I think I was 16 when I painted this. I was already influenced by Cézanne, and the blocky style was my naive interpretation of his style. Even from this image, carefully Photoshopped from an old snap, it's pretty obvious that I had no idea of what he was really on about, but I think it has a certain presence. The painting (oil on hardboard) was about six feet high and for years was stored at the back of my parents' garage and went to the tip when my father died.
An extract from Oliver Sack's 'The River of Consciousness', quoted in a New York Times article today:
"It is often felt that Darwin, more than anyone, banished “meaning” from the world — in the sense of any overall divine meaning or purpose.…. [And yet] evolutionary theory provided, for many of us, a sense of deep meaning and satisfaction that belief in a divine plan had never achieved. The world that presented itself to us became a transparent surface, through which one could see the whole history of life. The idea that it could have worked out differently, that dinosaurs might still be roaming the earth or that human beings might never have evolved, was a dizzying one. It made life seem all the more precious and a wonderful, ongoing adventure."
I've just started reading Colin Wilson's 'The Outsider'. Most people my age read it in their twenties, but better late than never. A couple of things that caught my eye:
"Freedom posits free-will; that is self-evident. But Will can only operate when there is first a motive. No motive, no willing. But motive is a matter of belief; you would not want to do anything unless you believed it possible and meaningful. And belief must be belief in the existence of something; that is to say, it concerns what is real. So ultimately, freedom depends upon the real. The Outsider’s sense of unreality cuts off his freedom at the root. It is as impossible to exercise freedom in an unreal world as it is to jump while you are falling."
"… Hemingway’s early work ... is a long meditation on human vulnerability. And meditation on human vulnerability always leads to ‘religious thinking’, to Hemingway’s ‘He must find things he cannot lose’; to a development of an ethic of renunciation and discipline. It leads to a realisation that man is not a constant, unchanging being: he is one person one day, another person the next. He forgets easily, lives in the moment, seldom exert’s will-power, and even when he does, gives up the effort after a short time, or forgets his original aim and turns to something else. No wonder that poets feel such despair when they seem to catch a glimpse of some intenser state of consciousness, and know with absolute certainty that nothing they can do can hold it fast."
Some shots from a trip to Provence In 2010, with paintings by Cézanne and van Gogh.
John Keats defined Negative Capability as "when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." I'll go along with that.
It's always been a mystery to me why Japanese canvas stretchers don't feature wedges for tautening a canvas, a common feature in Europe and probably the US. At last I've found the "A" range by Maruoka that does have wedges. Taut as a drum from now on.
I'm ashamed to admit that one of my online pastimes is Googling 'Roger Barnard artist'. A
recent search turned up reviews in the newly-uploaded Spectator archives of the New Generation shows in 1966 and 68. I wasn't aware of these reviews before, and discovered that they were both less than enthusiastic, and my paintings weren't mentioned at all.
From the 1966 review by Mario Amaya:
"… this latest selection of eleven painters and two sculptors chosen by Mr Robertson seems to be straining desperately to create an effect, without knowing quite why or what it is after."
A pretty accurate description of my current work, too.
And in 1968 Paul Grinke concluded his review with:
"Many people will no doubt be disappointed that there are no new names to conjure with, and not all that much new work by older hands, but the show remains both useful and enjoyable."
Well, that was something, I suppose.
These reminded me of a 'review' of the 1966 show in the now defunct Studio International magazine which was actually written beforehand by Patrick Procktor, one of the artists featured in the first NG show in 1964. I and the three other Central students had been told that Procktor would be visiting the school, and after showing him our work, we naively assumed that the article would be a standard puff piece. But no such luck. As a temporary art critic, he was refreshingly honest about all the artists, and very sparing in his praise. He wrote that my paintings were "fair examples of optical paintings, the most recent one moving towards something less mathematically regular. Where?" Fair enough, Patrick.
It wasn't all gloom, however. I remember I was mentioned favourably in a 1966 BBC broadcast of "The Critics", but I have no recording to back up my claim. And after my father died, I discovered a cutting from The Sunday Telegraph dated May 5, 1968. Edwin Mullins, the regular art critic, wrote:
"The early King "Twilight," will in time be regarded as a seminal work in British sculpture of the 1960s; and Hoyland, Barnard, and Lancaster are others for whom my respect grows." Which was nice.
In September 2015, I commented on a video on the Prager University Facebook page. You can watch the video and read my original and follow-up comments here (if you have nothing else to do).
For a couple of months after my comment appeared, there was a steady trickle of responses, mostly agreeing with me, so that was nice. Around the end of the year, the negative ones started popping up and then things went relatively quiet. For some reason, since March this year there have been more or less daily comments, a lot of them of the ‘modern art sucks’ variety. Among other things, I have been called ‘an airhead liberal’ and ‘a waste of space’.
It’s actually been quite interesting trying to articulate what I think about ‘modern’ art (not an unquestioning defence by any means), but the recent trolling has made me more wary of expressing my opinions on the Internet. This blog is different, as no one seems to read it …
Robert Morris: "We have only to experience late Donatello or Cézanne or Titian or Goya to see that it is in old age that the most extraordinary art is made by those few survivors who realise how terrifying existence is, and at the end of life live totally in their art to escape this crushing world." (New York Times International Edition, March 18-19, 2017)
My semi-abstract landscape idiom ground to a halt at the end of last year. I felt the whole approach was based on clichés and approximations of other artists’ work, and a bit of serendipity has kick-started a switch back to acrylics and abstraction, at least for a while. After looking at one of my paintings from 2009 which had been hanging in the toilet (prime location), I thought it didn’t look bad at all. A simple grid of colours, with no pretensions to be anything else, but somehow ‘working’. Based on another cliché (the grid) of course, but it got me thinking. At New Year’s I visited a Shinto Shrine, where you can find boards made up of rectangular plates displaying the names of donors, arranged in rows, an approximation of the ‘composition’ of my painting. And then I happened to listen to a BBC podcast of Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and John Adams talking about their compositional methods using repetition, sequence variation, etc. Is this a sign, I wondered (No, I replied.) But it suggested a way out of my semi-abstract quandary. Shift was the first in the series. I suppose this kind of approach is slightly similar (albeit much smaller and much neater) to what Frank Stella was doing when he rejected Abstract Expressionism. So now I’m about 60 years behind the times instead of 70.