Saturday, 10 October 2015

Maker of Shapes and Images

Matthew Sperling thinks it's time to get serious about Anglo-Welsh poet and painter David Jones:
Though some of Jones’s engravings and paintings share with his writings a superstructure of recondite mythological, religious, and symbolic meaning, they present none of the immediate difficulty that his poetry does. Instead, the extraordinary fluidity and variety of his mark-making shine out freshly from his greatest works on paper, carving out shapes in flat, two-dimensional space which produce compositions of graceful rhythm and mysterious, timeless balance. His genius was for activating the ‘lyricism inherent in the clean, furrowed free, fluent engraved line’, as he put it in his retrospective introduction of 1964 to the copper engravings he made to illustrate Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner in 1929. And his draughtsmanship was much more various than this emphasis on the ‘engraved line’ might suggest. Just as he confessed that his ‘method’ in writing—a dry, technical word he held apart in inverted commas—was ‘merely to arse around with such words as are available to me until the passage in question takes on something of the shape I think it requires’, so in making a picture, he said, he was simply trying ‘to make the lines, smudges, colours, opacities, translucencies, tightnesses, hardnesses, pencil marks, paint marks, chalk marks, spit-marks, thumb marks, etc., evoke the image one requires as much as poss.’ Several decades after Jones’s death, with his rather overbearing ideas about myth, religion, and the decline of civilisation faded to remoteness, he can now be appreciated afresh as a startlingly original maker of shapes and images.
(Painting: Elephant, 1928, by David Jones)

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