I have been thinking a lot recently about my own artistic influences both conscious and unconscious. This was initially prompted by a question posed on an application form for membership to a society. “How does your work relate to theories of contemporary art critical discourse? ” A fine example of International Art English! My answer was perhaps a glib cliche, “It doesn’t.” Yes I could draw some parallels with movements with which I have some affinity or artists whose work I admire, but as I have mentioned in previous blogs for much of my career, I have been creating within a different discipline. The skills may be transferable but the influences less so. There is no denying that since my decision to pursue a fine art path I have discovered other artists drawing inspiration from the same sources as my self, but it has ever been so.
However, some paintings seem to have been a reoccurring presence in my life and perhaps despite their irrelevance to the direction of my own work they have influenced me regardless. One such work could be “Spatial Concept Waiting” by Luciano Fontana. Hardly a painting at all, it consists of a simple un-primed hessian canvas with a precise diagonal cut slicing through the material to reveal a black, cavelike void behind.
I first came across this work as a schoolboy on a trip to the Tate Gallery with my Father. My Father was fine draughtsman and a big influence on my creativity when I was a child. He taught me to draw and showed me works by artists he admired in the books he borrowed from the library. He loved the work of Raphael, Rembrandt, Watteau, Dürer and Picasso. We would make occasional trips to one of the big galleries in London so that he could show me the real paintings. Spatial Concept Waiting however was not high on the list of important works I should see. My father dismissed it scathingly as he did most modernist or conceptual art and perhaps that was the reason it stayed with me. I’m sure I agreed with him, and without a doubt at that early stage in my artistic development this negative view of contemporary art coloured my thoughts as well.
I encountered Fontana’s work again at art school and while I now understood it and the context of spacialism in which it had been produced, it was just another work in another art history lecture.
Forwarding some 20 years later and as I begin to define the direction of my own work I am cutting into the surface of the board and creating textures behind the surface plane. Although there are few similarities between the piece I am working on and the neatly cut hessian of Fontana’s work, something reminds me of that brooding darkness behind the thin skin of cloth and the feeling that there is still more going on behind it.
In February I took my daughter to the Tate Modern just as my Dad had taken me. Zoë is more than happy to explore her own feelings about the work on show and just asks questions when she wants to know more. Looking at familiar works through her eyes is both refreshing and surprising. Rounding a corner I was presented once more with Spacial Concept Waiting. This time it felt more like coming across an old friend. Although I like it, it’s still not a work I would necessarily choose for my own fantasy living room, there are just so many to admire and lust after. However perhaps it’s time to finally admit that the idea of wanting to go beyond a flat two dimensional surface has stayed with me and the seed could well have been planted by Signor Fontana.
This chain of thought has me wondering what other seeds were planted back then and I have begun to think that perhaps some of those parallels were not parallels at all.
With hindsight there is perhaps a fuller explanation to that question on the application form, but it is certainly not one that I could ever fit into a few hundred words. Perhaps it’s completely impossible to avoid the influence of other artists? The unconscious nudge has even more chance of finding its way into ones work than the big looming presence that you try so hard to avoid. Either way, I have decided to allow myself some little creative luxuries that I would have avoided previously as having been explored before or touched by an artist who’s work I admire.
I’m allowing myself to create in white even though Ben Nicholson created such amazing stark reliefs with it.
I’m also letting some of my collaged paper roughs become the final piece despite Matisse beating us all to it by some 70 years. It’s not as if I’m treading on any ones artistic toes so what does it matter if someone else can draw comparisons and similarities?