Red Sail Woodbridge, 1976 - 8 1/2 x 10 inches. Oil on board
Red Sail Woodbridge 1976 – From Sargy Mann: Probably the best blind painter in Peckham
This text is a chapter from the 2008 book Sargy Mann: Probably the best blind painter in peckham. For the book Sargy chose twenty seven paintings which each represented an important period or moment of development in his work.
Red Sail Woodbridge
1976. Oil on board, 81?2 x 12 ins. Collection of the artist.
Throughout my painting life until the late eighties when my sight got too bad, I drew all the time. I carried an 8 x10 inch sketch book with me pretty well at all times and I often had
a smaller one in my pocket, but I also made large, imperial drawings usually in charcoal and or compressed charcoal, sometimes with a brush or chalk or other stuff. These large drawings would be made on an easel or flat on a table in front of me which was something I had seen Leon Kossoff doing when I had the privilage of working with him in a life class at St. Martin’s art school in the summer of 1966 .
The importance of these large drawings, was that when I was making them I gave myself up completely to a spatial experience and a very fast and at times violent way of responding to it, without the constraints of having to think about colour. During the first half of the seventies, what I think of as my impressionist phase, my attempt when I was painting, was to find a coloured pattern which was the equivalent of my sensations of coloured light. Any wholehearted involvement with space and a way of drawing which discovered and responded to the rhythms of visual exploration which I had first become conscious of in my first revelatory drawing class with Auerbach in 1961, took very much of a back seat. Throughout this time therefore, I satisfied this side of my artistic nature by making these large drawings and the subjects were often pretty different from the ones that I was painting. In my post-graduate year, I made wide angle drawings on the back stairs at the art school. I stood on the half landing and drew the whole stair well with the flight of stairs going up and the flight going down. I won second prize in the Second International Drawing Biennale with one of these drawings (Tony Eyton won first prize with a beautiful drawing of Liverpool Street station).
Very near our house in Netherby Road was a park misleadingly called One Tree Hill and it was here that I made my large drawings. Although quite a small park it was more like being in the country than anywhere else that I knew in London. The ground fell steeply to north and south from a ridge across the top of the park and both sides were heavily wooded but with different trees and on the south side there was an ugly church and fine, old oaks, willows, poplars and plane trees. I loved drawing there but all the time I was feeling that somehow I must find a way of integrating my drawing and my painting.
Drawings made on One Tree Hill c.1976, charcoal and mixed media on paper 26 x 32.5 ins.
When I felt that I had reached crisis point with my painting, after finishing the painting of Frances on the terrace, I took a sheet of shellacked mounting card and my paints up onto One Tree Hill. I chose a subject such as I had been drawing there, a group of trees, and tried to paint in the spirit in which I had been drawing. It felt quite wrong and I hated it. All the things I liked when I was drawing, the way a charcoal line could establish a grand rhythm through the space without much disturbing the surface pattern, the ease and speed with which it could be removed or diminished with rag or rubber, (I favoured the white plastic kind which would cut cleanly through heavy compressed charcoal when necessary), the variety of drawing marks and the way I could instantly change my mode of probing in response to some barely sensed new line of investigation and above all, the dryness of the medium and the speed at which I could work, all these were missing when I tried to paint. That old problem of how to respond fully both to space and coloured light had, it seemed, become totally polarised in the last five or six years so that I painted about light and colour but with an insufficient response to form and space, or I drew about form and space, more space than form probably, with no concern for the colour that I loved and often only a passing response to light. It must be possible for me to paint about a whole, full, rich experience of coloured forms in light and space; other painters could do it, all the great ones, so it was possible and so I must find my way. I went back with my miserable painting in a black mood which must have been horrible for my wife, though, I guess that she was fairly used to it and was certainly to become so as the years went by. Having said that though, most of the time I have enjoyed painting very much and have, in general, always liked my own painting. I have always felt very sorry for artists, an awful lot of them, who seem to hate their work and go through their artistic life in a state of self-critical rage and misery. The problem was, how could there be drawing and colour in the same painting? In my impressionist phase I had maintained that drawing was where you put the colour, you were always drawing, you couldn’t not be. Drawing did not mean lines; there were no lines in impressionist painting, no lines in Monet, my main man at this time, no lines in nature. But what I had realised trying to paint on One Tree Hill that morning was that for me to arrive at the most spatial experience I was capable of, drawing did mean lines.
When searching for a spatial experience the eye moves very fast, it is like flying. Your eye hits some grasses near your feet, skims the field, dipping and banking, climbs up the bushes, up and over the poplar and willows and off into the sky to circle and dive like Hopkins’s Windhover. These rushing, dizzying circuits explore and build to an ever greater experience of the whole articulated space in which one finds oneself. Lines can mirror these movements; a line can make that equivalent journey across the rectangle. But every point on that journey is giving off a different sensation of coloured light and requires a different colour at that place on the canvas. How can one do both? I think that one reason why great figurative paintings are different, why a Titian is not like a Piero della Francesca or, a Matisse is not like a Cezanne, is because each artist has had to find his own way of harnessing his skills and his temperament, his feelings and his intellect, in order to best solve this problem of combining drawing and colour. There are of course many other reasons for the differences between the paintings of great artists.
I can’t now remember but I think that with these thoughts in my mind, I must have again looked at all my favourite painters, past and present, but mostly past, and began to
pay more attention to the those who did use lines in their paintings. There were the old masters of the Italian 15th and 16th centuries and then the modern masters starting with Cezanne who you could say was the man who brought line back into painting and passed it on to Matisse, Dufy and the rest. Dufy was, I realised, the most extreme case of the separation of line and colour which none the less combined to create an experience of superfast spatial exploration which was full of light and local colour, and the flat patterns which achieved this were dazzlingly beautiful and original. Dufy’s paintings had for me a kinship with Rembrandt’s drawing which had always been a big influence on me, (far more than his paintings) in which the pen lines and the wash and what these did to the unmarked white paper, were like two instruments playing their own, different parts in order to combine to make the uniquely beautiful music, a bit like a violin and a piano in a Beethoven sonata, say. This separation of the elements of painting, of line and colour, and, in a sense, tone, interested me as a possible solution to my problem.
Run Rabbit Run, 1976. oil on board, 81?2 x 231?2 ins.