Time passes and it becomes all too palpable to the senses when there has been a gap, a discontinuity of habit. Recently, I felt this discontinuity of the time that had passed, revealing itself through change, not external rather but internal. About a month ago I returned to visit the National Gallery in London, where over the years I would regularly go to see what I could see, not in a metronomic fashion but in pulses. The pandemic and its lockdowns put a stop to these visits but returning was wonderful. Different paintings spoke clearly in ways I had not been been able to receive before, in a way they made a new viewer out of me. We suddenly became available for each other and without this break in habit my hermeneutical expansion would have remained imperceptible or concealed.
What the particular paintings involved are is not so important but for me the renovation is. As in days pre-covid, I would take drawing materials and depending on the day I would draw from the paintings or just look. By drawing I mean an explicit act of reading, not technical but a spiritual reading. Less to copy or learn anything particular, but rather to carry over the meaning (presence? kinship?), into ones own host language – translation as a kind of concrete attentiveness. In my studio work I make paintings and drawings and use as prompts street corners, interiors and people from the situation of my life – a view from my window, an interior from my home, a friend…etc. I draw from old paintings as I draw from the phenomena that surrounds me in the conditions of my daily life, a commitment to being here. I draw in order to feel the presence of what is with me, to touch it, to have contact…simply to know. What I am drawing from or towards remains a bit mysterious, however, the intermediary contact of line/mark or paint, becomes for me a residue of a kind of self affirming truth.
At certain times when I am deeply engaged I experience a sense of becoming smaller, the ‘I’ becomes somewhat passive and retreats into the corner of the room. From this state I am no longer the origin of my speech and a space without magnitude opens up and a huge feeling of freedom is there like a temporary reprieve. For a short moment I am simultaneously all ‘inner’ and ‘outer’. The painting or drawing, as it stands, is something that has happened to me, not the other way around and all that remains to be asked is whether I stayed in it long enough for it to stand up to the possibility of offering a secondary experience of the original event, one that goes deeper or less so inside the perception.
Experience and apprehending happens to us over and above our wanting, to apprehend- as taking-in, letting something come to oneself – namely what shows itself, what appears! The drawings, and in turn the paintings, begin with a received glimpse within which all is already contained and true…. something looks good, something shines out and something appears which means, as if for the first time I appear also. To quote Simone Weil, “…the only organ of contact with existence is acceptance, love. That is why beauty and reality are identical.” I simply follow a text of appearances where my body, much like tying my shoe, gathers up what is there. The practical process of making then becomes clear, in that I draw and re-draw, then carry from the source to palette the memory and feelings. The painting becomes a repository inside which I re-live the experience of place or person in correspondence with my own drawn maps. Like a kind of slow waiting or attendance for a new presence to come. Over time the paintings grow into themselves or as is often the case, they fade away. Then, as in the National Gallery, a renewal happens and I find myself looking again for a language that can hold together a unified experience of simultaneity, a membrane of contact between the external world of bodily relations and an internal world of infinite interiority.
Michael Broughton is an artist who lives and works in London https://www.galleriasix.it/michael-broughton
Featured image: After Bassano 2019, charcoal on paper 51 x 71.3cm