You Jest - In memory of art critic and writer Peter Fuller
1. Mount Martha Victoria 2021
2. Introduction – Melbourne 2003
3. Original notes - London 1987 -1988 -1990
A revision of edited notes
1. Introduction Mount Martha Victoria 2021
I was lucky enough to meet with the art critic and writer Peter Fuller on a few occasions after a talk he gave to a group of post graduate students at Manchester where I was studying. On the first of our meetings, he came to my studio and we spoke about honesty and commitment to an individual aesthetic as well as not letting our self, fall prey to fleeting artistic fashion. He was very pleased I was carving stone and talked in depth about the sculptors Constantin Brancusi and Henry Moore. He also spoke about Ruskin and the necessity of reading his thoughts on art. He spoke with such eloquence and fluidity and his knowledge of the development of the contemporary art of the day, was second to none. I had two other meetings with Peter Fuller in my London studio during 1985, where he lamented the fact that too many young artists were falling prey to what he coined to me ‘the scourge of Conceptualism, the latest fashionable twist at the expense of individual creativity’. I remember making a mental note of it at the time and on reflection, am very glad I did.
The art word has often been prone to the shallow twists of fleeting fashion and short-lived artistic movements. In the early 1980’s, Conceptualism was weaving its insipid way across the whole of artistic Britain: indeed, weaving its insipid way around the world to swallow up just about anyone artistic who made the mistake of getting in its way. Art School after art school, gallery after gallery and sadly artist after artist, desperate to get an exhibition in any British city, pandered to this fad with monotonous regularity.
Peter Fuller saw through this artificial aesthetic and made the mistake of voicing his concerns. For this he was ridiculed in many artistic and literary circles. Unlike so many other writers of the day, he spoke about what he believed had become, for too many artists, a loss of creative individuality and artistic skill. Around nineteen eighty six I had been thinking about making an exhibition of sculptures as an homage to his writing. I learned of his death in tragic circumstances during April 1990, just before this exhibition took place, and dedicated this exhibition to him.
For all the attempts upon young, up and coming artists made by those university lecturers, gallery dealers and influential critics who saw the Conceptual Movement as being a means by which to force radical change to what they believed had become a conservative art world; those very same people became the artistic establishment and stamped on anyone who criticised them. They were in practice, much more conservative than those they ridiculed and overthrew and as a consequence of this general air of closed mindedness, it became almost impossible to get an exhibition anywhere in Britain if your artistic face didn’t fit; so to speak. Mine did not.
Much of the art that was produced and exhibited in the major galleries during that time ended up being no more than second rate copies of truly great radical art made by the likes of Joseph Beuys and earlier still, the great Russian artists and poets of the early twentieth century. By the time Post Conceptualism was the artistic norm of the day (during the 1990s), in most of London’s major galleries, much of the art that had been made and written about, disappeared up its own rear end just as Peter Fuller had predicted to me ten years before: The Turner Prize being the quintessence of this infectious artistic movement that lingers with a nasty pong on the nose to this day.
I am so grateful for the few times I was able to meet with Peter Fuller. Not only was he happy to spend time with me discussing my artistic intentions and ideas, (he urged me strongly to follow my own artistic nose), but also because he was one of those rare individuals of whom it can be truly said: had a first-rate mind.
Note: At the time the notes below were written in 2003, I was forty-five years old. When the first notes were written in 1988-89, I was thirty-one years old. I’m sixty-three now! Where did the time go?
2. You Jest
Notes for new sculptural artworks to be exhibited at The Chelsea Contemporary Gallery, Sydney NSW written during May 1987 - August 1988 – April 1990 – July 2003 – revisited May 2021.
Movement of a sort…
I was cleaning up my studio recently when I came across a few pages of notes written during an eleven-month period before my emigration to Australia from England; and during the time leading up to my first exhibition in Sydney at The Chelsea Contemporary Gallery. This was a time of great change for me, not only in my change of personal circumstances, but also with the development of my sculptural ideas. At this time, my ideas in sculpture underwent a vast transformative rebuild as I began to question all aspects of my artistic output. Transformative is the right word to describe this precious time of my life.
It came about after the disease of repetitiveness had crept into my work. I knew I had to affect a change in both myself and my work. The only way to do this was to stop and take the time to question all aspects of my working processes. I did this by stopping work altogether.
During the latter part of 1987 I spent many hours in my studio trying to understand and resolve the many contradictions (and inner conflicts), that had led to my work become bland to the point of redundancy. I remember well the frustration I felt at my inability to work with cohesiveness between my artistic ideas and the physical manifestations of them. It’s curious to take a look back at the way you were thinking at a certain point in time; all the more curious and pleasing as the notes were written as the change in my artistic thinking happened. In some respects, the notes are naive, in other respects I find the notes refreshing by the quality of their naiveté. There are some ideas in the notes I disagree with currently (particularly in respect to the art practices of many contemporary artists of whom I hold complete respect), but nevertheless, in the notes below, that is how I was thinking at the time, for better or for worse, warts an’ all: I believe now for the better as they show a time of great change within my life, a time I now hold very close to my heart, a time when I was able to return to making art with honesty and integrity from a period of self-doubt and inactivity.
