Eamon Colman – Mystery, the invention of the imagination

When one walks into the artist studios in KCAT, two things hit you, one is the smell, the smell of an artist’s studio in full swing so to speak.  This smell is tempered by the knowledge that this is the aroma of work, hard work. The other thing is the visual impact, one is reminded of an art college but this is not an art college nor is it a collective but a community of artists who’s work feed’s off each other.

While looking around, the overall impression is of a group who are critically aware of each other’s work, no random mark making but marks that have meaning are employed here. The integrity and genuine commitment to paint and painting is a serious business and even with humour the act of making is hard won.

To see this serious fun in action you only have to retrace your steps from the studio to the main entrance area where a portrait by Sinead Kennedy of Declan Kennedy graces the front facade. To look at this portrait is like taking a holiday deep within an artist’s mind. The artist looks at her sitter with a humorous eye but also with an eye that sees line and how pure that line is. On Declan’s head sits a hat that reminds me of Mexico.  Mexico with a touch of Samuel Beckett.  This hat embodies what the studios of KCAT are about.  Imagine a painting that tells the story of both the artist and the viewer, a story that is told in line and beauty. 

This much maligned word beauty is very much in evidence in this studio collective.  When the word beauty is applied to the visual arts it is important not to confuse it with pretty. Yes beauty is in the eye of the beholder but it is also in the mind of the artist who is making the work.

As I looked around the painting studio at KCAT I realise that in this working environment there are a group of artists who wish to be there, with all the difficulties presented to them and for some it much be acknowledged their difficulties are great. Their afflictions aside the art produced has all the beauty of the imagination, the creation of a personal world but included in this world is a window for the viewer. This is honest and very generous.

When one looks at visual art it is essential that there is a two way dialogue.  One looks for a clear vision of what the artist is trying to say but also at you, the viewers own response.  Looking at the work of Karl Fitzgerald I was struck by his obsessive response to landscape as his subject matter.  His response to the changing seasons is intuitive. Karl’s mark making evokes excitement not only at his chosen subject matter but is also evident through the process of making the painting, the layering of colour and how the brushstroke handles the paint.  This process builds up a multi layered image which is as much about the surface as it is about the landscape.  Here is a prime example of real beauty, the beauty of process.

As a way of talking about process I would like to relay a story.  In the days of the Tang Dynasty (AD  618 – 906)  the Emperor of China wished to have the most beautiful painting of his prized chicken.  He sent his people out all over China to find the best painter of birds.  They found a painter sitting on a humpback bridge looking into a pool covered with Lotus flowers.  When the Emperor’s people approached him he put his finger to his lip to usher silence. They waited and waited until after a long while the painter allowed them to approach.  When they asked him their request he agreed but said it would take two years to complete.  So time passed and two years later the Emperor’s people returned and found him sitting in the same place looking at the Lotus flowers. But no painting was produced.  Sorry the painter said it takes time to paint the perfect chicken, come back in two years time.  This went on for ten years and eventually the Emperor came to him and told him that he would cut off his hands if he did not produce a painting of his prized chicken. In front of him the painter took out his paper, paint and brushes and in a few minutes he painted the most beautiful painting ever seen by the Emperor. Why the Emperor asked had you not painted that years ago?  Come with me, the painter said, he brought him into a room that was full of drawings of the chicken.  I needed to feel the spirit of the chicken before I could understand how to paint it the painter explained.

This story shows how the job of the artist is achieved, the process of looking is not an end in itself. The artist must understand the spirit of what his/ her subject matter is.

Most but not all the artists working in KCAT juxtapose a different sense of space, dropping the horizon line using a vanishing point to create an imaginative world in which the viewer can find a story line.  This allows the artist and viewer space from each other.  In KCAT’s book Visible Vision’s, Sinead Fahey has a painting / drawing entitled Four legged bird about to land.  Looking at this image I wanted to see this bird,  while  still looking I realised that I just had and this bird is alive and well in the imagination of Sinead Fahey. 

“The meaning of art is not authenticity but the expression of authenticity” Brassai.  For me the meaning of the word authenticity is the existentialist philosophy which relates to an emotional and responsible way of life.  It is this way of living and learning that I see as central to the KCAT experience.  A way of life that allows the artist and the mentor to communicate on an equal footing.  KCAT is a space where everything is imagined but nothing is invented by this I mean that the first stage on the way to creating a beautiful painting is the imagination itself. For the imagination informs us to see and how we view our fellow human beings. 

This is the true success of KCAT, fostering a room for the imagination, a room that allows a way of life, a creative space, a nurturing and accepting space and I am not just talking about a physical space.  I wish these artists well and ask that they continue to take the viewer into the unknown, opening windows through their work.

Eamon Colman

Mystery, the invention of the imagination (Placeholder title)

Beauty, a much maligned word. Can beauty be disturbing?  Is it always inspiring, and do we now regard beauty as a defiance over nature. 

Nature that place we go to to repair from the contemporary world.   We look at our dwindling wilderness and feel reassured that it is there, an object of contemplation.

The act of walking first started by the romantic writers such as Fredrich, Wordwortand Mendelssohn became away of looking at the inter play between the body and imagination and the world around us.  The Gap. 

To turn away from the landscape as an economic reality and search for a path which acts as a pilgrimage or a march to that place of the imagination, nowhere.  Nowhere is an interesting concept,does it have an aesthetic?  Does it have a place in reality or only in the imagination?

We learn of place and how to visualise spatial relationships, as children, on foot and with our imagination.  So the act of walking enables and empowers humans to think of everything else.  As humans we live our lives in a series of interiors, home , car, gym, office, shops, disconnected from each other.  On foot everything stays connected, one lives in the whole world rather than the interiors built up  against it.  The road is a straight line which connects our lives our heaven to our hell, our light to our dark and makes sense of our imagination.

That straight line has bends, these bends carry curiosity with or around them.  This curiosity has embedded in it the ultimate  democratic process.  As in two walkers or more will experience different things but will have a shared goal to see the path out to its end. 

This brings us back to the concept of nowhere, implicit in our sense of nowhere is also a sense of community.

You cannot plan nowhere in the same way as one can plan buildings, cities.  Nowhere cannot exclude or include it is the space in time which is most democratic.  Nowhere is the gap which gives power to the imagination.

Painting the gap is an act of trust, trust in ones ability to see through the crack, to trust in the act of mark making, mark making is always living and changing.  So painting is not affixed expression it is not receptive, it is not a reflection of a time but rather an act of hand and eye that has the power to modify experience.  Painting is not a submissive servant nor is painting an absolute lord, painting is an intermediary, a transmitter of nature

Painting is a force of nature sometimes coming in a brusque way sometimes slowly gestating, but as the mark making evolves a new reality takes place a discovery that things are not as they appear, addressing the contradictions in a painting through the act of the imagination is what gives it its form.  The role is to balance between the familiar environment and the new vision we are constructing with our experience.

So the act of painting becomes connected to the act of walking, the path is not always straight, sometimes the bends lead one down a cul-de-sac, leaving the shadow of that journey is what gives painting its mystery.

Mystery that most democratic of experiences, but mystery has to be invented created by plunging into the unknown bending, traditional technique and materials.

The artist must be irresponsible a defender of the impossible a conduit to the imagination, a listener at the gap

Eamon Colman