Some miscellaneous thoughts prompted by the text of the catalogue for the RWA's Albert Irvin exhibition, or pertinent quotations extracted from it:
An earlier post ('Synthesis', 01/12/18), discussing Rubens' Het Steen landscape, noted the desirability of somehow incarnating values in a painted image. The American artist Robert Motherwell, quoted in the preface to the catalogue, picks up the same point and enumerates some options: 'Venturesomeness is only one of the ethical values respected by modern painters. There are many others, integrity, sensuality, knowingness, passion, sensitivity, dedication, sincerity, and so on which taken altogether represent the ethical background of judgement in relation to any given work of modern art.' This is an imaginative and thought-provoking list. I'm sure I'll return to it.
On abstraction: 'A lot of abstract paintings are made through looking at things, and the artist can be torn in terms of loyalty to the original - the issue of a painting originating from, for example, a landscape, but not looking like it in a direct way.' (This puts me in mind of Terry Frost's early series of paintings, 'Walk Along the Quay'.) And then, more in tune with Irvin's mature work where all reference to any motif is absent, and speaking of the influence of the American painters: 'All was changed, changed utterly... and above all, that the 'content' or 'subject' of a painting could be its own formal structure, its shapes and colours and their disposition over the canvas surface; it was that 'space' in a painting could be lateral as well as - or instead of - recessive; that a painting was part of the world, not merely a picture of some aspect of it.' This is a concise description of 'pure' abstraction. It applies as much to the later work of Terry Frost, and that of Patrick Heron and Ben Nicholson (for example), as to Albert Irvin.
About the primacy of making: '...Irvin was told... that he must not teach more than three days per week... (and have) more time each week in the studio... and importantly, paint under my fingernails.' It seems to me that when you stop making you become an ex-artist. And further, of personal involvement: 'The brushed mark was a core communicative element for Irvin. It acted as a signifier of the presence of the artist and the decision-making taking place... (He said,) 'It's important that the mark on the canvas is the mark I've made.'
Finally, in an interview between artist-colleague (B) and the exhibition curator (S) an exchange about the joy in Irvin's paintings:
'B: ...I don't think there are any black clouds in his paintings. By that I mean, I don't think there is any angst in his paintings.
S: Yeah, they are very celebratory paintings.
B: Yeah, and I think once he'd identified that, in his head it became much clearer.
S: Oh, that's interesting - you think it took Bert a while to find that, and be confident about it?
B:...I think the spirit of the painting he wanted to make eventually became clearer, and somehow he identified the idea of making an image that was joyous and optimistic.'
And, elsewhere, on the same theme: 'After years of exploration, a visual opulence emerged to stand as testament to his belief in the essential and enriching power of the visual arts... he found ally in Matisse's principle of an art of '...the joyousness of springtime, which never kets anyone suspect the labours it has cost.''