When Anna rang to say she was thinking of including me in a show under the heading of romanticism I was initially quite surprised – I hadn’t really considered my work as being particularly in that bracket, if anything I might have seen myself as being closer to the opposite ..not sure what that is… realist, detached or disengaged, cold eyed and formalist perhaps..
Thinking about it in more depth it quickly becomes clear – historical movement apart – that the word is oddly inclusive and hard to pin down…. which is after all why we are here this evening, . In the case of the sense of disengagement I just mentioned as being un-romantic , I realise you could understand that same quality in another way – as a sense of apartness or of not quite belonging…it might highlight a mismatch between the flawed here-and-now of the everyday world, and an ideal version of it, the world as we might want it to be, however hopelessly. There is an inherent irony in representing this ideal, very different from mere escapism, and it’s a romantic kind of irony, and even one that (to my surprise) approaches the ultra-romantic notion of yearning, of reaching for a nameless something that is beyond.
So .. I know that West Bay isn’t going to be every-ones idea of the beyond – well not quite in that sense anyway – but perhaps that is the point. For me, at least, it does have something that transcends the ordinary, at the same time as being the embodiment of that very ordinariness. That’s why I am pleased if people tell me as they sometimes do, that they can only see the place as if through my painting…it shows that it is still recognisably itself, albeit modified by a more inward vision. I don’t really want to go too much into what, if anything, my own work means, partly because I’m not sure that I can honestly say that I know, perhaps its not even for me to say, but doubtless this vision has much to do with the presence of the sea, or the peculiarities of light and all those kinds of things, which a is a whole other discussion in itself …it may also be the fact that West Bay is a bit apart from the more classic and familiar Dorset of rolling hills and thatch, both by its geography and in its atmosphere, and these give it a certain edge. Something similar applies, with suitable adjustments, in the case of Portland, another of my subjects – and there of course, it really is a place apart and in so many ways.
Without wanting to stretch the point, and we will possibly come back to this later, you could argue that Romanticism, with its greater acceptance of the role of the unconscious mind, fed directly into later developments such as Surrealism and Metaphysical art; and these are areas that I do feel a connection with – figures such as de Chirico or Morandi, and in English landscape terms Paul Nash. I should mention as well the American, Hopper. I think these artists have informed aspects of my own work, and they might all be said to embrace some form of a romanticised state of mind.. not of the full on gushy type, admittedly, but none the less potent for all that.
Just to end, I came across a recent interview with the painter Peter Doig, which may or may not be to the point. In it he was asked, “Why painting?’ He replies, ‘That’s a good question. Painting is one of those disciplines that if you thought about it too much you simply wouldn’t do it. Ultimately it’s a hopelessly romantic thing to do…
Alex Lowery’s speech at the Redefining the Romantic Artists’ Talk