Life of a sort…
These days, at forty-five years of age, I believe life to be changing constantly, whether it affects change in us, or whether we affect change in what life has to offer. Life then, is a curious balance between these two states of change. Without warning, they bump into one another, sometimes in complete harmony, other times, with complete and utter discourtesy and contempt with the resulting inner turmoil they manifest. I hope that any ability I have to affect change in my life and artwork, will continue for the rest of my life.
I am going to dedicate this exhibition to the memory of the art critic and writer Peter Fuller who died in tragic circumstances just a few months ago. I am extremely sad at the moment. Over the past couple of years, I had been thinking about doing something to recognise the respect I had for him and lament the fact that I didn’t have the opportunity (or the appropriate artworks ready before he passed. He had so much more to offer the world before his untimely passing. Much of the Conceptual artwork to which he objected during the mid to late nineteen eighties, has become the norm as far as the artistic fashion of today is concerned. Even worse, fashionable twaddle posing as new art, made by a few (I’ll call them), ‘Top End Artists’, has become the accepted fashion of the day by most major artistic institutions as being credible art practice in the contemporary art world. No one questions its existence, no one challenges its subject matter, no one calls its creators to account, no one of note in the art world raises their well-hidden skeptical head above the water so to speak, for fear of being ostracised or ridiculed. Apart from Peter Fuller, who until his passing, let them have it with both barrels, again, so to speak: and both barrels they needed and still need without question.
With the exception of Peter Fuller, there is no one writing these days with the tenacity, knowledge, courage and wit, to condemn so much of the rubbish currently trying to pass itself off as new art in so many of our contemporary galleries; and I do not only refer to England, America, Most of Europe, Australia and Canada. The conceptual epidemic is world-wide. It is killing the creativity of so many young talented artists who, in their innocence, lack of confidence at speaking out and lack of life’s experiences, are falling prey to this stultifying epidemic.
The legacy of Conceptualism in the early 1980s (in Britain at least), and all those it affected, destroyed many creative minds. It certainly did in London. I saw artist after artist bury their individuality out of the sight of gallery owners, lecturers in art schools, not to mention their contemporaries in an overall pathetic attempt to placate these morons. Here then, in this new decade, lies the meaning of my title for this exhibition: ‘You Jest’. Peter Fuller was right. I will not give in to it and forsake all I believe to be my individuality.
The art world (world-wide), has always been prone to the superficiality of fashion or trendy moods; and it has never really recovered from the trendy mood of the 1980s. At that time, Peter Fuller stood alone and spoke out against the fashion of the day and I believe, he would be standing today, alone, speaking out against much of the second-rate, nay third-rate trash displayed by fashionistas all over the world. If only he were alive today to give Jeff Koons and that idiot Hirst the roasting they so obviously deserve.
Peter Fuller was ridiculed by many public figures in the art world who labelled him a conservative and reactionary: very much in favour of the traditional art establishment. This label and criticism could not have been further from the truth. One of his fundamental arguments that all of his critics failed to see, was that artists should follow their ideas with honesty and integrity, ignoring the fashion of the day and never to let themselves fall prey to the short whims of a few influential university art teachers and gallery owners: all desperate to make money. It’s not hard to see through the simple business activity of inventing artistic trends to create a financial market in which to make money. Peter Fuller saw through the inanity of that hype. Many artists I had thought previously to be fairly intelligent, either sold out to the current market or fell prey the market’s shallow ideas for the sole purpose of lining their pockets; just as Peter Fuller predicted.
The romance of memory…
I remember fondly, as a post graduate student, the talk Peter Fuller gave to a small but like-minded group of us on the relevance of Romanticism and Idealism and the ways in which they might be incorporated into our artworks. Outside the small room, a group of students had gathered to protest his invitation to the art college to speak. Sheep, the lot of them. Ignoring them, he spoke for two hours with no notes (I have always envied people with first rate minds). Later, he spoke to me in my dusty studio with its floor covered with chunks of sandstone and marble and linked his talk cleverly to the work of Constantin Brancusi, Rodin, Henry Moore and of all people: Ruskin! He asked me about my intentions for the future. I told him I wasn’t sure as I didn’t feel in step with what was going on with many contemporary art galleries. Also, that I had been in the university system for a long time and was itching to get out and start a career. I added, money is the only real issue in making it happen.” I remember him smiling broadly at this. It would be so nice to be able to tell him about the influence his writing has had on the development of my work; and of course, not forgetting the influence it has had on the individuality of my life.
I believe it will be a very long time before we see (in the contemporary art world at least), a person with enough integrity and strength of conviction, ready to stand alone and speak out with authority against just about all the art world (world-wide), has let itself become.
A great deal has changed since 2003, indeed, a great deal since 1987! What of the angry young man I was? What of my thoughts and feelings, which in all honesty, have mellowed (one could only say), drastically over the passing years? Nevertheless, certain principals remain the same. Conceptualism may well have died a long slow painful death as artists ploughed on through the nineteen nineties - wading through the mire that was Post Conceptualism and worse still Post Post Conceptualism, but then, a younger generation of artists has come back to a life of a sort, by breaking the clichéd shackles of the past to stand up on their own two feet. Thank goodness.
Below: Notes for You Jest First started June 1987 – Jan 1988 March 1989.
