Paul Boam. Opening speech for the exhibition White. Colville Gallery March 2011
We live, as you know, in an age of photography. We are saturated by photographic images, film, TV, DVD, posters, advertising . We are almost drowned in photographic imagery.
But Jenny, is a painter. Now you may feel that this is a silly thing to say, you may feel that it is self evident. But it’s not. Because I think there’s a lot of confusion about painting at present – because of this saturation with photography. And I’d just like to explore the idea of painting with you, generally, before I finish up talking about Jenny’s painting.
Some few years ago, Jenny and I (and not that Jenny, my Jenny (Turner)) were in Vienna, and we went into the art gallery and there on the wall of a relatively small gallery were three late Rembrandt self portraits. Now for me, that’s heaven. I think Rembrandt is just the most fantastic painter. Now you are most likely familiar with the Rembrandt self portraits, and you may have seen them in reproduction. You are aware that you are looking at the head and shoulders of this old man, who is looking back at you. And nowhere in the history of painting has anyone said so much about a lived life.
But, when you get in front of those paintings, you realise that he is telling is a lot more than that, and what he is telling us and the language he is using, is the language of paint. Rembrandt’s paint is quite extraordinary. It’s so rich, it’s so diverse, it’s so eloquent. Sometimes you can see that he has got the back end of a brush and made a line that describes the edge of an eye. The paint is thin in places, thick in places, it’s full of texture. And it is so alive. And it’s that life, that energy of paint, that makes those paintings work.
Now, another example. Think of that late Van Gough, of the cornfields. It’s not a painting of a cornfield, it’s a painting. It is the energy of Van Gough’s brush strokes, stroke after stroke after stroke after stroke. It’s the energy of those brush strokes that makes that painting exciting. Not the corn field, but the man, who created that painting. Think of those Monet water lily paintings. If you step right back from them, you see the water lilies, you see the reflections. But as you approach them, you get to a certain point where the water lilies disappear, and all you are aware of, is this extraordinary painted surface.
Paint is not some sort of inanimate colouring-in material. It has its own life, it has its own energy, and it has its own language. Which brings us back to Jenny’s paintings. Because Jenny is a painter.
So, don’t walk up to these paintings and say “ok, you’ve got thirty seconds to tell me what you are all about.” Because the paintings will just say “piss off”. You’ve got to forget all the mass of imagery that you are surrounded by, and you have to ease yourself into these paintings. You’ve got to allow the paintings to grow on you. And you’ve got to stop, to set up a very delicate, a very slow dialogue with the paintings.
And if you can do that, if you can give them time, the paintings will start to talk to you. At first very gently, very quietly, but they will talk to you about rhythm, and pattern, and energy, and very very delicate nuances of colour. And you will bring yourself into the work. What the painting says to one person, may be totally different to what it may say to another person. Because it’s a dialogue between you and the painting. Give it time, give it your concentration, and it will start to sing to you. And then you will begin to listen to the song.
I want to finish with a quote by Henry Vaughan. I’ve almost forgotten it, so I’d better grab the piece of paper. Sometimes my words are not particularly appropriate. All the while I have been thinking about speaking about Jenny’s exhibition, a quote kept coming back into my head.
“I saw eternity the other night, like a great ring of pure and endless white. All calm, as it was bright”