Patrick Pye, Mark Shields & Colin Watson

October 6th - 27th 2010

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‘This is the eternal origin of art that a human being confronts a form that wants to become a work through him. Not a figment of his soul but something that appears to the soul and demands the soul's creative power. What is required is a deed that a man does with his whole being.’

Martin Buber, I and Thou, 1923

‘When I was young I was happy to take pleasure in sentimental pictures or stimulating grandiosities. Now I am older I need not gape at such things.’

P.Pye, The Time Gatherer,1991

‘Painting’, says Patrick Pye, ‘is about what it is to be human’. Patrick’s work is an exaltation of the human. To be engaged with what is human is to live and to create art. A profound humanity envelops his work. Reason & analysis give way to sensation and emotion and he utilises muted colour and emphasised drawing to draw attention to both. It is only our wonder at the marvelous which gives our intellect permission to come into play. ‘Humility is not easy ‘, says Patrick but yet he speaks of seeing, as late as 1995, a Macedonian painting whose ‘imagery searched me out’. He learned from the Primitives and learned, as he proudly proclaims, so slowly of the link between the image and mankind. He learned and then had to unlearn when, like the philosopher and religious existentialist Martin Buber, he came to the realisation that ‘Every man's foremost task is the actualisation of his unique, unprecedented and never-recurring potentialities, and not the repetition of something that another, and be it even the greatest, has already achieved’. .Patrick believes that artists are concerned with reality as it presents to them. They are conscious of what the last man did but not of developing what he did. What they do they do for themselves ‘reconciling their vision, their temperament and the science of their craft’. Patrick advocates the learning of the history of art backwards so as to appreciate the value of tradition, ’commencing with our subjective moment in time and our need to secure its objectivity in conflict and brotherhood with all previous generations.’ In a famous lesson Gauguin gave to the young Paul Sérusier in 1888, now itself a part of art history, he told him to forget the conventional use of colour he was being taught in the art academy and to paint the colours he saw in front of him, using brilliant colours: ‘How do you see that tree? It’s green? Well then, make it green, the best green on your palette. How do you see those trees? They are yellow. Well then, put down yellow. And that shade is rather blue. So render it with pure ultramarine. Those red leaves? Use vermillion’. This advice is both spectacularly adhered to and yet spectacularly upstaged in The Unbidden Tree, where the blood-red trunk of a tree bearing striking blue foliage conducts the music of snow-capped Norwegian mountains. The tree is ecstatic in its reigning role. The fire of the tree juxtaposed to the ice of the snow is as of passion juxtaposed to indifference. Man, Patrick is pointing out, is a crawling/walking upright creature of contradiction; matter/spirit., sentiment/intellect, sense/sensibility, a prideful victim of civilisation rather than a proud master of presence.


Und was sie seither stammelten sind Stücke deines alten Namens.