Text taken from original notes.
1990 – In Memory of Peter Fuller.
Trepidation – Form – Illustration – Emotion – And an element of absurd, cynical, comedy.
Nine months has passed since I made the initial drawings for these sculptural works and I am at last ready to return to the three-dimensional format; this time with much more enthusiasm as the sculptural ideas have been fully realised into what I shall call Whole Forms. They will incorporate sculpture, painting and related titles.
Taking time out in respect to the development of these sculptures is important, more that during the period from when the preliminary sketches were made, I gave myself time to develop each of the sculptural ideas (albeit under the same umbrella title), to its full potential. In the case of these works, it is fair to say that the time it has taken – is the time it has taken, to make good (or at least acceptable), this body of new work.
1989 Cutting apron stings…
The luxury of taking time out to give me a clear head has done wonders for my creative ideas. I am in the process of making the big move from England to Australia and surprisingly, the unease and tension created by leaving my home and everything I know, has played various obscure psychological tricks on my feelings and thoughts about everything I know to be safe and secure: family and friends, artists and their studios, Mike Daykin mentor and friend, Jules de Goede mentor and friend RIP, poets and authors, Basil Bunting reading his masterpiece ‘Briggflatts’ (as he recited his masterwork, I was the only one in the room, all else faded away to nothing), photographers, libraries and museums, galleries and their opening nights, The Egypt Exploration Society and The Bass Clef Jazz Club, BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 3, The Nazrul Curry House in Brick Lane, Wards Irish Bar, The French House (Oh Mr. Thomas! I stood where you stood, sat where you sat, drank where you drank), Nigel Kennedy’s debut at the Royal Festival Hall, Kung Wa Chung at The Royal Festival Hall, John McLaughlin at The Royal Festival Hall, Miles Davis at The Royal Festival Hall, Carlos Santana at The Royal Festival Hall, The London Philharmonic Orchestra playing Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite conducted by Ricardo Muti (before he conducted opera), Sunday lunchtime concerts at The Wigmore Hall, Pierre Boulez at The Barbican Hall, Frank Zappa every time he came to London (from 1972-1988), trips up to Manchester to hear The Halle Orchestra, listening to trad jazz in The Prince of Orange in Rotherhithe, boat trips to France, being nice to the French, looking across The Thames from my studio in Metropolitan Wharf, Wapping, The Queen’s Head pub in Churchgate Street, Old Harlow Essex, all the seminars and lectures at various London colleges on topics like: The Bauhaus, the Russians from Tatlin to Gabo (not Greta!), Constantin Brancusi, The Romantic Movement of the 1930s, aesthetics and the language of abstraction (is there one?), arguing the toss with my friends between the artistic establishment in the shape of Peter Fuller against The Conceptual Movement, the relevance of Bertrand Russell’s ‘Problems of Philosophy’, the value or not of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth against the minimalism of Donald Judd and his counterparts, Constructivism, Deconstruction, Colour Field, Bertrand Russell becoming a Catholic on his death bed (talk about covering your bets), Rodin and Camille Claudel, Braque’s influence on Picasso, Picasso’s influence on everyone, Joseph Beuys (genius) as seen through the eyes of Anselm Kieffer (another genius), Clement Greenberg (wanker), why Jeff Coons sculptures are worthless second rate nonsense (not a lecture, just me), Rembrandt’s light and dark, Caravaggio’s light and dark, ‘A Trip to Italy’, that ceiling my Michelangelo, that table by Leonardo, Titian’s red, ‘A Trip To France’, that raft by Gericault, Ingres necks, David’s Marat, ‘A trip around Tate Britain’, Ruskin, Turner, William Blake (genius), Tate Modern and the irrelevance of Andy Warhol (me again!), Richard Rogers exterior intestines, the need for art in a functional world, need for art at all, not forgetting Tottenham Hotspur Football Club where ever I end up (God bless Glen Hoddle – Essex Boy), and thousands more sanguine moments of a thus far insular but happy existence. I took my basket of apples and threw them in the air.
Will that be British Airways, Qantas or Singapore Airlines sir?
I have completed new drawings and countless sketches for eleven new artworks, all of which, have been worked and re worked over the past nine months. For me, nine months is an eternity with regard to my usual art practice, but only now are the drawings near correct or at least at a point where I feel satisfied with their content and form.
Unease, tension and to some extent, depression at the thought of not seeing close friends, relatives and familiar places has brought everything in my life into sharp focus: particularly over the past three months as I realize the nearness of my departure date. I look forward to the future, but can’t help looking back over my shoulder in order to make some emotional sense of the past and my colossal decision to uproot and make a new life elsewhere. I will always love London but I have to go.
How strange, frustrating and yet challenging it is to understand trepidation, uncertainty and tentativeness for the first time in my life: and not necessarily in that order! Lucky I am indeed, to be able to make a free choice of direction for my life and where my life be lived. Such a free choice for so many reasons; political, ideological and spiritual is bestowed on so few, given freely to me as a right by birth, blood and country. I am lucky and I am grateful. Deep in my heart, I am thankful for that right to free choice and action and do not take it, or make it lightly.
The New World. Trepidation be gone!
