Wednesday, June 22, 2022

On Timothy Mathews There and Not Here: Chronicles of Art and Loss

Comment on Timothy Mathews's There and Not Here: Chronicles of Art and Loss

In this quite astonishing rhizomic engagement with the wonder of making art, with honouring its myriad forms and arrays, we trace exchanges and conversations between painting, novel, graphemes, translation (literal and figurative), architecture, film, theatre, performance, song/ ‘verse-music’, poetry, novel, and stories that coincide but might not ‘match’, as there’s no single narrative, ever. Timothy Mathews encounters the artist constantly and engages in ongoing acts of critical and creative renewal. And this needs to be the case because loss and grief are informants that keep confronting us, as we try to counter, absorb and sustain life in their zones. As Mathews says of Hepworth: ‘optimism and the lightness of her hand as she works seethe with the mourning that only life can know’. Who we see with, how we see, are pivotal questions. And out of this existence comes uniqueness. Mathews writes: ‘At the start Matisse talks to us in his hand-drawn words about the uniqueness of a new picture, about how an art work has to be unique to exist at all’. This book is a late modernist Metamorphosis, driven by a deep desire to ‘see each other, touch each other’ through the affect of art.  Or as Mathews puts it in engaging with William Kentridge: ‘the participation of humanity in its own betrayal. Participation. Understanding’. In all of this there is the constant search for hope, where the critic alongside artists in all manifestations acts as a conduit to possibilities of self within community. Set against the desecrations of the world by rampant capital, this book offers a synthesis of contraries rather than binaries. We celebrate the flow of this book, always concerned with loss, with how we articulate loss in convergent and digressive ways, and how much all of this is connected with physical, mental and philosophical movement. For me, the book is a beautifully woven assemblage of transitions, connection, redemption, communities and personhoods made of seeing-participation; of grief as knowledge and remembering – an embrace of the immensity of flatness and its generative shaping; a confluence of lines of difference, punctuated with pauses and blinks that are an investigation of vulnerabilities and tensions. Mathews versifies the fusion of audience with aloneness. In making art, we attempt to move beyond alienation, and possibly into the generosity of art and body, action and the life of a painting, of it being painted. We attempt to live, to imagine, to embrace abstraction as part of our living in the world, which is a world of empathy, and memory. And we experience trauma and love, the unforgiving nature of death and confrontations of violence, the fragile issue of what is killed and what is betrayed, and the self-doubt that rages through looking for expression through art. We ask what is ‘attack’, what is killing death, and we consider that ‘Perhaps heaven is a word made of art’. Elegiac anger co-exists with one’s failures, but art is hope isn’t it? And there’s the interesting matter of to whom each piece and the book as a whole are addressed. Interior monologue? Public address? Or a fresh hybrid of both in this meditative but restive revolution in art criticism. And in the foreground as much as the background is the oscillation between France and Britain, shifting the focal lengths of reception to the globe in this intensely post-humanist work.


John Kinsella