A Change of Perspective
By Paul M Ellis
I’ve reached a point in my life where I am fortunate enough to be able to choose a new direction and start looking at the world more closely from a different point of view, a change of perspective! I want to look at the world from the point of view of the artist. Soon I will no longer be introduced as the school Headmaster, a role in society which, among other things, conjures up all manner of associations from bossy narrow-mindedness to power hungry dominance. Not that I am that kind of Headmaster, of course!
Our role in society defines who we are in the eyes of strangers, but it actually says little about who we are to our family and friends. I think that to describe someone as an artist is to describe more an idea than a role. That idea ranges from multi-millionaire celebrities of our time to the impoverished syphilitic wretches of past centuries. Since I don’t fit into either category, yet, or perhaps its British modesty, I don’t, yet, feel comfortable calling myself an artist, I prefer to say, I paint.
The Dutch artists I admire most, Carel Willink, Pyke Koch, Dick Ket and my mentor, Kik Zeiler, the leading influence in my work to date, these artists demonstrate quality of skill and insight, strong integrity and passion. They create work worthy of contemplation, admiration and enjoyment. I aspire to become that kind of painter and maybe, just maybe I might one day be described as the artist formerly known as Headmaster!
A painting that attempts realism in its representation is by definition an illusion and always an interpretation of reality. Our perception is selective and the reality of our experience is that it can only reveal part of the truth. The whole truth is just too vast to apprehend. There’s just too much to see.
Furthermore, I believe we do not, and cannot look at the world dispassionately. We project a good deal of ourselves into our perceptions. The brain is hard wired to motivate our perceptions according to our habits, to our fears and our desires.
When we are immersed in our work, or lost in thought, or engaged in sport or play or madly in love, (if you are lucky perhaps all at the same time! Hold onto that thought but not for too long!) When fully emotionally engaged we are blind to the cold world of objective, scientific truth. We distort the scale and proportion of our perceptions. In other words our mood and emotions colour our experience. Reality is to a large extent, more subjective than objective.
So, for a lot of the time we tend to see the world from our own point of view. You see it from your point of view and I from mine. I have neither the skill nor the pretension to depict the world as you see it. I paint it from my own point of view, from my perspective. Just like everyone else, I see through my feeling of the moment. And, just like everyone else, the icons of my cultural heritage have shaped the pallet of my perceptions.
My paint is coloured with my emotional character, with my memories and with my aspirations. The artist is doomed to egocentricity. (As Fraser in Dad’s Army would say, we’re all doomed!) For some artists it means a life of tragic isolation whilst for others they become egomaniacs, and like so many artist celebrities nowadays, they are more obsessed with themselves than with their art.
There is a world of a difference between Hamlet‘s expression of affection for the skull of alas poor Yorick whom he knew so well, an image of inspiration for many painters, and the curse of Damien Hirst and his anonymous human skull encrusted with diamonds, designed to be gauwped at like a golden calf of avarice and superstition. I say keep bling in the fickle world of fashion and out of the galleries. I say blitz the bling!
Of course, there have always been artists who want to change the world by revolution or shock us into seeing the world from their perspective. I think that nowadays other forms of contemporary media are far more effective than paintings. The advances in Social Media and instant imaging have revolutionised our visual experiences. We are drunk with the iconic repertoire of the visual imagery of our time.
We have stopped looking at the real, physical world around us and have become fixated with the virtual screen world in the palm of our hand.
Perhaps we are just terrified of being out of touch. I don’t know. I’m not against technology, per se. Each medium has its place and purpose. Creativity cannot and should not be banished, barred or suppressed. I do not denounce either the technology or the opportunities technology creates. But I hope and believe that there should be room in society for people like me, people who are passionate about creating paintings, especially in the traditional medium of oils.
As an inherently empathic optimist I am neither tragically isolated nor an egomaniac. I really enjoy painting and to be able to create paintings that other people enjoy gives me enormous satisfaction. Each painting is an investment of energy, emotion and time. They are made to please, perhaps to inspire, or to aid contemplation but whatever effect they may have, I hope, that by looking at these paintings you will at least forget the ridiculous absurd stresses of contemporary life and allow yourself some quiet reflection.
Art is part of the pleasure zone of life. A good painting can become an endearing object of contemplation and reflection and in some cases it can even become a focus for our affection.
My paintings are singular, quiet sorts of things. They don’t scream at you. They don’t twitter. They don’t sit comfortably in the palm of your hand. They prefer to hang silently on a wall in a room to be viewed from time to time for pleasure, contemplation or reflection. As objects they will change little over time. However, time changes us, our perspective. One criterion for good art according to the Scottish philosopher of the enlightenment, David Hume, is whether the work of art can stand the test of time. Will the work fail by going out of fashion?
If it was never a matter of fashion in the first place it has a reasonable chance of success over time. Hopefully my paintings will be well cared for. Only time will tell! Thank you for coming today, enjoy the show and tell your friends about it.
Paul M Ellis Amsterdam, 12th May 2012