{And what they have stammered ever since are fragments of your ancient name.}

Rainer Maria Rilke, Das Stunden-Buch (The Book of Hours), 1899

‘The origin of every work of art’, writes Patrick Pye in his study of El Greco and the sacred theme, The Time Gatherer, ‘is in myth, but what the myth initiates is by no means simple. Word and its reverberation, image, contain their mutual incompatibility within their simplicity.’ Mark Shields, more recently, has come to see painting as ‘an inadequate decipherment of a language which has become virtually extinct. As though all that remains of a once royal language of the soul are crude fragments but no less expressive if used with discernment.’ In his quest for the Rosetta stone of art’s lineage Mark’s work has become a distillation, the extraction of that essential nugget of meaning by the condensation of a vast body of study and observation, both his own and that gathered by those before him. Born of intellectualism, his work exhibits more than a shade of shamanism. Just as the shaman is reputed to visit other dimensions to bring guidance to the misguided soul, so Mark visits the minds of poets and thinkers to bring enlightenment to the unenlightened mind. The breadth of his exposure to other artists and other cultures is breath-taking. Herein lies the challenge of his work. The viewer must work with the artist to extract his findings. It is as though we are assisting him on an archaeological dig; every finding is important, especially those vulnerable to being overlooked. We are witness to that great period of ‘marks’ which preceded writing, a period evoked so well by the French archaeologist Henri Breuil in Les Hommes de la Pierre ancienne : ‘His hand, dirtied with ochre or sweat was placed on a flat wall – and he saw it.’ And with this simple action we are connected through the ages, through the myths, through the beliefs, through the rituals – and what connects us is the mystery. It is fitting, then, that the two works Mark brings to this exhibition are by way of being modern-day stele, commemorative monuments to two friendships. Rising I, a reworking of the the Lazarus theme, harks back to a picture of this subject which Mark exhibited alongside a work of Patrick’s to mark the millennium in Belfast Cathedral. Two themes beloved of Patrick are incorporated in the piece: the ‘bright-sorrow’ at the mixed emotion of the joy of salvation tempered by the sorrow at suffering and sin; and death before rebirth, the mystery of sister moon exposed to the light of the sun. Rising II responds to the sensuality of Colin’s work, to a sacred ritual being spied upon, whether it be represented by David seeing Bathsheba as she bathed or the Gopis bathing before Krishna. A swan-like figure rises from the rejuvenating waters to a spiritual renewal. How fitting that Mark’s works should provide the fulcrum of this exhibition, balancing those of Patrick and Colin whilst at the same time sharing in their mutual concern to stress the sacred and ritualistic origins of art and the mystery that is the spirit.


‘It has …the privilege of leaving no-one indifferent; it has an enigmatic side that escapes most people, something strange that surprises. All that I know is that it is imprinted with an irresistible and poignant poetry to which one submits and which escapes all analysis and reason. For me, it is quite a poem’

Émile Cardon, 1881

These words, written by Émile Cardon, on seeing Puvis de Chavanne’s contribution to the 1881 Salon, Poor Fisherman, are equally relevant to the work of Colin Watson. Like de Chavanne, he is an artist who feels deeply and who knows how to express his depth of feeling. Like Stéphane Mallarmé, he is a poet who has knowledge of ‘the joy of contemplating and delighting in the eternal within the very moments of one’s life.’ In place of schemes and tropes he wields patterns and abstractions to highlight for his viewer the signs of the eternal and the divine in nature. He sees a divine unity in all things. His work incarnates the words of the 11th-century Persian Sufi mystic, Al-Ghazzali, who wrote: ‘The visible world was made to correspond to the world invisible and there is nothing in this world but is a symbol of something in that other world.’ By heightening the earthly to a heavenly archetype, he leads us back to our origins. Just as the visible reflects the invisible, the rhythm of Colin’s figures reflects the rhythm of their settings. All is in harmony and hence in repose. This stillness and solitude, this self-containment speaks of meditation, of soul-searching. The monumentality of the figures renders them powerful presences which yet are introspective and unchallenging to the viewer. We are allowed into their private moments; we are included, welcomed into that moment. No barriers are erected so we feel accepted, even wanted. We desperately need to be a part of this peace and tranquillity. It is akin to an out-of-body experience, a drug-induced ‘dream for mortal hearts distilled from divine opium’ (Baudelaire Spleen). We are outside our bodily selves; we are true spirit. We let ourselves be steered by Colin since we trust his motives. He is a Pied Piper using his patterns and colours to lure us into a trance. It is impossible to resist! There is some sort of alchemy going on here – a benign witchcraft. We are spell-bound by his enchanting vision which lures us back to our very origins. His work pullulates with sensuality. We can almost smell the scents and hear the insects. The sinuosity of his line which follows the body’s rhythms takes us back to the Celtic artist whose concern, also, was with harmony and rhythm in their spiritual service to nature and pagan magic. That we are brought back to a state of beginning by a deep sensuality is supremely apt. Colin’s real inner peace gives us something to hold onto: he completes the circle.

Síle Connaughton-Deeny, October 2010

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