By Philip Gull
La Vie Antérieure // La Vie Intérieure
Un autre week-end. Autre dots.
Tickets to the British Library Exhibition, Saturday Morning, 10.30. “Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War”.
The thing is: if a dot, as a singular, discrete unit, functionally suggests that all dots are equal – some dots can still be more equal than others.
And if dots are for connection as well as collection, then the ones outside of your usual frame of reference are the valuable ones.
The Anglo-Saxon exhibition was incredible. All the 5 stars reviews? Justified. The “once-in-a-generation” claims? True. The best of everything from Bede to Domesday was there. But it was firmly, securely in my comfort zone. If I hadn’t been an adman, this would have been my lot: the manuscripts and smudgéd glyphs. And it would have been a dusty, cozy, and likely, slightly stifling life.
The problem is, my cultural frame of reference is 80% pre-1800, and 100% pre-1950. My uni education consisted of being told, in a roundabout way, that stuff-has-basically-gone-downhill since T.S. Eliot died.
So on Sunday, I tried again.
I didn’t really know how, to be honest.
I surfed aimlessly for about an hour, until I caught a wave and ended up googling ‘Best Websites for Creative Inspiration’. And it worked, sort of. I found some stuff I’d never seen before. I didn’t understand a lot of it, to be honest – but I found some stuff that resonated.
In particular: Karin Waskiewicz. She creates incredible, multi-layered canvases of acrylic paint, and then ‘excavates’ them, chipping away with chisels and carpentry to create kaleidoscopic works of art.
*Not for the trypophobic*
Karin Waskiewicz, “UPSIDE DOWN MOUNTAIN”, acrylic on panel, 9.5×12. 2018
I don’t know how to write about paintings, and if I tried, you’d get a blend of pretense and ignorance.
Even if I don’t get it, it gets me. It draws me in, it gets me going.
(Interpret that how you want.)
I think it’s the depth produced on a flat canvas. Producing depth entirely through layers is impressive. And I’ve always liked totally non-metaphorical hidden ‘depths’.
Sunday’s painting reminded me of Saturday’s highlight:
“The Alfred Jewel”, gold and enamel, c.880
Angles and filters may disguise the doubtful appeal of your Tinder date, but objects and transcendent craft are still best in real sight and real life. Every picture I’d seen of the Alfred Jewel, like this one, suggested that the gilded illustration was coming out of the jewel, slightly convex. But it’s recessed, and the ventriloquising border – ÆFLRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN (‘Alfred ordered me to be made’) – stands delicately up to emphasise the depth of it, as a ‘socketed’ jewel.
Dot: sounds two-dimensional. Shouldn’t be. But I think I’ve been thinking too much in terms of surfaces, recently, instead of wondering what else there is in the shape and depth of an idea, an object, a strategy.
Photoshop is full of layers. The craft of portfolio briefs means hours on a flat screen. Which is why I was so excited by our lesson on semiotics – because it brought hidden depths back to the fore, and reminded me that a layer shouldn’t ever just be a layer. It can be a veil, a mirror, glass-clear or fog-shrouded. But it’s almost always an emanation or an adjustment of that which is underneath it.
Semiotics isn’t quite a one man show. But it started out that way. And Ferdinand De Saussure, its daddy and granddaddy, reminds us that layers are usually anything but.
He famously compared language’s modality to a sheet of paper: “thought is the front and the sound the back; one cannot cut the front without cutting the back at the same time; likewise in language, one can neither divide sound from thought nor thought from sound”.
The paper, initially as close to a two-dimensional object as one can get in reality, is in fact a site of depth and interrelations.
As all surfaces are, when you consider them properly.