Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My Polish Bracelet: A Brief Essay

I have given each of these paintings a title in order to place it in the country and indeed in the city that inspired it: Poland and Poznań. But titles are little more than labels for keeping track of things and differentiating them one from another. It helps in the shipping and makes a catalogue orderly, but really they are never more than packaging. There are of course people who prefer to be told what a painting is about. For some a title, like an airbag in the passenger seat of a car, provides a semblance of security.
There is of course no security. But it is comforting to imagine that there is.
The importance of a painting once it is released into the world resides for me in the uncountable and irreconcilable differences of opinion and interpretation engendered in those who happen to look at it. Each will understand the image in a unique way, according to a unique set of prejudices and likes and dislikes and a unique life-experience. One might say then that a painting once it is out of the hands of the painter becomes a whole gallery of art, for it is a different painting for each person who views it.
That is why the less information the title conveys the better things go. It gives the viewer scope to travel alone on his or her personal journey.

To think you know something about a place: then to be there! What a re-adjustment of the memory’s seating arrangements! Prejudice and preconception go out the window. And such a re-shuffling of train carriages before the next part of the journey can continue!

A month of furious painting begins; an outpouring into form and colour propelled by motives that are at once hidden, silent and yet quite irresistible. The three dimensions my sight inhabits are measured, sucked in, digested and pass rapidly through other reckonings of place and history in what at first seems nothing more than an unguided tumble. Into the two- yet now multi-dimensional picture plane shapes other than those with which my eyes are familiar bubble up like hot magma rising from secret and subterranean depths. To my surprise they leave before me a familiar yet distorted landscape full of a kind of truth I recognise but which is ambiguous to say the least.

Before I went there I did have a history of Poland: I had my own, very personal history of Poland. From my father, the RAF padre, I inherited the Polish Spitfire pilots of the Battle of Britain. From my boarding school days in England I remembered the Polish cooks and maintenance men, beached like dolphins on my shore when the Iron Curtain came down and cut off their retreat. I remember my adolescent horror at the arrival of Russian tanks in Poznań in 1956 which, splashed graphically across the inside pages of the Times, far outweighed for me in drama the current news from Suez.

Down the years my interest and curiosity were augmented, but never acted upon. In my early twenties I remember friends in Sweden where I lived at that time making vodka-buying trips across to Poland’s Baltic ports where they would mysteriously ‘lose’ their passports to Polish lovers and be repatriated by their embassies, heroic, teary-eyed dishevelled and happy. I had always roamed the world at will but what appeared to be the inaccessibility of this country kept me at a distance. It was hidden away ‘over there’ behind the barbed-wire of the Eastern Bloc. Its familiar history, its Western European heritage, its Chopins and its Conrads I supposed were still intact and biding their time in cellars. But Poland in my youth was for me a mythical land, as inaccessible as any interior in the Heart of Darkness. Never to be seen. And, unlike the rest of the world I knew, never to be visited.

Until I did visit. And then for a fortnight in Poznań in December 2010 two opposing mindscapes met within me. The city and its actuality opened upon me from every direction and flooded those dusty old archives of my childhood. Carried into my consciousness on internal currents about which of course I know nothing they induced in me an alchemical reaction. These paintings are the results.

I have divided the twenty seven works into four categories. Legends and Myths (Eight Paintings); Townscapes (Seven Paintings); People (Three Paintings) and a final category: Other (Nine Paintings), which in a way draws on the same more tangible and concrete elements of the first three categories but transmutes them into images more in tune with the less accessible corners of my internal world.

© Mike Absalom 18 February 2010

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