Many thanks to Sam Cornish of Abstract Critical for inviting me to participate.
Full interview here:
The unconscious – that which is not yet conscious in us, unknown to us. The statement – the accompanying willed, intended and desired text. It is in some sense impoverished by it’s very conscious nature. There is a richer ‘story’. To access that you take a risk and listen to the babble and the utterances, like on the shrink’s couch. My incoherence, your incoherence – that place where there is no clear ‘aboutness’, where there is no single string or pruned and neatened narrative, the material that floats somewhere internally and cannot quite be named – that is something that has perhaps not been given enough regard or respect. This is a statement culture, a world that wants to know ‘what is that about?’ The statement is like a ticket to get you through a door to some desired place.
I don’t remember. I have to tell you everything with words don’t I? It’s the only way I can let you know. But some things don’t fit words. It’s like there are shapes, shapes under blankets. They are there, half known to me, familiar but not concrete. They move, breathe and are alive.
Imagine a big black blanket. Bone black. Under it is something. Like a rock or a body but it is not those things; It is a time and a place and a from that to this point – an experience. Muffled, undefined, no edge.
– EC, 2014
The word “intuition” has many meanings. But in its popular, as distinct from refined philosophic usage, it is closely connected with the single qualitativeness underlying all the details of explicit reasoning. It may be relatively dumb and inarticulate and yet penetrating; unexpressed in definite ideas which form reasons and justifications and yet profoundly right. To my mind, Bergson’s contention that intuition precedes conception and goes deeper is correct. Reflection and rational elaboration spring from and make explicit a prior intuition. But there is nothing mystical about this fact, and it does not signify that there are two modes of knowledge, one of which is appropriate to one kind of subject-matter, and the other mode to the other kind. Thinking and theorizing about physical matters set out from an intuition, and reflection about affairs of life and mind consists in an ideational and conceptual transformation of what begins as an intuition. Intuition, in short, signifies the realization of a pervasive quality such that it regulates the determination of relevant distinctions or of whatever, whether in the way of terms or relations, becomes the accepted object of thought.
(Visual) Information comes not only through the eye, observation of the (external) world and the mind’s perception in this process, but from internal observations, non physical forms, the psychical and the unconscious – from an invisible world that often defies translation except by image. (EC 2013)
“I have done other things that rebel against those ideas, but I believe as a philosophy that it is important to contradict yourself.”
‘We certainly need some way of speaking about that which we do not know’ – A.P
One of the difficulties I come across in my practice is that in my working with chaos, free association, finding the links between many things that interest me (rather than state that I know what I am doing all the time), I am often perceived as having a lack of clarity. This is especially frustrating when it comes from fellow artists. I am a fan of change, of chaos, of things falling apart, of incoherence, of doubt, of intuitive processes calling up learned material, of the reorganisation of ‘energies’, of discoveries in the dismissed, of play and so on, in order that I might discover something! This is not the same as a lack of clarity. And as the British Essayist and Psychoanalyst Adam Phillips puts it rather nicely – “States of conviction conceal the sense in which we are continually making our mind up.”
I have stacks of written research in files, as well as drawings, text work, collage and paintings etc dating back to the 1990’s in which I am looking at space, the microcosm and the macrocosm, chaos and order, physics, math, music, natural form, architecture, the politics of space, hygiene and sanity, internal and external psychological space, perception, psyche, the unconscious, language, psychoanalysis, Freud, Lacan and on it goes – interrelations.
‘I think the problem is living in a culture that’s hypnotised by explanation’ – A.P
I also have experienced many comments on my use of colour as being something that is reflecting some kind of inner emotional situation when very often I am exploring colour as a visual idea rather than using my art as some kind of therapy. The personality of the artist is perhaps not important- the idea of an artist as self revealing when perhaps really acutely and deeply hidden from others and even utterly unrevealed and unknown to herself or his self. The myths, the distorted narratives of lives created to feed a consuming desire removes us from the work in hand.
One concern of mine is the problem of explanation, of talking about experience – verbal language. Also of the qualitative and quantitative, intellectual logic and emotional logic, the rational and the irrational, subjective and objective or the different sides to things. I am interested in a kind of duality that is necessary to make a whole complete. Duality or a ‘co-operation of opposites’ for me is vital and gives rise to life.
