Friday, 4 December 2015

Painting Research Group

This is the new online platform of the Painting Research Group at Belfast School of Art, Ulster University. More information will follow soon about forthcoming events.


  1. Overdue thanks for the invitation to join this research group. To introduce myself to the group (yes I know most of you kind of know me) I thought I post a little meditation on drawing/painting/film via James Joyce). You can share my thoughts on Christmas Day 2015.

  2. Christmas Day 2015
    Although it should snow, it rains. Over the last year my thoughts have frequently returned to weather. Prompted by John Ruskin's lecture 'The Storm-cloud of the 19th Century' (1884) clouds became one of my subjects. Filmmaker Peter Greenaway organised an exhibition in 1992 entitled “Le bruit des nuages [The Sound of Clouds]: Flying out of this World.” Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas, translators of Derrida’s "Memoirs of the Blind" draw the reader's attention to this coincidence:
    "Now it just so happens that Greenaway is the writer and director of the film 'The Draughtsman's Contract', a film about the differences between drawing, painting, and sculpture, about allegory and ruin, about masks and funeral monuments, about strategies and debts, optics and blinds, about living statues and sounds represented in drawing. But above all it is about witnessing and testimony, about legacies and inheritances. And these, is just so happens, are the very themes of Memoirs of the Blind."(Brault and Naas in Derrida 1993 pp viii-ix)

    They further quote one of the characters in the film, Mrs Tallman: "I have grown to believe that a really intelligent man makes an indifferent painter, for painting requires a certain blindness - a partial refusal to be aware of all the options" (1993; p ix).

    Why does one require blindness in order to be an artist? We talk about tunnel vision, needing shutters (horses in the time of advancing industrial revolution and mechanisation of road traffic). Being someone who draws or paints on paper in an era of mass communication, instant messaging and virtual vision invites thoughts of kinship with those horses, anachronistic in their being, needing partial vision to keep them on track. If Baudrillard’s concept of simulacrum has prompted to question any sense of truth, then being blind, the old metaphor for not knowing or refusing truth, is perhaps more forgivable than anticipated. Blindness features as theme in numerous drawings in the history of art, depicting events in mythology (Plato's Cave; Oedipus, Narcissus) and biblical scripture (Tobit; Jesus healing the blind). The blind seer is also acting as visionary, or prophet who presents insight rather than appearance (the "phenomenal prison of the visible world"). Plato, scared that his soul would be blinded if he “looked at things with [his] eyes” (Plato in Derrida 1993; p 15)resorted to logos as his saving grace. Logoi - so Derrida - are "ideas, words, discourses, reasons, calculations" (1993; p 15). This old problem of truth and representation returns to haunt those who draw or paint or film, because art making is about revealing what one believes in. Even if agnostic, or mistrustful of truth, we still want to air our belief in disbelief.

    Editing – the blotting out of superfluous marks, signs, words - is an act of constant re-vising (a form of altering the truth of the initial version). Such also involves a reflexive relationship to a sense of self (auto-bio-graphy) as presence and absence in the artwork. The great Irish writer and co-inventor of stream of consciousness narration technique, James Joyce, closes the short story “The Dead” (The Dubliners) with: "His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling." (Joyce, 1968 [1914] Dubliners Harmondsworth: Penguin, p 220). John Huston's film The Dead (1987) is a masterpiece translating above closing paragraphs to twilight, where sleet draws grey grainy marks across the camera’s eye, blinded yet freed to reveal another vision, a scene of draining colour, reduced to saturated blacks and nightblues, erasing the memory of shapes, the drawing (or writing) of the snow as editorial process with the amorph underpainting of clouds. ( )


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