Paintings and Drawings exploring issues connected to Human Rights
In his book The Gift, Lewis Hyde cites the example of Harold Pinter who wrote about his play The Birthday Party: “The thing germinated and bred itself… It was determined by its own engendering image.”
This notion is recognised by artists of all genres, but often re-interpreted as the enduring cliché of the artist as ‘conduit’ for some slightly mystical process that has no critical edge or acuity of purpose. This is far from the artistic truth but it is difficult to explain the state of mind that originates its ‘own engendering image’ with rational or intellectual frames of reference.
In order to reach the condition of ‘unconscious awareness’ necessary for genuinely new insights to inform the creative process, an artist must temporarily let go of rationality and reason. Art critics and cultural theorists are naturally sceptical of artists who attempt to describe such seeming madness, and many thousands of words are expended attempting to interpret artworks logically, therefore contorting the poetical into the dialectical. As someone who works within that extemporary space, I am often not able to use words to interpret my own work satisfactorily, it frequently seems more natural to me to understand a particular painting by painting another painting.
In the same way it is difficult to describe the political aspects of my work. For me political re-actions are connected to passionate feelings and the work I produce is symptomatic of deeply held convictions, a type of passive ‘activism’. Therefore, as an artist, I do not presume to have solutions to difficult and complex political problems, or the arguments to challenge specific hegemonies. I merely try to understand and interpret visually, and in this way discover how my own sense of despair at examples of inhumanity is tempered by an admiration for the human spirit, and its propensity to endure and to survive, in the face of more and more examples of extreme brutality.
Largely, with a few rare exceptions, the people I paint are nameless. They are ‘the disappeared’, the ‘discarded’, ‘the disenfranchised’. They are ‘numbers’ or ‘casualties’ or ‘statistics’ – so easy to ‘deny’, even if they do simultaneously invoke ‘compassion’, and, as their ‘engendering images’ seemingly manifest themselves upon my canvases, paint becomes no less visceral than blood to me, and I am transfixed by their predicaments.
Even if we do manage to live in a state of denial about the human tragedies that occur daily in some part of the world, and to the atrocity of torture, or to crippling poverty and unfathomable injustice, the moral imprint of mutilated and wasted life somehow infiltrates into the ‘collective unconsciousness’ .
We must surely be, at least subliminally, haunted by the people who are affected by these things as they cast shadows over our comfort zones.
The numbers and facts are enlightening and sobering, 1,197,469 Iraqi civilian deaths since the invasion? – 3% of 9.2 million asylum seekers worldwide accepted by Britain? – 42% of applications rejected?
My only way of interpreting this information, and making ‘sense’ of it, is to commemorate the human cost by interpreting it through my own idiosyncratic process, by attempting to define the shadows, to delineate the vestiges of human shapes that belong to people who are lost or injured too senselessly in a world that should, by now, have learned to take more care of them.
Artist Statement 2008
The themes of asylum and immigration, war crimes, torture and human rights injustices are political. As an artist, I try not to work with any party political agenda because I fully comprehend the complexities of the practical problems that society has to deal with concerning this subject. However, as a human being, it concerns me that we are all too often ready to take part in the debate about numbers and statistics, with insufficient awareness of the root causes behind the human dilemmas in any given situation. It becomes so much easier to meet targets and goals to support rhetoric when you have not allowed yourself to be distracted by empathy.
I struggle via my artistic process to stay connected to my own empathetically related responses to the world around me. Hopefully, when I share the resulting imagery with my audiences, my visual expressions of solidarity with the indignity and suffering experienced by many, will touch people in such a way that they will understand far more about my feelings for the subject than my words could ever convey.
My paintings are fictional. They do not relate to specific people. The subjects of my work enter my consciousness much like the characters in a novel appear to an author. The world of the imagination is peopled by many seemingly ‘real’ acquaintances that have no actual substance other than the description of them created by another, and yet they may be more revealing to us about our own condition than many of the living people that we interact with. It is in this spirit that I construct my compositions. Artifice can sometimes tap into a deeper vein of truth than the ‘reality’ of everyday experience can.
I make no apologies for the fact that the majority of my figures are male. In a conflict ridden world that is suffering from what many perceive as an explosion of male aggression, I feel that I often want to give expression to fraternal sympathies, and to masculine sensitivity, which can so often be overlooked by many sections of the media who are often too keen to stereotype for effect. This does not mean that I do not fully acknowledge the courage and bravery of the many women who are seeking asylum, or who are imprisoned for their political views, throughout the world, and I hope my images speak for and to them also.