05 June 2010

Democracy, croissants, art and trains (Part Four)

What is the function of Art in society? Who does is speak to, why does it hold an elevated place in our culture, and indeed should it hold an elevated place? Who defines what is and is not to be considered Art and on what basis are such arbitrations made? The answers to these and many other questions are not going to be touched with a ten-foot pole here on Booming Back; I may be self-opinionated and subject to occasional fits of self-aggrandisement, but in the odd fleeting moment of realistic lucidity I too know my limits, or a close approximation there of.

However I am somewhat fascinated by the process of artistic creation almost as much as by the fruits of that creation.

Here in Dublin in the Hugh Lane Gallery is to be found one of the most fascinating of all museum exhibitions, Francis Bacon's studio, removed from London and reassembled centimeter by tattered, raggy, pack-rat hoarded centimeter. Standing looking in to it is like seeing in to the mind of Bacon himself, watching the neurons of creativity fire and explode and race along invisible threads that connect each seemingly random and discarded piece of detritus, the jumbled topography of his flat forming a unique mind-map, each haphazard pile or slashed canvas an anchor point for the synapses of his artistic landscape. While I am not a huge fan of Bacon's work, to see the environment within and from which so many of his pieces were created gives a strange sense of comprehension to the mottled, flowing, and distorted figures that seemingly melt into their surrounds that populate his works. There are no clean lines, no defined boundaries in his studio, each part seems forever on the verge of being buried in a discarded avalanche from and of its neighbour. I may not like his work any more than I did before viewing this, but I feel a greater sense of understanding of the hows and the whys behind it.

On a more positive note I have a collection of books and postcards of black and white photographs of Monet, pottering around his house and garden, all beardy and roly-poly, gauloises dangling absently from his fingertips while having a chat with Clemenceau presumably on their way to, or back from, a rather tasty lunch. Despite advanced age and deteriorating eyesight the images convey a man happy and content with his lot in life, the very opposite of the notion of the artist as a tortured man. Thus while in Paris we took the opportunity to travel out north, again by train, to the Normandy village of Giverny, where Monet's home and garden that feature so heavily in his later work are open to the public as a museum.

The first thing that strikes you about Monet's garden is that it is entirely artificial, from the neatly ordered rows of flowers planted in waves of striking colours that line the paths in front of is house to the pond that hosts the water lilies so synonymous with his 20th century pieces, crafted from the diverted flow of the Epte River with every aspect carefully sculpted by the artist, the landscape itself his canvas. This is a managed, manufactured environment, designed from inception to inspire and delight, which it most definitely does. Over there is the Japanese Bridge, opposite the smaller bridge, here are the willows drooping elegantly into the water, and everywhere on the surface of the pond are scattered the saucer-plates of the lilies, Les Nympheas, resting gently on the reflected purple-greens of trees and flower-lined paths rising to the grey-blues of the Normandy sky above. Every angle instantly familiar and achingly beautiful, yet there is the sense that every leaf, every branch, every petal has been meticulously placed specifically and deliberately by Monet to provide the maximum inspirational effect, it is in every sense inspiration by design, and it couldn't be further away from the haphazard chaos of Bacon's organically evolved studio.

And yet the environment of both men is clearly visible in every brushstroke of their paintings; the colour of their landscape, whether designed or emerged, seeps through onto the canvas from the walls and floor, or trees and water. The works themselves were created as much by the Space in which they were birthed as by the mind and hand of the artist that birthed them.

Thus as much as with the process of creation itself, I am fascinated by the impact of Space upon that creation, by the ways in which the environment around you, from the meta-level of the urban space in which your life revolves to the micro-level of the very room in which you now sit, channels, shapes and forms your moods, your thoughts, your actions and reactions.

With that in mind, and shortly before we left for London and Paris, I rented a studio, my very own undisclosed location, a retreat away from all that intrudes and demands and expects my time and attention. If I lived anywhere but the city centre no doubt I would have built a shed at the bottom of my garden to which I could retire at the end of the day and think grand thoughts. Alas while an urban existence has many advantages, a garden is not one of them, and thus I have taken over a former artist's studio, splatters of oils and acrylics still fresh on the walls, as a place to escape and write alone with my thoughts and the occasional caffeinated beverage. Photos will follow at a later stage, but for now I am still in the ongoing process of shaping it to my tastes, more orderly structured and Monet than discarded chaos and Bacon, but with definite traces of both.

In time it will resemble neither and reflect only Unkie Dave, and perhaps too Unkie Dave will come to reflect it.

Francis Bacon's Studio at the Hugh Lane Gallery
More photos from Giverny and Les Nympheas at the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris

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At 1:06 pm, Blogger lusciousblopster said...

And you began your journey staying in Mondrian's studio in London, before viewing some of the works he produced in that studio on display in Tate Modern. More threads woven together...the site (the means?)of production and the production itself...


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