Specifically, time in the visual arts. At a concert, watching a film or other performance, or reading a book, I enjoy the unfolding, the development, the altering of perspective and increase in understanding – all of which continue beyond the end in a work of worth. What about art on the wall? Paintings can be big enough to encompass the whole wall, and can take time to complete the looking, but generally the fixed image has to contain something else to hold and impart time.
While at a jazz concert listening to a piece with a distinct journey, holding back and revealing, teasing and revealing, I thought how difficult it is for a maker of fixed images to convey such a journey to the observer. I started thinking about it seriously after that, and managed to answer a question which I’d casually asked myself many years ago.
Why is it when visiting a new place, particularly a foreign place, that so many of us are drawn to decay? It is not just the old ways of building that attract us, because reconstructions are not seen to be quite as alluring as decay. What is it about the poor parts of a city that make them so much more attractive than the prosperous well-tended parts? What makes them so artistically inspiring?
Is it time? The passage of time is writ clearly upon the face of the building in its decay. Do we need to see the marks of time to feel a kind of comfort? Which thought brought me to looking at the marks made by thread on cloth. In a very direct way this can be seen in the work of Matthew Harris, and anyone who is inspired by the urban archaeology of peeling posters.
The question of time also brought me to thinking about ‘the frozen moment’: the photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson being the ultimate example of this for me. One of his genius abilities in my mind is that although he always seems to be there to capture the astonishing instant, he also does not detract from or paralyse the action. In that still we are given a glimpse into a continuum.
I realise that this is what I want from fixed images: that they should engage with both the concept of time and with my time. I take as the ultimate example the magical image of Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void. Having grasped the attention it immediately provokes the imagination to supply the continuum, it questions, it arouses curiosity, and is timeless. I love it, and find that it leaps often from the void –or out of the blue – into my mind in conjunction with many different topics.
In my own work I suppose I try to capture an ambiguity or enigma which can change with viewings over time. Although my own emotions are encompassed, I hope that they have been distilled and abstracted (aha! – see my last post here) enough to be more universal. I aspire to the foothills of Edward Hopper in providing a work which is not-quite-completely-knowable, but which attracts and satisfies timeless curiosity. It will take me some time to get there, but I hope to continue having fun on the way!