‘Aboutness is what everything’s about and that’s very reductive’ – A.P
I’m also aware that not wanting (to explain, to be part of a particular kind of statement world) oddly calls that which is unwanted up into existence!.. And often even more powerfully. I need what I disagree with. It gives me something.
We are preoccupied with sanitisation. Within obsessive sanitisation lies the fear of our own destructive natures. Fear of our dirt. Fear of our own shadow. We need to get in touch with it if we’re not to blow ourselves up.
Do we think or hope that our fetishising of the vicitm, or the vomiting out of anything ‘personal’ is some kind of real connection to this dirt, an expression of it?
With everyone being so revealing, nothing is really revealed at all. It’s a kind of vomit.
In the dream
The two trees, entangled
Each limb indistinguishable from the other
Bearing similar flowers – pink, delicate
Lolling heads, long yellow stamens
Each with a berry, round and purple
Yet one elixir, one poison
And so interwoven
That I could not discern
And so I could not eat
- Poem after a dream by EC, 2010
It’s Sunday afternoon and I am heading to Lewisham Arthouse. It’s a beautiful building. I get a bit sentimental about the massive front doors and stony staircase which somehow remind me of the doors and oversized staircases in Italian apartment blocks. But I am in South London, not Southern Italy and it’s getting chilly.
It’s busy inside and I make my way through the circuit of studios and head straight for the stairs that take you down into the bowels of the building where there is a little jewel of a studio to be found: Ben Varney’s. He is in the basement. (I can’t help but think of Jung and our ‘psychic basement’ – Where the really interesting, socially unacceptable stuff is hidden).
I make my way past the sign that tells me to mind my head and emerge from the dark stairwell into an installation, I pass through there and into a pool of light with a darkly clad figure lurking in the hallway. The dark figure turns to reveal Ben’s bright eyes and smile greeting me. I am in front of an open door that reveals a tiny studio with an oil painting and some beautiful watercolours by Ben hanging on the walls. I have seen his watercolour work before and these appear qualitatively different. I find out he has mixed these watercolours himself (gum arabic and pigment).
One of the things I like about Ben’s work is the sense of someone really working to find things out. There is no pretence here or self consciousness and no sense of ego. I get the impression that this is a person who takes his time. This is a place of discovery and dedication. It is smaller than any other studio in the Arthouse but it has a sense of richness and sincerity that is hard to come by. Ben leans over with a big book and says, ‘Here!’. It’s The Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. Apparently it is now mine! This is another thing about Ben I am reminded about – He is very generous. This comes across in his work and in how he talks with people about art – Acknowledging the alienation many may feel. He is not aiming to baffle and strikes up good conversations with visitors.
On a shelf stands a stack of books and below there’s a table full of bits and bobs- research, tea cups, a CD, beside which perches a lovely little etching.
There is a sense in the works on the walls of the exploration of the physical, of matter and it’s manifestation but also of the psychological subtelties, the many clues in a persons face and something of the metaphysical. The faces emerge from ‘nothing’ – the blank page – but the emerging form tells us of the existence of the other without it needing to be described in concrete terms. The watercolours and oil painting seem to be bringing something to life out of a primordial soup. It would be easy to say this – and I’ve heard it before – ‘you draw like a sculptor’. Giacommetti may also spring to mind. For me, Ben’s works seem to hover between various states, finely balanced between the fleshy, heavy stuff of matter he seems to be wrestling with and the spiritual (can’t use that word in Artworld today apparently).
As I turn to go out I see another of Ben’s masks made from chicken wire, Papier-mâché and gesso hanging on the door. Heading back into the corridor I follow the long line of masks that must be paused at and experienced. These continue on to another small room on the right. In this room at the end lurks another surprise: Three works by Ben. Heads/faces, Oil and gesso, perched on a table that has seen a lot of use. This is another unassuming room, tucked away for only the curious to find. I think you should visit these rooms in the basement of the Lewisham Arthouse because -as the song once said- the basement is where it’s at!– EC, 2012
Ben Varney’s Open Studio
All work by Ben Varney