A book I’m reading begins with a quote from GK Chesterton : Art consists of limitations. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame.
The framing of one’s experience is key, the story is all in the telling. A story I’ve read recently makes use of an apparently empty centre to ponder relationships. It’s made me more aware of something, as I am almost at the end of this European travel with a wont to wrap it up, to frame it. Chesterton seems to be saying that the frame isn’t something that bundles and packages, but rather it locates.
The experience of London is overwhelming. For a frame of reference I’m listening to temper and take it in. Southbank the other evening was crackling with conversational diners akin to late afternoon tree birds, a screen of sound with few spatial markers. A haze of tweeting and chippering that gathers together the disparity of individuals and offers the vibration of a mass which is the closest I get to a sensation of form.
We are in a flat in the suburb of Brixton in southwest London. Largely West Indian and Portuguese, streets edgy and alive with a semi rural quality. These cultures in places are heavily framed by the old terrace brickwork, while downtown Electric Avenue is pulsing within a context not confined by English urban traditions. The Sharpeville memorial is furnished with individual and dual arm chairs scattered / arranged for settled conversation or individual contemplation on the main intersection.
Early Saturday morning – time seems to be sucked back, reversing the normal progression of the week for a few precious hours, the evening revelry in slow decline as opposed to the usual early morning windup to work.
From my horizontal position multiple voices slowly rise, one can’t be sure where they are coming from. Our flat is on the second floor of a tight corner, its main room like the prow of a small boat jutting out into Stockwell Road open to the street on three sides.
Here in the early hours the rumble of a train on the horizon is a constant that enables the treble of women’s voices and men’s bass to leap about with the energy and pattern of a conversation whose middle range and content is lost in the sonic horizon.
I picked up a play written by Yasmina Reza the other day because it’s premise resonated with something I’ve been trying to figure out between visuality and narrative. It’s called Art. The story features a painting of white stripes on white as the object around which the substance of three friend’s relationship is scrutinised.
The one who recently bought it fancies himself as a collector; he explains that the minimal surface holds a process and a system that other scenic pictures like those on his friend’s walls do not.
That friend In return sees the purchase of the painting as self delusion; the action lifts when the sceptical friend is given an opportunity to improve the painting – with developing tension the collector gives permission for the other to add to it. So with a felt marker a cartoon skier is drawn above one of the stripes. The final scene finds them having just returned the painting to its original state, their relationship mended in the encounter the sceptic steps back to see an alpine hillside with ski tracks.
In the process the friends have been sent through an interrogation of the minimal basis of their own relationship. The perception of the whiteness changing from a thing-in-itself to an absorbing landscape; the view of their friendship hovering in a similarly subjective field.
At one point they turn to the edge and examine the special craft paper edging made by the artist as the ‘setting’ for the painting. This detail identifies the method of the French abstract painter Michel Parmentier whose work we saw in Paris and Lyon.
Typically parmentier’s paintings are built on the premise of an external system of which the marks, stripes or accidental stain creeping in from the edge, are a casual fragment. However the rigorous way he deals with the edge of the canvas is akin to a conservator, a brown craft paper strip is embedded within layers of wax like gel. This crafted edge camouflages the support structure and mixes up our appreciation of the surface between one of loose gestural mark making and a kind of archiving or documentation. Parmentier belonged to the group BMPT that saw all art as political, caught between its historical context and it’s making; a frame that encompasses a social space and finds a difficult and surprising beauty in the crossing.