The timing of this exhibition seems strange but appropriate. As I write the sound of musicians are ringing out across the globe in honor of Live Earth. It seems to symbolize a challenge which is now building with breathless urgency. My immediate response to your work was raw – it seemed to take me back to the Pilgrim series and then to re-evoke the feelings of pain which I experienced when I tried to engage with it back in 1997. The contemplative calm which permeates the work seems too transcendental to me. Damn it, I say to myself, I had enough of this stuff with Catholicism and now my friend is back doing his bloody moon walk again – who needs it? Well, clearly me for a start – art is supposed to challenge us in exactly this way. When I first saw the images of earth beamed back at us from space during our childhood I was full of wonder. I still am. But when I try to live my daily life it can just feel too damned hard. The pain we all have to face…bereavement, sickness, old age, death, the need to earn a daily crust, the difficulty of anger, the need for love, the weight of responsibility…what are we doing here? None of us know the answer to this. However, we do know that through millennia we keep creating art. Our ancestors descend to paint on the walls of caves. The need for food and shelter is interrupted. Something sacred stirs. A new dimension emerges in our relationship to the world and to each other. Thousands of years later Chaim Soutine hangs a rotting carcass in a Parisian apartment and starts to paint with venom and fire. A new century sounds which produces two such barbaric wars that there can be few whom we know whose family did not lose loved ones. On the wall of my apartment I have a photograph of my grandmother’s family in New Zealand. It still seems heartbreaking to me that the two eldest boys were dead within five years of it being taken. If we are this poor at getting along with each other then how on earth (on earth indeed….) are we supposed to save the planet into the bargain….
So, what are you up to, my friend? What would Chaim Soutine have made of your work? If he were me then he would have howled in frustration and chucked your CD at the wall and then realized first, that this need for ascent is essential – probably as important now as at any point in our history – and that, secondly, his/my own considerably less patient and more fiery temperament could do with the occasional reminder of the need for belief and inspiration, that beauty can be a refuge and that the world can still enchant. Whatever we are up to, transcendence seems to me to imply a recognition that the self centered rush of our everyday lives needs context and that the context extends to horizons which we cannot see but which we must preserve. This work is full of transcendence. Even when you are not evoking the nature of the globe itself (Locus, Corpus) you’re still giving us aerial views (Cross, Blue Passage, Trail). Jeez, kid, you are so bloody high that you give me vertigo. I find it irritatingly cerebral and polished but it is certainly provocative and breathtakingly beautiful.
My favorites are Maya and Ascent. Maya because it reminds me of my two trips to Mount Kailash – the mountain seems to loom in the background, suggestive rather than literal; a single square beckons – an opening into another way for a weary pilgrim short of breath on the roof of the world – an evocation of the notion that we must travel into the heart of the mountain as well as around it. I see the mist which would so often lie on the Himalayan mountains when I first caught the morning light; and the sense that spiritual truth is not something which can be explained but only experienced. Ascent is interesting because it is a painting in which the perspective does not seem as obviously elevated as most of the others (its title therefore intrigues me). It is more suggestive to me of charting a course through a channel, feeling our way forward into an unmapped sea, reminding me of the great myths of the Mediterranean: Odysseus or Jason. So that is where I will end – interesting that the sense of ascent leads me to a sea-bound journey. But finishing with the sea seems appropriate – a reminder of your years on Osea, a counterpoint to your own love of the desert – and, of course, when photographed from space the earth is not the green of the environmental activists but the blue of the great folk tradition of the American south.
Anthony Fawcett (New York, July 2007)