Friday, 18 March 2011



There are many reasons for 
viewing a painting:
 - the artist is famous;
 - I like the subject matter e.g. East Anglia;
 - I like the genre e.g. self-portraiture;
 - the artist’s work has challenged or delighted me in the past;
 - I really don’t like it and am curious to know why...

 But when I visited the Medici Gallery's show Debut (on until 29/3/11), I chose this work initially because of colour, both glowing and gentle, with a curious receding pale blue/white which is definitely not sky-with-clouds, nor even clouds with circles of sky.

I next noticed the three dimensional shapes which remind me of my scientific daughter’s delight as a child in making them out of paper or card. But these shapes are made of air, some standing firm, others looking as though they may be rolling along the ground or in flight.

Lastly the alchemists on the left. What about them? It’s a topical subject. On February 24th    this year, The Economist published an article about an academic who wants to rehabilitate them. They are a maligned bunch, he says, not buffoons, not at all like the characters in Ben Johnson’s The Alchemist, ruthlessly  satirized as vain, greedy, gullible fools. They were instead respectable seekers after knowledge working with well-constructed theories (even if misguided).It was their bad luck to be both despised as riff raff who got their hands dirty doing real experiments, and undermined by  amateur gentlemen-scientists who came from a different class altogether. 

Back to the painting and the artist. Green spent a year in Africa and an extended stay in Central America and his use of ornamental, hypnotic patterns is said to be drawn from Mexican and African iconography.  He also enjoys including vintage commercial images, putting the retro and the exotic side by side to achieve ‘a quirky, but dynamic composition’. Humour is there too, which adds a further complexity.

Is the artist, any artist,  an alchemist, trying to turn paper and oil and canvas and lapis lazuli and hogs’ hair into gold? Gold not just in terms of cash, but also gold in the viewer’s heart and mind. And is art theory spun by a series of well intentioned alchemists minting a currency which just happens to exude enough social respectability to get a place at the academic high table?  And what of us, the viewers? Are we also alchemists who persuade ourselves that we can see what we want to see when it isn’t really there? Finally the blogger as alchemist? No cash and very little status, I fear.

 I blame the ugly word – it’s hard to love a small collection of letters which include BGGR.

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