At the risk of being thoroughly distracted from a couple of existing themes this post records some thoughts and observations drawn from the writings of Sargy Mann (see last post).
Mann's work is unapologetically figurative. He sought to record what he perceived: 'At Camberwell I was given the ideal of a kind of realism which was an art of truth to visual experience. The world was beautiful and by drawing and painting in the right, selfless, frame of mind you could learn to experience, to see more of that true beauty and, to the best of your ability record it in a shareable form' (2008, p.21). I don't think he ever let go of this ideal. He plainly believed that making paintings changes what you see, makes you see qualitatively better even (in the same way that a wine connoisseur is trained to taste better): 'if you look at the real world in front of you as intensely and as freely from visual preconceptions as you can and try to record as truthfully as you can what that experience is, you will in time see more, see better' (2016, pp.7-8). And again, 'someone like Monet... just saw more, understood more through his eyes...and the sum of those things... is in those paintings. And if we have the right sort of energy, and the right sort of humility, we can share some of those discoveries. Now that for me is the glory of art' (2016, pp.9-10). Art practice is presented as a tool - analagous to the telescope in Galileo's hands - to reveal fresh truths about the real world: 'The overall determining question is always, what is it like being here? This is not an easy question to answer and indeed one paints the picture in order to find and fix that answer, and the act of painting effects what it is like being there, enhances the experience if one gets it right' (2008, p.178).
Mann sees a painting as a metaphor (I suppose it has to be as it clearly isn't the real thing).
'In all figurative art there is feedback between the experience and its means of realisation. This is the metaphorical nature of figurative art that enables entirely new and alien experience to be communicated' (2008, p.212).
'The process (of making art) both discovers and invents a metaphor capable of communicating that experience to oneself and others' (2016, p.30).
'In a good figurative painting, the abstract pattern, the impression it makes on you as a design, must be in total accord with the subject, must become the realisation of the subject. It is not enough for the pattern to read such that the elements of the subject can be named; that would be illustration, would be painting as simile as distinct from metaphor which is our goal' (2008, p.130).
Because of the progressive deterioration and eventual loss of his sight, Mann's paintings altered considerably over time. However, changes (forced upon him by his altered perception) were always in response to the question: 'What is it like being here?' For painters, the business of finding their right way to answer this question is urgent and non-trivial: 'I have always detested the idea of style as something you choose and felt that style was how you turned out to have done it and should only be talked about retrospectively if at all... However, for all that I was opposed to the idea of style, I knew that figurative painting... achieved figuration by means of some sort of pictorial convention and although it was a condition of being any good that one arrived at one's own necessary way of painting, nonetheless there were different conventions that had been employed at different times and by different artists and which were in some respects mutually exclusive. So there had to be some sort of choosing of how one was going to proceed... This dilemma of how to choose a figurative convention or pictorial language, but not choose a style has troubled me ever since my student days... The only test has always been, what seems most true at the time...' (2008, p.94).
Finally, in his account of his life an extraordinary hopefulness shines through. Mann took pleasure in what he achieved and understood that what he was attempting was of great value:
'Most of the time I have enjoyed painting very much and have, in general, always liked my own painting. I have always felt very sorry for artists, an awful lot of them, who seem to hate their work and go through their artistic life in a state of self-critical rage and misery' (2008, p.66).
'I am getting old and that can bring about changes... I can't, nor do I want to, predict what these might be, rather I welcome them, though with anxiety, but this is, I think, as it should be...' (2008, p.217).
'I want to tell people how utterly extraordinary and worthwhile (art) is. Because - you see, most people, I think, their ambition in terms of what art can offer them, is so incredibly modest and I want it to be very... very ambitious' (2016, p.31).
The two quoted texts are:
2008: 'Sargy Mann: Probably the Best Blind Painter in Peckham', Peter Mann and Sargy Mann, SP Books
2016: 'Perceptual systems, an inexhaustible reservoir of information and the importance of art: Thoughts towards a talk', Sargy Mann, Peter Mann (ed.), SP Books