Cuillin Bantock

Painter

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Paintings - Acrylic on cotton duck (from 2012)

Paintings - Oil on board (2020-2022)

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Morfa Harlech Studies - Conté drawings

Forty One Approaches to a View

The linocuts

Recollections of Barnt Green 1942-1955

Bounty: A case of preposterous optimism

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A spot on the wall (2005)

A spot on the wall (Postscript 2022)

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A SPOT ON THE WALL (Postscript 2022)

 

“A painting is a spot on the wall” – Clement Greenberg’s comment to Paul Tonkin, mid 1980s

A Spot on the Wall was written in 2005 for an old friend, first met in 1955. He had asked me to “write something about painting”. The essay was subtitled: A comment on painting. Some comment; it runs to nearly 6,000 words and involves over ten pages of typescript.

I find on re-reading the whole thing for the first time for nearly twenty years that there is nothing much wrong with it. It serves its purpose. But despite its wordy length it probably lacks particular originality or new insights. It is very general. Moreover I have now come to believe that however eloquent or perceptive a piece of writing may be, for me personally words about painting are increasingly irrelevant. Paintings are to be looked at. Just that. Words can shed light but not explain.

There is, however, one point, not specifically to do with either making or looking at paintings, that is worth making. It concerns space. I mention this briefly in a short autobiography Landscapes in the Grain (First Servant Books 2021), but the point is worth taking further.

Francis Bacon once commented that being shut in a cupboard by his nurse when he was a child affected his whole life. The early years of a life matter.

But how early? The pre-natal experience of sound is clearly important; the first sounds that each of us ever heard, the steady pumping of our mother’s blood circulation are often recreated later in the insistent beat of so much popular music.

The in utero experience of space, however imponderable, presumably imprints likewise. An unborn baby starts kicking at about twenty weeks, halfway through the mother’s pregnancy. It seems perfectly possible that the first movements of the new-born, weak waving and kicking of the limbs, are in part first attempts to adjust to a new and totally different space.

And whatever else happens to someone subsequently, different for every single one of us, the knowledge that our bodies inhabit space is common to us all. And more. We each know where each bit¹ of our body is in that space. And if, as is often claimed, all painting is self-portraiture, it follows that one expects to know where every bit of a painting is in pictorial space. Space-sensation is the primary experience of being alive.

It is likely that everybody’s sense of space is different, particularly so since space is invisible. At its most banal the difference shows in the ways people park their cars. There may as well be gender-differences. Surgery involves a highly developed sense of space and seems to be a male-dominated profession. There may as well, of course, be societal influences . It is also possible that spatial sense changes with age The space in the late work of Shakespeare, Titian, Cezanne, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, Sibelius and others is quite different from earlier work.

It is surprising that so many painters seem to take space entirely for granted. As far as I’m concerned the difficulty of the resolution of space-sensation on a flat surface is one reason for continuing to paint. The means, merely stuff, remain just that, are not an ends in themselves.

¹ The extreme tip of the human tongue is without space-sensation. It floats.

Cuillin Bantock
September 2022







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