'Context' - A Blog
Where no camera was or even could have been (see 'Stirring up the Hornets' Nest' in the Hardest Day Hurricanes Gallery)

Why I do

Like a lot of people there are moments...
... when I catch myself wondering why I do what I do. My paintings are of a ‘realist’ style, as in they intend to depict what is in front of me as I see (possibly as distinct from the better known ‘Realist’ school of artists, whose intention was to depict the pith and grit of reality- more on that another time I think). If all I am doing is accurately portraying my surroundings to the best of my ability, then surely the invention of the camera (some time ago now!) has rendered my efforts obsolete.

This seems a less relevant point when painting something historical and from a perspective and position where no camera was or even could have been, such as in the Hardest Day Hurricane paintings. However, when painting a local landscape I have walked, choosing a view similar or even identical to photos I have taken, painting surrounded by such photos in ‘The Studio’ (which is in reality an old desk in the corner of our living room!), it is easy to wonder whether there is much point to one’s current choice of occupation. After all, with the digital imaging software available these days, it’s quite easy to even make a photo look like a painting.

I don’t have a quick or easy answer to this. I know from my heart that there is something more in the painting than a photograph that I have worked from, but I’d be hard pressed to explain what. It’s not the medium. A good photograph by a skilled photographer can be as emotional or as expressive as the greatest of oil paintings in my view, but I think it would also be true to say that those who photograph as an art form pour as much care, planning, skill and love into the pursuit of their art as the painters. And yes, the photograph is taken, ‘made’ in the click of a button, but the years, months, days and hours that lead to that moment and the perseverance to get there are as truly a part of that finished product as the painters first sweeps of pencil on sketch pad.

Sometimes, you could argue the photographer is lucky and the moment is just there, perfect and caught, but this implies the presence of judgement to spot that opportunity and the skill and experience to catch it in the fleeting second that it may be available. Sometimes painters get lucky too, some paintings take umpteen rehashes, but sometimes the painting can just flow together in a quick impressionist style that is just so (though I have yet to experience this myself!).

I had a stunning insight into this seemingly intractable question from the same programme series on the human brain that I mentioned in the last post. I am still reeling from its import and trying to process its significance. (Sorry again to anyone who is knowledgeable in this area if my facts are a little out, but I think I have grasped the principle correctly).

When we see things there is unsurprisingly a vast amount of neural traffic that tracks between our brain and our eyes, but what is surprising is that most of that information flow is not from our eyes to our brain, as you would expect, but the other way around, (I think around two thirds of the information flow) is from our brain to our eyes.

Well I found that staggering. It doesn’t provide an answer to my question, as so often it only prompts more questions. What is that information going to our eyes? How is it influencing our perception? How similar is this nature of this information traffic from one person to another?

Suddenly I can see that every sight we absorb, maybe has no objective appearance anyway. Two people standing in the same spot at the same time probably hardly ever really see the same thing. Every visual experience of everyone is perhaps their own unique work of art created by the interaction of themselves with their surroundings.

It is intriguing start point from which to set out as a ‘realist’ artist.