The maquettes for the sculptures are complete and will be made to full scale over the next two months in readiness for the exhibition. Each work is to be given a specific title under the umbrella title of the exhibition ‘You Jest’. These titles are to work in two ways: firstly, to give clarity to the sculptural form and secondly, to build a literal relationship between the objects in the exhibition space in relation to the working title of the exhibition. Thus, all the works are to be linked together visually and literally. It is important to note that this exhibition is not to be considered as Installation Art (Heaven forbid!), more a collection of artworks to be viewed in one space and considered as one artwork. The Chelsea Contemporary Gallery is a large open space that will make this possible. The gallery director has given me complete control over the organisation of the space, which is very much appreciated.
I’ll name that sculpture in one…
All the titles have been chosen and I believe, will work well under the overall context of the exhibition. Titles seem to be born at the conception of an idea, but can sometimes change as the artwork progresses: not a complete change, but more of an evolution, just as the idea progresses into fruition. Titles can be as simple or as complicated as the artworks in that they are included to complete the idea. I have always titled my artworks. Not to do so is facile or stupid; a bit like having a child and not giving it a name - surely the creative process is just as long and mostly just as painful - can you imagine saying It’s ok, we’re just going to call the child it?: a totally facile exercise that will only lead to childish ridicule.
There is nothing more annoying than going to see a collection of artworks all of which, are accompanied by labels marked: “Untitled I, II or III” and so on; nameless and all the more inaccessible to the art lover.
There really is no need to make the artwork’s subject matter aloof (for vanity’s sake), in the hope that by doing so, it will give the artwork and the artist an inflated air of mystery, which of course, is utter nonsense. Artists are not mysterious, they never were, they are very normal people who eat, shit and sleep just like everyone else – take it from me. The disease of the untitled artwork (in more recent times from about 1950), spread throughout Europe, America, parts of Asia and I presume Australia, and affected hundreds if not, thousands of artists – particularly abstract artists – who took the easy option of leaving everything up in the air, so to speak; up in the artistic air that is, where aloofness in all its vagueness, wafted across a sea of non-objective mist laden forms or angular shapes that head butted each other or railed against each other’s existence in what morons (sorry many critics and their arty farty jargon), had the audacity to describe on many occasions as ambiguous juxtapositions of form. Really! Ambiguous juxtapositions of form, when what they actually meant to say was Flower arranging. Florists have more integrity. Sadly, none of those morons (sorry critics), had the courage of their convictions to put their careers on the line, say what they meant, and get a job in another field. Indeed, what job would have been available to them in the nineteen seventies and eighties with a degree in Art History? Apologies for the rhetoric. Unfortunately, the presence of the untitled artwork can still be seen in many galleries: fortunately, to a much lesser degree. It follows then, given my little rant above, the titles I have for these new artworks are both relevant and necessary in understanding the forms. They are also a natural extension of the forms to give clarity to the central idea.
One of the stumbling blocks for any progression or development in much of my work in the past, has been my inability to bring specific subject matter in to the abstract form. I have always wanted to bring about a parallel working process to join or coalesce object and subject. Many abstract artworks exist solely for what they are and nothing more. Consequently, for me, they are devoid of content or meaning. All that results from this type of abstraction is pretty shapes, be they two dimensional or three dimensional. On occasion, they may well be pleasing to the eye, but that is all. Some would no doubt believe that the existence of the artwork’s surface, and the emotional responses its surface invokes, is enough to make the artwork complete or valid. For me this is wrong as there is nowhere to go; nowhere to contemplate any intellectual or indeed spiritual content that might be lurking beneath the artwork’s surface: not even by accident. In short, incomplete artworks of this kind are shallow meaningless empty vessels, fit only for titles like ‘Untitled I, II or III’.
During the past nine months I had been looking for specific subject matter with so much intensity, my overall artistic outlook had become clouded. Objectivity evaded me; my natural urge to make art had to be suppressed (with great difficulty), in order to find new artistic ground upon which, to develop a new body of artworks. It is perhaps, a bit corny to make statements about the disparity between natural urges to work and enforced periods of artistic inactivity: but artistic endeavour requires this without question: periods of self-indulgent mental absorption. All you need is a room, a chair, a sketchbook, a pencil, a head full of ideas through which to negotiate and sift out the good ideas from the bad and of course, the indulgence of uninterrupted time; time enough in my case, to call into question the starting point for all my artistic endeavour.
I have always set myself tasks in an attempt to keep my art work vital and credible; tasks that have taken up so much of my life (thus far), that could only be broken up by times of self-questioning through doubting the essential core of any of my given ideas. In this case, as simplistic a notion as understanding the source of my subject matter (and placing that subject matter in the centre of art objects called sculpture), is not to be confused with feeling the need to make something from nothing and calling it art. Here, for me, lies the difference between original considered thought, balanced against an emotional response to the world at large.
