Recently I bought a book (image above), on the art of Willem de Kooning. I am not quite sure why I had never really taken note of him before, but, this was one of those art book purchases where I realised with growing excitement that the timing of purchasing the book was perfect, and necessarily inspirational to my own work. (Plus the writing and images in the book are excellent.)
Prior to receiving the book I had been thinking a lot about the use of space, or the illusion of space in my paintings and drawings, and was wondering why my images always end up so dense and compact as in the few recently completed drawings above. Far from being the ‘window into another reality’, which I often think of as the magical thrill of artistic images, my works seem to be claustrophobic and cluttered, threatening to burst into the same space as the viewer. Then I came across this quote in the Willem de Kooning book. It is from an article admired by de Kooning, written in 1949 for the journal ‘Transition’, by the French art critic Georges Duthuit.
“Reliquary, gospel-binding or triptych, the Byzantine object is dilated from within outward, from its core… Here neither movement nor repose is simulated. Both are created by usage. For what Byzantium produces is not works of art to be exhibitited and appreciated, but practical tools, overflowing with spiritual life.”
It goes on to say Duthuit “… contrasted the Greco-Roman and Renaissance notion of space as an ’empty box, and empty medium’, with the Byzantine space, which he described as ‘the unseen, interacting extension of persons and things and the air in which they are steeped. Whoever enters the material expanse thus recreated, enters a supernatural world….and will be… bombarded with invitations to be reborn, to rejoin the collective consciousness and paricipate in a communion of which every work is a living example.’
Later the author says that de Kooning believed that, “The idea of space is given to him (the artist) to change if he can. The subject in the abstract is space.”
I still don’t quite understand these quotes and hope to write some more about them in the future, but somehow I can identify with them. I love the idea that works of art ‘are not just to be exhibited and appreciated but are somehow practical tools overflowing with spiritual life’.