I took these photos in an old girls school in the centre of Penang. All around are the remnants of the colonial era . But this school remains empty and decaying because of the belief it is haunted . It was a pleasure to shoot.
1. There will always be gatekeepers. Some are obvious, some you might not expect. The least expected gatekeeper is money, keeping artists away from their work, short on supplies, and limited in their ability to learn.
2. Art is not a linear progression. What art has always been is a partial reflection of the culture of the time. As an organizing concept in Art History, we like to connect one epoch to another in order to project into the future, but that is all it is – a way of organizing. The same could be said for the 4 by 6 file cards used when researching a topic: the cards are not the finished writing.
3. Technology provides convenience, but does not provide human emotional connection. At the end of the day, computer generated images do nothing to aid in our basic desire for self-realization. As humans, we crave moments of spiritual beauty and calm, found through music, dance, writing, and visual art. If this were not true, how would you explain the flash mobs that suddenly evolve into a full symphonic orchestra, stopping busy commuters in their tracks?
4. Knowing why you are an artist is far more important than convincing others to see you as an artist.
So what realities would you list?
Abstract art unlocks the truth about the universe
Great abstract painters like Pollock and Monet lose themselves in colour, sensation and memory to show that reality is subjective
Abstract art is a kind of miracle. How can a painting that is just a white surface, or a swirl of colour, mean something? But it can and it does, and the unlikely greatness of abstraction is one of the most moving achievements of modern times.
The Whitechapel Gallery’s new-year exhibition Adventures of the Black Squareexplores the story of abstraction since Kazimir Malevich exhibited his Black Square in 1915. But I’ve got to be honest: it wasn’t the revolutionary European abstract painters of the early 20th century who made me fall in love with this kind of art.
It was Jackson Pollock. The first time I visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York, his paintings hit me like waves of power, truth and revelation. But a revelation of what? The unresolved nature of abstract painting is part of its authority. It intimates secrets that seem both personal and cosmic, but it does not spell everything out. Or anything. Pollock painted romantic landscapes, intense Western scenes and primitivist mythological dramas before he laid his canvases on the floor, threw and flicked and dripped paint on them, and released his stellar webs of colour into the world.
His paintings are of inner and outer space. They intuit a complex reality that cannot be put into words. This makes Pollock one of the most moving artists I know. He spins out some delicate weft of insight, at once mystical, scientific and psychological.
Abstract art is majestic. Mark Rothko’s paintings in Tate Modern prove that, as much as Pollock did. But when did abstraction begin? How did it happen?
The right date may not be 1915, and it’s wrong to equate this movement only with Malevich and equally “revolutionary” art. For abstraction has other roots. Supporters of Pollock in the 1950s found antecedents not in the ideological modernism of a Malevich, but the mystical poetry of late Monet. If you want to plunge into abstract art, to be lost in colour, sensation and obscure memories, you can’t do better than Monet’s waterlily decorations.
Or go and look at some Cézanne. The shapes of things shatter and break under his restless gaze. Great patches of abstract colour infuse nature.
No, abstract art was not invented by the Russian revolution. It started to invade painting as soon as artists began to realise that as hard as they tried to paint nature, the colours they set down were the stuff of their own mind’s eye. The discovery that truth is subjective is the root of abstract art. It is also a fundamental insight of modern physics. Perhaps that is why, in front of Pollock, I feel I am seeing the shape of the universe itself.