Catalogue Essay for David Andrew
by F. David Peat
A text only version of this essay is available to download.
Although elements of landscape are to be seen in David Andrew's canvases it is clear that his concerns are not with reviving the traditions of landscape painting. His engagement is not with mimesis, the imitative reproduction of appearances, but with far deeper matters. His paintings are a response to nature, deeply felt, carefully worked, fully realized. For Andrew nature has always been the teacher.
If Andrew's paintings bypass traditional landscape they are not without historical context and in them I find resonances with Cezanne, Mattise and Bonnard and a painterly tradition that was, for a time, devalued by art criticism.
In the explorations of structure and order within his work there is another link, not to contemporary art, but to the frontiers of physics and, in particular, to the work of the physicist and philosopher David Bohm. This is not to say Andrew is trying to employ visual metaphors for scientific discoveries and concepts but rather that he and Bohm have a common concern to discover a disciplined response to the act of being within the natural world. Or to put it another way, though their respective disciplines both celebrate and give order to their deepest sensations.
It is not at all surprising that art and science should have come so close for both are reeling under a series of revolutionary changes which caused them to question the very basis of their approaches. In so doing similar questions are cropping up in both fields. In the next few paragraphs I will explore these questions as one context in which to see David Andrew's work.
Impressionism revived the primacy of visual sensation before the motif. Yet, for Cezanne, visual acceptance right down to fugitive sensations was capable of going only so far. For him, Monet was "only an eye, but My God what an eye!") The sensations were real enough but, in turn, they demanded the creation of a new pictorial logic, the underlying structure whereby great painting is made. In saying that he wanted to make impressionism as structured as any Poussin Cezanne faced the enormous task of remaining totally honest to his sensations by refusing to impose any traditional order or arbitrary and externally developed set of rules within his painting. Rather, the order had to emerge out of the sensations involved in the act of painting itself which meant work taking place at a canvas for weeks and even months.
It is here that the connection with David Andrew becomes apparent. For in his own long period of work at a particular painting each form, color or gesture mutually informs, interconnects and creates a context for the entire work. Andrew has described the process as a form of active dreaming and, like dreams, there is always an underlying and compelling logic, a self-organization of the entire work.
Again we seem to be encroaching on the ground of physics. So let us turn to that other David, David Bohm, who was inheritor of two revolutions, Einstein's theory of relativity and the quantum theory of Bohr, Heisenberg, Pauli and Schrodinger. For many decades attempts had been made to unify these two theories, both of which give deep but quite different accounts of our engagement with the physical world, or at least with our conceptualization of that engagement. None of these attempts at integration were truly successful and Bohm argued that what was needed was not some novel idea, concept or theory but a radically new order to physics. Despite the scientific revolutions of the twentieth century, physics still clung to the pre-Newtonian order Bohm referred to as Cartesian. Like geometrical perspective in painting the Cartesian order had placed a grid on nature.
Thus Bohm's concerns were quite similar to those of both Cezanne and Andrew. They involved a search for new principles of order and structure. Bohm felt that he had discovered this in his Implicate or Enfolded order (of which the Explicate, Cartesian order is a limited case.) In is no coincidence that in pursuing this work Bohm was inspired by the paintings of Cezanne. Indeed, he said that if only he could discover the underlying mathematics of his new order it would be remarkably similar to that of such painting. In such a mathematics, which Bohm was only partly successful in achieving, each part becomes defined by the context of the whole and, in turn, it contains that whole.
Something very similar is going on in Andrew's paintings. As with Bohm, and other contemporary physicists, they display a concern with the meaning and structure of space. Space as relationship, as the place of residence of objects and forms, as a complex dimensionality created by the act of looking, as the space of the canvas itself and, above all, space that arises out of the relationships of color. The spaces created by Andrew are, for me, dynamical and in this they correspond to one's direct experience of space which is often a tension between ambiguity and resolution. Two colors resonate so that they become simultaneously connected yet, in another reading, spatially disconnected. And are we to read that mark as lying in the foreground or as some formation in the background?