Recognising the moment at which, a thought transforms from a simple notion to a credible artistic idea is worth further consideration and can only be recognised through a learned appreciation of the moment. There is no such thing as the untouchable flash of genius, at least, not in the practice of my art or for that matter, all the artists whom I respect. Inspirational moments and flashes of genius are romantic expressions used by people whose lives are dull and predictable; people who have a clichéd image of who they think an artist is. Expressions of this kind fit the image of a creative person people like to call artistic. Sadly, and perversely, all too often there have been many artists who have played the eccentric fool and feigned these inspirational moments and flashes of genius. The artists who act in this way usually end up making artworks of no consequence. Jeff Coons and Damien Hirst are shining examples of this type of artistic inanity and of whom, I hold no respect whatsoever. All surface and no substance.
Making thoughts real. Moments of realisation…
The moment of awakening to the truth of something special is brought about by continued study and application; developed around an inquiry into the responses, learning and intellectual realisations of one’s life. It is as simple and as difficult as that. For this body of work, I had to go right back to the simplest of enquiries into the nature of making thoughts or notions a reality. I asked myself again and again, what it was I had done in the past to make this possible? Time and time again, I returned to the very simplest of notions that brought about the simplest of answers: I make marks. I recall a moment of realisation in one of my earliest lessons in drawing. It was in my first year at art college after leaving school. I was fortunate enough to be taught by a painter called Ian McKeever who, during a life class, had become annoyed at our failing attempts at drawing. He walked around the room making all sorts of rood noises and then, when it appeared his emotions had got the better of him, he stopped the class. Pencils and charcoal down, we sat waiting as he collected his thoughts. The room was absolutely silent when he asked:
‘What do you think it is that you are actually doing?’
For a few moments no one replied and we sat in gloomy silence. I sat motionless as he asked again:
‘Come on! What do you think it is you are doing?’
More silence. What were we to say? What was I to say? I wanted to answer, but couldn’t find the words. Partly embarrassed, partly unsure of how to respond, I believe I actually blushed with shame.
‘Ok’, he continued, ‘today we are going to go back to basics, we’re going to ask ourselves about the nature of our activity: the nature of making art. It appears that none of you have looked at this aspect of creativity yet, and yet, it’s one of the foundations of artistic creativity.’
In the tense atmosphere of the room and in answer to his first question ‘What is drawing?’, there were many convoluted ideas around the subject; but no one really got close to describing the true nature of the activity.
‘Drawing is mark making.’ It was a simple pronouncement.
There was a collective sigh of relief at the simplicity of his answer, but even then, the importance of what he had just said, still hadn’t sunk in (I can be terribly slow like that); and while I began to ponder on his words he asked another, altogether, much harder question.
‘If drawing is mark making, what is a mark?’
Once again, as the atmosphere in the room lifted, there was much talk, but no one including me, got close to answering the question with any clarity.
‘A mark is a translation of an action.’ He said, and in that very moment, he looked right at me and smiled.
‘It’s as simple and as difficult as that,’
And to add more force to the statement he asked: ‘A mark translation of a particular action, driven by what?’
The penny rolling around in my head, began its slow descent as he continued to ask the simplest and yet, most difficult of questions.
‘What do we mean by mark making?’
‘What do I mean by particular action?’
‘What makes a particular action occur?’
“When does a mark become a mark?’
‘If we start with a dot and move the pencil along the page, when does the dot become a line?’
‘Apply this to any other form of mark be it abstract or objective and ask the same question.’
‘When does a mark stop being a mark?’
‘When we write, are we mark making?’
‘If mark making is the result of particular actions, how do we discern the difference between drawing and writing as mark making activities?
‘Drawing and writing are in themselves, both interpretations of thought and response to the world around us, what’s the difference between them?’
‘Now you are going to take piece of charcoal and you are going to make fifty different marks with it – do not stop until you have finished.’
It took a few seconds as I recall, but then, as the penny clanked its way down into my middle and into my core, I saw the truth of the importance of objective thought for the very first time. It was liberating and in that very moment, I found it hard to contain my excitement and moved my left arm across the paper in ways I had never done before.
The penny spun a final time and lay to rest: heads up.
Marking time until the penny dropped…
During the following classes there were many more questions and activities. I do not need to illustrate them here to make my point. To my shame and to this day, I remember that I started this journey in creativity several years before this moment of realisation by deciding (at the age of about 16), to become an artist. In making that decision, and in the following years until that life changing class, I had not taken the very basic step of questioning the very human nature of the activity that I felt sure would be the biggest influence on my future. Of all the lessons I took at art school, this day in April 1976, with this truly wonderful, gifted artist as teacher: was the best. No bolts of lightning, no rattle of thunder, no moments of inspiration, no flashes of genius: only the spark of enthusiasm igniting the flame of inquiry. It is to this memory I had to return to rekindle the flame of questioning so necessary in the making of art.
Ian McKeever has gone on to have a wonderful career that has seen him exhibit his extraordinary artworks all over the world. I am so grateful that I was taught by this wonderful artist that year: just before his career took off and he received the artistic recognition he so richly deserved.
As I work out the design layouts for these new sculptures, I find myself thinking about the process of making definitions of mental movement around thoughts. My recollection of such a mental movement – or moving through a moment of consideration – is significant in understanding the difference between a temporal fragment (a thought moment), and a kinetic summary (a memory of a thought in historic time and space). These two states of mind being as quick as a millisecond or as long as a lifetime. In the act of making a mark, I move through the temporal fragment and at the same time, recall the passing moment of the action; the kinetic summary. From this I may see (or at least come to recognise), and gain meaning from the temporal fragment and the kinetic summary simultaneously. Put simply, it’s a twofold state of mind in a creative moment whose mental and physical parts, coexist inextricably: by a particular action, they make the invisible become visible. I hold this to be a truth – or at least, one of my artistic truths as without the recognition of it as an artistic truth, there would be no grounds for me to acknowledge the process of mark making as having any artistic substance, be it mental or physical.
