Monday, 9 April 2012

The beauty of space and silence

Excerpts from Chapter Ten:
The beauty of space and silence.

I’ve always been fascinated by the ways Japanese and Chinese artists compose lines, shapes, rhythms and patterns in space, so that the space – where there’s nothing – becomes an essential and beautiful part of the picture.  This gradually started to have considerable influence on my work. “Composition” is a term we use for both music and painting.  It has to do with arrangements in both time and space. The generous and effective use of empty space in Asian painting frequently conveys a sense of time passing, or perhaps timelessness.  This gives us pause for thought. Painting needs space and music needs silence, from time to time, between the statements. 
The apparent freedom and seemingly ‘empty’ space in some of my works may mislead you into thinking that the painting is casual, sketchy or unfinished. Wrong. It’s all very carefully organized, according to an inner sense of design developed over many years.  I arrange the ‘empty’ space around my subjects to create balance, tension, excitement or simply relief from all the action.  This space is a vital part of the composition of the painting.  There’s nothing more infuriating, than to discover that my special space has been cropped by a thoughtless newspaper arts editor, to fit the width of a number of columns. This happened at my very first one-man show, despite the headline, that read in big letters: “Perryman’s painting is about spatial arrangement”.
When Roy Oppenheim, in 1972 Head of Cultural Programmes at Swiss Television (Zurich), introduced an exhibition of my work in Fribourg, Switzerland, I felt that he really understood my work. 
“Perryman’s compositional energy... is fortunately controlled by his poetic and musical nature.  As in Kandinsky’s work, one must look for the secret of this oeuvre in the intimate musical harmony of its author, which gives him a very special view of the world...  The sensitive, lyrical rhythm in his compositions has an effect similar to that of a page of music”.

‘Ken-Ichiro Kobayashi conducting’, watercolour diptych, 100 x 50cm, sketched in Tokyo during a tour with the Netherlands Philharmonic and completed in Amsterdam, 1985.  Private Collection, Netherlands.

Some ancient paintings on scrolls can be viewed by unrolling them, bit by bit, as though you are watching a sequence of events.  In a flat painting your eye also scans the space as though you are watching a time-based performance, one thing after another (as in my performances of kinetic painting).  I’m sure this sense of time was one of the reasons why I was attracted to Asian painting and why many Asians find my work attractive.
I became familiar with the profound beauty of the haiku poem – an example of an art form reduced to the essentials.  A haiku, in Japanese always constructed of three lines and totalling seventeen syllables, contains a visual impression or observation that suggests the passing of time and usually a sound.  A haiku will always make you quietly reflect on life.  The great master of haiku was Basho (1644 - 94):

    The warbler sings                                     The old pond
    among new shoots of bamboo                  a frog jumps in -
    of coming old age.                                    the sound of water

I began to use Chinese brushes and to study the great Chinese masters of watercolour, to be aware of the need to breathe, in order to produce the energy of the brush-stroke.  You must really concentrate, to reduce the painterly activity to a few essential brush strokes.  I learned about ways of bundling the graphic elements of the painting in one spot to create tension, then relaxation, as connecting lines move across the remaining empty space.  I learned to develop the confidence to deliberately allow the watercolour to flow or merge “accidentally” on the paper (as in the Taoist concept wu wei, which means knowing inwardly when to act or not to act, or effortless action).  Such a “bleed” of colour can unintentionally produce a lovely abstract suggestion of movement. As it fades away, you could compare it to the decay (the fading away) of a musical sound.
“Okasaka Quartet”, watercolour 50 x 70cm, 1988. Private Collection 

The Zen masters have demonstrated in their watercolours that concentration and practice is required to place a dynamic splash in your composition so that it conveys drama and energy, rather than messiness. The discipline required to reduce chaotic movement to a single brush-stroke, or a group of musicians to a silhouette of bare essentials, is enormous.  It takes years of practice, of trial and error.  I’m still working on it!  

It’s even harder when you’re painting in “real time”, painting kinetic visuals live in concert. (There’s no second chance in performance art). I’ve also practised this for forty years. I’ve learned to sit quietly before the concert, to visualise the whole sequence of images, the “choreography” of my brushes, the timing, musical cues, everything. All performers have their little rituals. With the EFT technique, I tap on my meridian energy points to call up the powers we all possess. Then you take a deep breath, go out and do it without stopping.

Every semblance of spatial design was reduced to rubble when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th 1945. On the anniversary of this horrific event, I painted live images to Toru Takemitsu’s film music “Black Rain” with the Sejong chamber ensemble in 2007, at the Great Mountains Music Festival in South Korea. (For the studio rehearsal on this video-clip, I used the recording by Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, conductor Marin Alsop).

Next Monday:  The Asian Connection.


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