We each gave a presentation of our work on January 5th and spoke to an audience of 250 students in the Lee Shau Kee auditorium. Below is a slightly shortened version of the text and some of the paintings mentioned:
“Why paint at all? In this digital age of photography, cinema and video surely painting is dead? I think the reason painting is very much alive and kicking is that first and foremost it is tactile. Paint has substance and is made up of various pigments. And those pigments are made up of the chemicals and elements found in the human body and the world around you.
We experience the world through sight but also through our sense of touch. We are feeling creatures in every sense of the word. We use our hands and senses to explore the space around us and this is something painting translates. It translates our feelings about the world around us, it is a kind of poetry of space. It is a visual langauge and about much more than seeing.
So why abstract painting? Why is it not enough to translate the space around you into representational paintings? On personal level I was first aware of abstract painting when I was about 16. I saw a reproduction of a Mark Rothko and just thought “Wow! This is for me”. So, much to the dismay of my teachers I did an abstact painting for my A level and failed it flat!
The reason I felt so overcome by the paintings I had seen in that book was that they spoke to me verty directly but not about anything I could easily have put into words. They seemed to speak of a deeper reality beyond the world of words and apprearances in a completely new language. In much the same way that music speaks in its own completely non-representational form.
This makes it sound very easy. And some of the comments you will hear if you are an abstract painter are “a child of five could have done that”, “what is is supposed to be?” and “what is it supposed to mean?”. My answers to those questions are “yes, probably before it is educated out of them”, “it is not supposed to be or mean anything”.
Which could be taken to mean that abstract painting is meaningless. However, what I mean is that the viewer is given total freedom in their response. It is different to looking at a painting which tells a story or portrays a scene. You are not being told to feel or think anything specific. it is an entirely liberating relationship. You bring to the painting exactly what you want or can. No one can dictate what you feel in front of an abstract painting. It is between you and the painting. It is very private and very free. And I think that this is why, historically, repressive regimes have always taken a dim view of abstraction and tried to repress it, because it is something beyond their control.
I think I have made it sound very easy. Yes, why not splash a bit of paint around and say you are expressing yourself? I wish it was that simple. Abstraction is a language like any other and a certain amount of discipline is required to learn it. The language of colour and form is a complex one. What makes a painting work? Why do some paintings fail? These are the sorts of questions you ask yourself all the time when you are working.
Henri Matisse put it in a nutshell. When asked what response he would expect from a child to his paintings, he replied “Either this pleases you or it does not please you”. That is the paradox, a complex language that on a basic level either works or does not work.
The paintings I am showing you are work that I spent some years making.
They are painted in layers of transparent paint. The Penenlope Game is very large, 6 feet x 18 feet. The paintings entitled Stanze I-IV are a series. I showed them together and I wanted people to feel that there was a kind of conversation going on between them. They are very tactile paintings and the colour is muted. They are simple forms so the colour can resonate in thin layers. I felt the paintings needed to be big because I wanted the viewer to feel in an alternate world and to question their relation to the space around them. Some of the questions I find interesting are “Where do you begin and end?” and “Where does the outside begin and end?”.
Western science and philosophy have come to the conclusion only in fairly recent history that the mind is implicit in any answers to these questions. However, Chinese sages such as Lao Tze had come to this conclusion centuries before. Chinese painting and calligraphy reflects this – that reality is an illusion. The space in Chinese painting is very meaningful to abstract painters. Kandinsky, who can be said to be one of the inventors of abstraction, was very influencd by Chinese art. So it is very interesting for me to be here at this stage in my career.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ada Wong and May Fung without whom this residency would not have been possible.” MAM