A moment may well be passing, but at what point in the process, do we know we are experiencing that moment; and at what point do we choose to capture any part of the essence of that moment as a record of an event? At what point in the process do we understand that moving through the process has become a memory? A physical demonstration of this would be the moment when we place pencil to paper and make a point: we move the pencil along the paper and perceive a point ceasing to be a point and becoming a line: in that moment lies our experience of the temporal fragment and the kinetic summary. Midway between the two states of existence is where our self-perception or the purity of self realisation can be demonstrated in its simplest form.
To bring this moment to the viewer’s mind, the artist must establish in physical terms, what the passing moment means to them. The romance of nostalgia might then be realised by the viewer in the same way. In physical terms, the way the viewer experiences an art work from one point to another is an integral part of the way the viewer (in that moment), recognizes and experiences their temporal fragment and kinetic summary. That is to say, to perceive, understand and recognise the artist’s mental movement in the making of the mark, the viewer must also perceive and see the particular physical action. The act of drawing and painting a mark is contained within a moment, which is perceived at its occurrence; as the marks are ended, there are secondary moments, which enable the artist to understand the physical space in which the mark exists. The artist’s perception of, and understanding that physical space, carries equal importance as they are then able to understand what is a mark and what is physical space. Some would argue that the simplicity of this type of moment is no more than the result of cause and effect: one state of being existing in tandem with another. Superficially, this is true; however, in establishing a connection between the temporal fragment and the kinetic summary, cause and effect can only be established at the competition of the creative moment and not experienced throughout the creative moment. An example of this can be seen in the pivotal artwork by Marcel Duchamp: Nude Descending A Staircase. As the viewer looks at Mr. Duchamp’s nude, it might well descend a staircase to give the viewer one particular movement; but the real act of movement, is the moment when the marks made are placed, distinguished and organised by the artist in one space and time. It is only later that the viewer experiences these mark making moments in a secondary space and time. By perusing the many parts of the artwork, the viewer is in the midst of a secondary temporal fragment in coexistence with their own secondary kinetic summary.
If my memory serves me correctly…
Memory recall through the temporal fragment and kinetic summary may also be used in creating artworks constructed from known symbolic shapes. These shapes enable the viewer to discern between what may be named from memory and what we have seen. This would hold true regardless of whether the object be representational (a recognisable thing), or nonrepresentational (an abstract form). This holds true in a similar way by artworks constructed using found objects. An example of the use of both the temporal fragment and kinetic summary through secondary memory is Pablo Picasso’s Bull’s Head, which demonstrates beautifully, two states of being in one particular moment of time and thought; a thought born from a memory. The sculpture Bull’s Head enables us to make a connection between what the artist gives us to see as handle bars and a seat from a bicycle (which from memory we recall as parts of a bicycle), and those parts of an animal we know from secondary memory to be a bull. As the viewer looks at the artwork, the recognition of both realities through the temporal fragment and the kinetic summary is simultaneous. I place a value on this act of putting objects together (for the construction of subject matter in what is essentially an abstract sculpture), that pulls together a shared temporal fragment and kinetic summary. In the moment of viewing, the artist and viewer have become one in experiencing the moment and recalling the memory of that moment. Here lies the challenge for an artist not using found objects but creating shapes, to find the form that will create a shared moment between the artwork and the viewer. This is the truth underlying the act of placing or making marks and designing objectively to find equivalents for what we think, feel and see. It is another important part of my art practice I have come to understand as necessary and one which, I hold as an artistic truth.
As I have progressed through these works, the logical conclusions to ideas have become clarified by dualistic thoughts that have harmony or balance, brought about by memory recall and recognition of a moment in time. In each case, I feel, at this very moment, the ideas have reached a hard-earned conclusion. My progression of thoughts moves forward – an onward going process if you like – as I find that the structure of the materials and the structure of the idea have cohesion that I have not found in the past. It will, I feel sure, bode well for future artworks, the forms of which, are already bubbling away in my jumbled but happy head.
To decide when to take up an idea and developing it into an artistic reality is as difficult as deciding when to stop. However, in establishing ideas of integrity, the process of constructing ‘Whole Forms’ via memory recall, can show that the resulting artwork, be it representational or not, to have intellectual and emotional substance or what could be called: truthfulness. This is a romantic way to pick and choose the starting point of a working artistic process indeed: but romance can often be the precursor to honesty and truthfulness. With these new works I am indulging in the romance of a moment of true realisation, which by its very nature, has an air of urgency of thought to what I perceive to be the world at large. The direct result of this is that, the clarity of one method of thinking may be continued in the form of another emotional, intellectual and physical realisation.
