Tuesday, March 2, 2010

D. Other

With this thought I begin to move closer, perhaps even to enter into the Other category. It may be that Other is the only way I can even begin to approach the world my eyes reveal and which the many filters of my prejudice and my carefully constructed survival universe have arranged for me into some semblance of order. Perhaps Other is where the painter and the poet go when on the search for, not truth, for that would be asking too much, but certainly for self-expression or for at least a small reason for being. Perhaps following Alice and the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole is the only way to get a comprehensible perspective in the midst of the kaleidoscopic illusion in which we find ourselves lost when we stop and try to look hard at what is around us?

And so with this in mind, let us look at the nine remaining paintings. I think that in these there is not such a distinct division between myth and legend, the reality of the townscape, the people in it and the unseen currents and tides which in a way are the blood that pumps unseen through it and keeps the whole entity alive.

What do I mean by Other?
Other for me is when the paintings in which the layers of the onion , myth and legend, location in the present and individual people, having been conveniently separated one from the other to be examined as discrete subsections, are put back together and arrive as an integrated whole and expressed. They are no longer mere ingredients. If I were a cook rather than a painter I would say the cake is baked.
And at this late stage I now see that all the paintings really belong to this category for I have started by dissecting them unnecessarily in a rather cruel and selfish way, like a child curiously pulling living organisms apart in order to understand how they work. This for my own understanding, I should add. For after all they arrive on my canvas not from me but from somewhere else. From Other if you like. And in order to make them more comprehensible to my own mind I have taken them to pieces and have attempted to point out some of the disparate elements in the mix. But in spite of this, the categorisations only represent different perspectives in what is in the end a homogenous picture. As I walk the streets of Poznań the angles constantly change, but I am always looking at the same panorama.

I could give concrete examples, always bearing in mind that my interpretation will not be the same as yours. Among the paintings in the Other category are two paintings: The Ruins of the City and Woman with Hands Raised (in Rubble). One might call them Townscapes, and lump them together with Ratusz, a Study in History. But they are clearly not present day Poznań. One might consider them Legend and Myth but in the making, for that is what history can be, as it lays itself down like turf or coal over time, ready to burn afresh in the memories of future generations. Those future generations are already the fresh young faces I see walking the Christmas streets. And Ratusz itself already overlaps the two categories of legend and townscape, with its head-butting goats and its pike-bearing and helmeted figures and its own architectural and political flavour. All three paintings sit well together with Reclining Nude with Soldiers, the message of which is plain but whose historical truth or even positioning in time enigmatic. The Handshake, showing a figure approaching two others with extended hands in a desolate background which might be a physical or psychological dreamscape defies any explanation beyond the viewer’s own interpretation. Is it then or now? Does it tell the story of an actual handshake? Was it observed last night in the bar at Brovaria? Is it allegorical? The inscrutability of art allows it to be all or none of these. It depends on the scrutineer! Sweeper and Coffee Drinker, Stary Browar and Serenade with One String Fiddle might have been included in the People category, for they were both inspired by real encounters in the city, albeit well affected by sympathetic resonance from both my own history and that of Poland. They are expressionistic in a sense, and full of emotion. And as is the case with history that ages into legend and finally returns to myth, they could be grouped with any of the categories, Myth and Legend, People or Townscape. All these layers are there. Three Muses and Woman in Mittens might well have been included among the legends and myths, together with Witches and Rósalki but it was actually inspired by Wisława Szymborska’s ironic verse about Polish poets in mittens. Not so ironic for me, who had come dressed for the Irish Bog, and found myself walking through the sub-zero Poznań morning with my nose frozen off my face! But the inspiration, although it was the starting gun, could not follow where the race ran after that and the poet and her three muses could just as well have been wise women; and who knows what magic they might have been up to, and when?

And where do Robin and Winter Still and the Ancestor (a visit to the National Museum) fit into all this? Well, we could turn endlessly to Wine Women and Song and the Pursuit of God and other themes that have informed my work over the years, for I did not arrive in Poznań without my own interpretative baggage. But I shall say only that the robin is as brutal a tyrant in family matters as ever King Popiel was. And that after my live experiences on the town, the National Museum, along with all the other fascinating archives I visited during my stay provided a centrally heated oasis and at the same time a visual consensus for some of the ideas that had been circulating in my thought as I tramped the city streets and prepared to paint my experience in their in terms and in my terms and in terms of Other.

© Mike Absalom 18 February 2010

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