Peter was ready to get started, the frustration he seemed to have felt towards the end of the last session was nowhere to be seen. He spoke enthusiastically about enjoying working with people, the trial of their constant movement and fidgeting and being able to engage with the sitter’s and his own psychology as part of the process of painting.
Having scraped off much the painting in the last session, he got straight back into applying the thick paint with a sort of dynamic precision.
Peter had been re-reading Kierkegaard, considered the father of existentialism and postmodernism, and was very taken with his phrase “I believe because it is absurd.” The fact that in the 19th century a radical and original Philosopher re-issued the statement that had been first written down in the 3rd century by Theologian, Tertullian, was evidence that Nothing is New. To emphasise his point, Peter showed me one of the clippings he keeps on the wall of his studio; it showed a 3rd century BC Etruscan votive figure in bronze next to an almost identical bronze figure by Alberto Giacometti from 1957. Both speak strongly of their time, while simultaneously appearing completely timeless when seen together. Peter is an admirer of Giacometti’s work and is excited to see the new Retrospective of his work at Tate Modern.
We looked at a triptych he is working on influenced by George Braque, the Cubist painters' description of the process of creating a painting in the sexualised terms; Impregnation, Obsession, Hallucination.
As I left Peter gave me a copy of The Jackdaw (May/June 2017 issue) with an essay on his work by Eric Coombes, entitled Drawing, Tradition and Peter Clossick with the subheading “Despite the best efforts of the State Art establishment visual intelligence survives.” I read it on the bus home (Peter usually drives me home after the sitting, but today his wife had popped out to the shops in the car and so he walked me to the nearest bus stop instead). In the essay Coombes traces the ideas about painting that are evident in Peter’s work to the turn of the last century; referencing Augustus John, he explores the idea of “drawing as essentially an exercise of thinking”, and intriguingly quotes from a 1910 complaint that art schools were teaching students how to draw well technically, they could ‘reproduce’ objects, but that they were not encouraged to ‘represent’ those objects in ways that imbued them with meaning, they were not Art. I was fascinated by this, as it seemed to be the exact opposite of the current complaint about art schools as failing to teach traditional skills such as drawing and focussing too heavily on ‘concept’.
It is a fascinating essay and continues with the idea of drawing as thinking and as ‘embodied action’. He says “space as depicted in Clossick’s painting assets its significance through the vigour with which it is invoked in the constructed morphology of the paint surface. The thick paint retains the texture which records the movement of the brush or other implement applying it so that we have a very immediate sense not simply that a complex structure is described as something that was there, but that it has been reconstructed or reimagined in and through the process of making the painting.”