterpoint, where also painting achieves composition, and where pure art is in the service of the divine.
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night.
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
If there is any explanation of why man rejoices or is impressed by the music played to him it is this – in man there is a perpetual rhythm going on, which is the sign of life in him: a rhythm which is expressed in his pulsation and in his heartbeats, even his heart. And upon this rhythm depends his health: not only his health but his moods. Therefore, anywhere a continued rhythm must have an effect upon every person: and upon each person its effect is distinct and different.
Hazrat Inayat Khan
Whatever space and time mean, place and occasion mean more.
Aldo van Eyk
It is easy to try out and test the postulate that relationship, pattern, two or moreness, is basic to existence. As soon as you imagine, or look, or feel, the pattern is there. There is the imaginer and the imagined, the onlooker and the seen, the feeler and the felt. And it is likely that study of the pattern, the relationship is more fertile than that of merely the entities as relating. We have a hard task to overcome the habits of thought, the language, logic and symbolism borne of our tradition which has been to think in terms of entities.
A concept is not thinkable without its opposite.
The concept stands apart from its opposite.
No concept is effective without its opposite.
Grave mound, be moved!
My wailing voice
Is the autumn wind.
The photos were from the previous summer, the quotes from here and there along the way. The book was made from pages prepared on a ‘golfball’ electric typewriter, a precursor of the word processor and a sophisticated piece of technology, but I still managed lots of spelling mistakes and clumsy corrections. I enjoyed making the book more than writing it; it was more form than content.
It’s good to see the photos again, souvenirs from the backroads of Kent, cycling the Pilgrims Way and trips down to Camber Sands. I should’ve called it Travels With My Towel, not Thesis & Antithesis.
The words that accompany the photos are a bit of a mess. They were meant to express my fascination with symmetry and reflection, positive and negative, left and right, balancing opposites, dualities, complementaries, all things that inspired my paintings.
The book ends with a dedication to my newborn daughter …our ultimate reality, our daughter Vanesther, a Combination of Opposites. Now forty years on and she’s still the perfect balance of her contrary parents. Happy Birthday Van!