When I start a drawing, I am confronted by a piece of white paper. Right away, I have an instinctive urge to fill that paper with marks. (Since my happy childhood, it has always been the same). Why I have this urge is beyond me, but nevertheless, driven by my acknowledgement of the temporal fragment and the kinetic summary, ideas are born and become a reality; if only on the page. Ideas do not occur randomly, at least in me they don’t, they are born from an accumulation of learning and practice. Why the results of such actions should create reactions in an outward way is plausible for me as I see two states of being come together to coexist in harmony. This harmony of late has brought about a willingness to work in my studio from day to day (after such a long time of artistic self-imposed inactivity), with a willingness to apply my mind to an objective process that is in harmony with subjective expression. Back in 1982, I had a long discussion with the artist James Reilly about this way of working. He expressed it much more simply by saying that these moments are no more than the artistic way of working. He may well have been right, but I couldn’t help thinking, that point of view never really addressed what the harmonious state of mind could be with regard to action and subjective expression is in its purest form. To ignore it is for the committed artist at least, to be bang slap in the middle of the creative process while ignoring the emotional harmony of the moment. To create in this way, the artist is only working to find resolutions to known quantities. From this stultified position, not much in the way of new art can be born; which I understand now, was the very position I was in nine months ago: a position from whose shackles, I am now free. Nine months ago, I could find no counter point to this blinkered view. I had not addressed it and could see no counter position.
Original cover of notes before revision.
Juggling with objectivity…
It is mark making with the temporal fragment and kinetic summary that is teaching me to see and make a connection between specific content in the object and its subject to complete the object’s form. I mentioned at the beginning of these notes that I want these sculptures to be as close to ‘Whole Forms’ as is possible. By this I mean, objects that are complete in subject matter and form: further, that the objects (called sculptures), work visually, intellectually and emotionally; that each of these aspects of the object has been fully considered and attended to with care and attention. This may be blindingly obvious to other artists, taken for granted even, not by me. These qualities are the foundations of any artwork (no matter what its form and content), that makes it worth its salt, so to speak.
All the sculptures in this exhibition have a subject matter that is my objective expression of a simple emotional idea set within the exhibition’s umbrella subject matter and intention. A simple emotional idea born from a reaction to an artistic movement, the politics of which in recent years, has invaded London’s cognoscenti and led to the numbing of their objective critical senses; all except one to whom this exhibition is dedicated. Quite perversely then, I will present, simple abstracted shapes, shapes that hint at symbols, symbols whose simplicity creates an iconography that with is specific title: You Jest, will give those same cognoscenti, the artistic poke they deserve.
The aesthetic answer for these sculptures is so simple and yet, for all the years I have been making art, very complicated to resolve - and a resolution it is: Peter Fuller deserves no less. I cannot juggle oranges, I can however, juggle and hover happily in the middle of the temporal fragment and the kinetic summary. I may even endeavour to create something original. Here too lies an area I have neglected, or at least kept at bay: my need to acknowledge subjective responses to considered ideas and objective logic I might use in mental harmony. The same harmony I now acknowledge, that affects the aesthetic decisions around the physical material of the sculptures.
The shackles continue to fall away, but I still have to shake them off my body completely. It is mental harmony that dictates how an artist can dictate emotion through physical form. While it is impossible to be totally objective, no matter what our intellectual capacity, (certainly not in me!), it is possible for an artist to dictate emotion by making harmonious subjective and objective decisions. A specific set of emotions through certain visual tenets, is much the same as music that is written to evoke a particular emotion. Emotional responses can be aroused by this interplay between these two innate human qualities. Just as music is written objectively and subjectively, written by the composer and played by the musician experiencing the temporal fragment and the kinetic summary: a common human response can be expected. A person would have to be made of stone, not to well up with tears when listening to the second movement of Mahler’s fourth symphony; and yet it is Mahler’s objective structure of the whole symphony that is the key to what has to be one of the world’s greatest musical achievements anyone can hear.
Emotional responses and educated guesses…
Total logic through objectivity is an impossible desire to be called upon at will; we are, after all, human and fallible; but by perverse contrast, the logic sought after by philosophers like Wittgenstein and his followers was simply unobtainable. It caused him, and no doubt those following in his foot-steps, to get to the end of their lives feeling somewhat unfulfilled: possible too, for them to have come to the end of their days completely discontented. That seems like a long straw to draw I know, but then again, reaching for stars (or indeed cats on mats), that are out of reach or out of view, seems to me to be a fruitless waste of one’s time and energy. At the end of it, Wittgenstein’s life that is, he said, ‘tell them I had a happy life’. Tell who? All his followers trying to find pretty stars or a cat sitting on a mat? In heaven there may well be a cat. There may well be a mat. I’ll just have to wait and see.
