Occasionally a question posed in a private correspondence provokes an explanation about how I present my work. Rebecca Verity, who lives in the States, owns a preparatory Saint Kevin drawing I made. She asked me what I meant by the term ‘curator speak’, used disparagingly in an earlier e-mail to her, and I answered the question, though I shan’t share my reply here. But this led me on to the matter of my titles and the lack of explanations in them, and how I see their function in relation to my work.
Rebecca. ‘What is this curator-speak which you so despise? Is it (I ask in a very small voice) when the curator tells you all about a piece, the stories behind it and such? Because (I say in a still smaller voice) I really like that. Having been raised culturally illiterate, I love learning about paintings and the artists who created them. Camille on Her Death Bed, for instance – is just weird and unnerving, until you know the story of Monet and his wife, and hear his account of painting it, and then it is still perhaps unnerving, but also heartbreaking and perplexing and challenging.’
And I always go and research your saints; the stories of their lives make the paintings so much more thought provoking then if they’re just unknown figures.
Clive. ‘Never fear, what you’re talking about is a quite different thing to the despised ‘curator speak’, and of course can be helpful, though with my paintings I prefer explanatory text panels to be placed some distance away, because I want eyes on the images and not on any words. But the fact that when confronted with one of my paintings you go off to do some research, is heartening to me, because that’s exactly the kind of curiosity I aspire to provoke. When my ‘saints paintings’ appear in galleries, often with their slightly elusive titles that don’t explain the events depicted, the absence is because my job is to ask questions, not to provide immediate explanations. My hope is that the susceptible viewer will go away and think on what’s been represented, perhaps to look for answers elsewhere. The important thing when seeing a painting for the first time is not the specific, as in ‘this is a representation of the Irish Saint Kevin in his cell with the blackbird of legend’, but rather the sense of a non-specific, universal encounter between man and beast that has a mystery at its heart. In many ways it’s unimportant who is represented or what event is described in the image. What matters is that the viewer be allowed to think and then draw a conclusion, and afterwards to explore elsewhere if moved to do so. The work is intended to be the first crumb in a trail that leads away to other, and perhaps even more interesting discoveries.’
I should add that there is an exception with regard to my aversion to text panels in proximity to my paintings, inasmuch that when a panel holds a poem, then the proximity is a good thing. I don’t see poems as being ‘explanations’, but companion works.
Postscript: Sometimes the comment boxes at the Artlog get to be more interesting than the posts. That’s proved to be the case with this one, and so if you’ve the time, do scamper along to see if there’s anything to interest you down there.