Seeing connections

‘Every time I view the sea, I feel a calming sense of security, as if visiting my ancestral home; I embark on a voyage of seeing’

Hiroshi Sugimoto

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Seascapes are sublime, not in the casual use of the word but in the sense that Edmund Burke intended in his 1757 treatise: ‘The passion caused by the great and the sublime in nature, when those causes operate most powerfully, is astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror.’ Sugimoto’s Seascapes are aesthetically exquisite and beautifully executed, but they have an additional quality which extract them from that class of image which doesn’t interest me at all: the merely beautiful. Despite the smoothness of Sugimoto’s sea, the way in which the sea dissolves into sky, there’s an innate sense which I find helpful to remember that the savagery of the sea, its depth and volume, doesn’t have to be rendered as savage on the page. Here, the dissolved seascape holds far more majesty for me than rolling waves and crashing foam might.

Ligurian Sea, Saviore, 1982, ©Hiroshi Sugimoto

There’s no point pretending that I like using colour, so it’s no surprise that I’m drawn to artists who favour tonal shades of black and white. The South Korean artist Park Seo-Bo whose art movement Dansaekhwa has been widely translated as ‘monochrome’ is such an artist. I’ve just interviewed him for the forthcoming Spring volume of Cereal magazine. He told me that he doesn’t much like the word monochrome, but is rather stuck with it now. He prefers the direct translation ‘singular colour’ which seems a much more interesting, varied term to me. Given my interest in layers and the idea of what lies on the surface and what sits beneath, I stare endlessly at his paintings which use a combination of his Myõbop technique (emptying his mind and focusing simply on the tip of the brush) on Hanji paper which has been manipulated to rise in waves above the surface of the canvas. But which comes first, the Myõbop or the Hanji?

Ecriture No. 920415, 1992, Mixed media with Korean Hanji paper on canvas. 80.4cm x 11.5cm ©Park Seo-Bo

Much of what I record, or plan to record, comes from walking the landscape. Veronique Chance’s long-distance runs to record what she sees on her mobile phone are immediately intriguing to me. The effect of such work is to produce what I call that little sense of agitation when a work of art or literature acts on the viewer in a provocative, combustible way. Particularly exciting was her 150 mile run round the M25 over 9 consecutive days. She relayed what she saw via her mobile phone live to the Stephen Lawrence Gallery, University of Greenwich. I’d like to think that, inspired by her ambition, that I can extend my coastal walks or to curate them in a more conceptual way to see what work might emerge.

Helen Chadwick’s Viral Landscapes have an obvious appeal since they represent her passionate love for the coastal landscapes of Pembrokeshire. But I find the strongest connection in her use of the sea to wash coloured pigment onto her canvases – deploying the sea as a powerful agent in the work itself. I also admire her refusal to sentimentalise landscape, but to use it instead to confront both environmental catastrophe and AIDS.

Helen Chadwick, Viral Landscapes, 1989-1990,

‘I think I’m attracted to those landscapes that have a tension between the natural forces and the manmade; particularly this place, which is really black terrain, being volcanic. I think there’s a cinematic element to the work; it has a dramatic impact that attracted me to it’

Emma Stibbon, Abandoned Whaling Station

The duality of nature versus man explored in Emma Stibbon’s work is provocative to me. She works principally in relief which allows her to produce work on a large scale. It’s that scale which achieves what she calls a ‘cinematic experience’. As she puts it, ‘the panorama of something, the immersion of the viewer in the image, hopefully draws [the viewer] into that space.’ I keep her work in mind whilst trying to expand the scale of my own images, my most recent being A0 prints of two of my pieces.

Emma Stibbon, Whaling Station, Deception Island, 2007, 117cm x 238cm, woodcut on Japanese paper

The photography collection in the National Gallery of Singapore includes the work of Tan Lip Seng, Wu Peng Seng, and Yip Cheong Fun. In my quest to encourage the viewer to look longer, look harder, I find these images inspiring. The angles are oblique, the viewpoints surprising – the eye inevitably lingers both to imagine how the images might have been achieved but also to attempt to inhabit the minds of the anonymous subjects.

Susan Hiller’s work with postcards has been influential. Dedicated to the Work of Unknown Artists has fourteen panels with over 300 postcards of crashing waves, along with a map and an artist’s book. Hiller is acting as a curator, a re-orderer of art, in which the work of uncelebrated, overlooked artists is reframed as a set, or a movement. As she put it at the time, ‘The ‘coincidental’ pairings of alternative descriptive languages – verbal and visual – are sustained as levels of presentation throughout the piece. While the charts may look like models of objectivity and the visual images like expressions of subjective internalizations, they lead to a series of paradoxes involving the unexpressed but intended vs. the expressed but unintended.’ These paradoxes go to the heart of the postcards I inherited from my great-aunt: so much is unexpressed in the cards, which was clearly intended, but in their sparseness lies the unintended expression of the redacted thoughts beneath.

Susan Hiller, Dedicated to the Unknown Artists, 1972-6