The pattern of a curtain and the gestures of a nearby plant continue in a space apparently much further away. Clearly we are being presented with a logic in which "either" and "both", "neither" and "and" can be simultaneously co-present. It is a logic that lies close to our perceptual experience than that of Aristotle and, by invoking it, Andrew canvases evoke a prehensile intensity. One almost slip into a synethesia with the taste of his colors and sound of his spatial rhythms.
This dynamics is also present in the act of bringing these canvases to realization. A particular work may have its origin in a large scale sketch in oil or acrylic made when traveling or vacation. Back in the studio a new canvas begins to take shape. Over the days and weeks that follow the work is in a constant act of transformation as shapes are moved around, transposed, transmuted. An object within a room, for example, begins to take on the aspect of an exterior. Part of a distant landscape invades the immediate foreground. Separate forms are united though color. By means of gestures, resonances of color and isolated perspectival clues a rich logic builds, at times affirming our reading, at others confounding us.
To Andrew the entire process is a dreaming and I wonder to what extent this connects to the process of active imagination described by Carl Jung. There are, I suspect, moments when this dreaming comes up against a barrier that must be transcended if the work is to get its second wind. While Andrew may be self-effacing in his daily life when it comes to painting he has that energy which enables him to push until the canvas is released into a fresh creative surge. Or maybe I am being over dramatic for, as Andrew mentions in his accompanying essay, it could be a matter of painting until he reaches that bifurcation point when the smallest additional perturbation pushes the entire structure in a radically new direction.
It would be difficult to go any further without reflecting on those curious "out of focus" regions that are often found at the center of the Andrew's canvases. At first sight they seem to deny our naive understanding of vision; that the center of the visual field, drawing upon more rods and cones in the eye, should be capable of greater resolution and discrimination. Yet that is to mistake vision for something static, the inheritance of five centuries of monocular perspective. Vision is dynamic, our eyes are continuously engaged in a rapid scanning of the world.
In experiments in which the eye is physically constrained to gaze only at a single object, vision begins to fade away. The brain seeks out difference. We are constantly attracted by that which lies in the periphery of vision. Excitement lies on the edge and it is at this edge that Andrew's forms swim into existence. When Andrew refers to his mysterious central regions as not involving a traditional point of focus but rather a field of focus he is being honest to his visual experiences of the world. Again to resonate with Bohm, the more focused, explicate forms, are caught in the act of unfolding out of an implicate plane.
Perhaps one could push this even further with another scientific metaphor - the fractals that bubble up at the edge of the dark interior space of the Mandelbrot set. Another instance of the logically rigorous way in which new forms and orders emerge out of a creative center.
Above all I would say that the discipline practiced by Andrew is scientific in the deepest sense of the word. In saying this I also believe it is closer to the vision of science presented by Goethe than by Newton. It was Goethe who immersed himself in the sensations of nature, seeking an inner understanding of the meaning of colors, plants and animals with such an intensity that he could transcend the merely subjective and arrive at something approaching an objective intuition. Goethe's approach is currently undergoing a revival at the hands of biologists like Mae-Wan Ho and Brian Goodwin. It was something intuitively sensed by Andrew.
The British painter, Patric Heron, argues that painters show us how to see the world. They offer strategies for re-levating significant elements from the undifferentiated, buzzing confusion of our primary sensations. To paint is to spend a lifetime with these sensations, refining them and seeking out their logic. In this essay I have barely begun to touch the surface of what this process may mean for Andrew. I have not referred to the power of color which is one of the most immediately striking aspects of his work. I have not written of the joy I find in his work, nor to the way I think his act of painting maintains a balance between his light and the Jungian Shadow.
Words about paintings are such a substitute for the primacy of the experience. Andrew's paintings speak for themselves. I thank him for the pleasure they have given me.
Contact F. David Peat