14th May 2012. This is something I wrote for a publication in 2007. The last paragraph still seems very relevant in regard to the deliberations I have been having over the ‘figure and sea’ paintings


SIMON CARTER  October 2007

Get Constable, Town Hall Gallery, Ipswich

One of my most vivid experiences of a Constable painting, in fact of any painting, was after seeing the exhibition ‘American Sublime’ at Tate Britain in 2002. The show traced 19th century painting’s discovery of the American landscape, the work becoming more grand as it pushed further west; The surface of the paintings all glassy and polished, hardly a visible brush mark in the whole show. Seeing Constable’s sketch for the ‘Leaping Horse’ immediately after this was a revelation; like seeing it for the first time. Everything was visible on the surface; a mad, flapping, exultant wreck of a surface; moving, demented and energised. What was seen in ‘American Sublime’ was the image. In Constable what you got was painting; image and paint bound together. 

This came to mind after a day drawing at Flatford. How the river, like a painting, is not only reflections and depictions but also actual rippling surface coexisting with the images seen in it.

It was the same thing at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh where I saw Frederic Church’s view of Niagara Falls hanging near Constable’s ‘View of Dedham Vale’. The one all polish, the image seen through the invisible surface; the other binding up the subject in the blotched and battered paint.

I try to make images that are arrived at through paint; It’s about being aware of what the paint will do but not being satisfied with it; of searching but finding something else; of wanting something free and open but knowing there has to be rigour for it to survive; of not making what I want but of finding what I didn’t know I wanted.

You start making a painting thinking you do know what you want and a little while later you think you’ve got it and are tempted to stop. Later you know there is more to do and as you go on you often arrive at a point where it seems you will never again be able to make a decent painting. Beyond this, in desperation and without hoping for or expecting resolution, something happens; some kind of other life inhabits the marks you have made over and over again. These scrapings and accumulations suddenly take on some sort of poetry and reality. A kind of recognition occurs. That is what you hope for (but do not plan for)…to find coherence in some irrational and off-hand action, an action that shouldn’t work or hasn’t yet and then to find next morning in the studio that this thing is still breathing its own air. That it is formally sound and tough with a certain self-effacing grandeur but not overblown or bombastic.