Having worked some more on what I have come to call my ‘X’ paintings, I realised there was something interesting in the contrast between the rough, physical paintwork, and the crosses marked on the canvas in pencil, which appear almost spoken by comparison. Perhaps this contrast was all the more appreciable after what I’d written earlier in the day regarding the suicide of my great-great-grandfather.
The crosses, barely distinguishable in the scraped and painterly landscape call to mind how nature can overwhelm us; not only in its beauty and its tempests, but in its age, which, in many respects, is as much a storm as any hurricane. At the moment of death, the world ceases to exist, as if all the storms of a lifetime are condensed into a dying breath. In this reversed storm, the living stand outside in the eye, whilst the dead are collapsed like shacks; stars imploding at the centre of the universe. And the ‘X’ becomes a marker on the landscape, of what was once but is no more; an absence marked by a presence.
How does a man who cannot write his name, leave his farewells as he contemplates the taking of his own life? The repeated mark-making of Xs on the canvas call to mind my drawings of Auschwitz-Birkenau. There, having considered my own non-existence (death), I was through the act of drawing confirming my life and my existence. I was also, through the rapidity of the drawing, trying to capture the present – the moment; the gap between the past and the future, the interval of the shutter’s release.
The Xs on the canvas therefore are in some ways like these drawings; they are confirmations of existence, not of many people, but of one person.
Recalling how these paintings began, as images concerned with Jonah Rogers, my great-great-uncle, I looked again at the landscape which inspired them – or at least the photographs of this landscape.
Jonah Rogers was killed in the Second Battle of Ypres, and the white of the buildings amongst the vivid green of the landscape called to mind the white gravestones of military cemeteries.
They also reminded me of another project on which I am working: Deckchairs, and it is with deckchairs that I am turning to again a regards my painting of this subject, using them as canvases. Having placed them on the wall of my studio, the effect they had was strong. They seem to become instant memorials, their shape and their very essence denoting the human, or in this instance, presence through absence.