Logic be damned…
Clever ideas, tend to get in the way of clever thought. ‘A happy life’, I think not, and I see through the contradiction of that little notion, for surely it must be said and read the other way around. “Clever thoughts, tend to get in the way of clever ideas.” That’s better, I just said it aloud to make sure and it makes much more sense, when you come to think of it, does it not? Hmm…thought so. Actually, it makes no sense at all and is typical of the verbal spaghetti, started and championed by the likes of Clement Greenberg in the 50s, 60s and 70s. At the hand of Greenberg and a few of his contemporaries, verbal spaghetti knotted its literal way in to just about every contemporary art related journal. London’s art galleries were (and many still are), full of ambiguous juxtapositions of form (flower arranging), at the moment: full to overflowing too, with hollow artworks that are all surface and no substance. Such literal contractions have become the playing ground for so many London’s cognoscenti, university lecturers, critics and too many artists (for God’s sake!), who pander to their every hollow whim. This jargon has become their literal (wait for it), mode of expression. An expression they believe, actually gives their hollow superficial artworks credibility. The sides of so many Conceptual artworks and gallery catalogues are filled to over flowing with the likes of clever thoughts, tend to get in the way of clever ideas; words that they believe will give these flower arrangers some kind of artistic credibility not to mention: longevity.
The temporal fragment and kinetic summary are a million miles away from these people. They have a collective radar that draws them towards this literal and artistic nonsense: a nonsense that drives them in to turn to take anyone with any artistic talent that does not accord with their own conceptual dream, and terminate them with extreme prejudice. The harmonious coexistence of mind and form made a reality by those artists outside this clique of self-obsessed, self-congratulatory buffoons occasionally causes the slightest of blips on their all-consuming radar; but as the arm of their fluorescent beam makes its circular sweep across London and its environs, harmony, considered thought, the temporal fragment and kinetic summary are swept off its edges completely. Will it ever return? I hope so, one day. ‘You Jest’, albeit exhibited in Sydney, Australia on the other side of the world, may well be a finger prod and a last gasp. Who knows? One day.
With so much precious logic floating in a sea of unresolved verbal spaghetti, I wonder if Wittgenstein ever put his pride in his pocket and appreciated beauty and emotion created by form: form born from considered ideas? I very much doubt it. Ego is one thing, humility is another. Are you sure you had a happy life? I don’t think so.
Dispensing with cats and mats and stars out of reach, I say that an objective thought can be balanced with a subjective response to subject matter, to make a clear sculptural statement full of emotion coexisting with a specific idea. It follows then, that I am creating with specific intention, and that to be specific in my design, is to make sure there is absolutely no mistake in the reason for the object’s (sculpture’s), existence. I now hold this to be another one of my artistic truths.
Illustration for one and all…
One other aspect that occurred at the start of this body of work, was the linear qualities of the marks I made in the preliminary sketches. Once I started back in earnest, fleshing out the seeds of the idea for You Jest, each sketch came with clarity, and as I drew each sculpture on the pages, the illustrative qualities of the drawings came to the fore. This was because, I knew the shapes I wanted for each sculpture, but did not want to use any image available publicly as source material. The shapes for each sculpture had to come from my interpretation of a known form. The sculptor Constantin Brancusi understood this starting point. His interpretations of forms in the natural world are as close to the thinking of someone like William Blake (who believed in drawing from the mind rather than copying nature), as any other artist could possibly be; interpretation and reinterpretation being the key to establishing the right shapes for my sculptures. Not an approximation of reality, but a reinterpretation of an idea of reality.
There are illustrative qualities in just about all forms of art and the drawings for these sculptures are no exception. It is fair to say, that if these new sculptures appear to be too open or obvious as was my intention, then I do not mind in the slightest. For me, the simplicity of their form, it the key to their connected subject matter. I have yet to decide whether I will ever exhibit these sketches. Probably not. I have only ever shown completed artworks, not the ideas that spawned them. I do like their illustrative qualities though, and looking at them for reference reminds me of the ability that so many really good illustrators have in showcasing their ideas. A good illustration has so much potential, and no doubt causes just as many headaches for the illustrator as any artist, in bringing related subject matter to life; the kind of subject matter that is free from all verbal spaghetti and meaningless expressions. Just as the very good illustrators do, if I can encompass through my sketches and drawings, the simplicity of a single thought, or the complexities of a poem by someone like Basil Bunting or the great Marianne Moore, by realising and making the invisible become visible, then I will have come a long way in my desire to make whole forms.
I know this is not a new way of working by any means as for centuries, people from all cultures have put this method of creative thought into practice in their daily life. Over the centuries they have made their ideas, hopes and dreams a reality in the form of art. I should say, before working on this body of work, I had a niggling feeling that somewhere in the darkest recesses of my scrambled brain, there was a memory of some illustrative artworks that were the finest of their kind. Picasso’s Bull’s Head (mentioned earlier in this script), sprang to mind, but that was not it. I wracked my brains trying to remember: and then it came - the paintings in the Caves at Lascaux, France. Thousands of them in groups of animals, people and signs that have been abstracted and look as though they could have been designed yesterday. These stunning artworks were made fifteen thousand years ago. Colours mixed with earth pigments and applied in all manner of mark making by artists who were at the peak of their skills and whose minds lived happily between the temporal fragment and the kinetic summary. Fifteen thousand years ahead of their time – if I may be so indulgent. Apologies, I love them too much.
The animals are painted in blended colours between lines whose contours are both illustrative and yet naturalistic in their making. They even went as far as placing the animals in positions in what has come to be known as ‘twisted perspective’. The people who made these paintings relied on the animals they painted for food, clothing and as part of their ritual worship.
And back to mark making we come…
Imagine a race of people, living in townships of no great size, but with great structure and communication between tribal relatives, relying on one another for harmonious existence, knowing the import