An Improper Marriage
Huw Roberts, former head of BBC Wales
HUW ROBERTS: Edward, I observed the evolution of your art from my position in the BBC, and seeing your current paintings I’m struck by the way you have changed the function of the human figure, and set it in a context with pure abstract forms. How are you bringing these two ‘antagonists’ together?EDWARD POVEY:
I’m interested in how Picasso could take so little, and create so much robustness. I mean, he made art that has a robust eloquence requiring no explanation, as opposed to cerebral art that cries out for elucidation. Nude Dressing Her Hair
(fig 1) is a convincing motif in which he lays out a visual language and then confidently shouts in that language, in a way that anyone can understand. This painting has been a yardstick in my career.
Artists have persistently been expected to have a unity of style, and also Pure Abstraction has been forbidden from mixing with Realism, like a stylistic apartheid. But music has comfortably paired narrative lyrics with entirely abstract melodies for centuries. Gestures in Abstract Art communicate as clearly as gestures on a first violin, and they do make thrilling duets with realistic forms. HR: The Expressionists successfully abstractly warped forms, but that was something else. You’re using accurate, un-warped representation of the human form, like the body in Deuteros (pgs 16-17), which is then dismembered and set abruptly against pure abstract objects, and it visibly makes a seamless statement. Where else can this be found?EP:
Francis Bacon dealt with these ingredients simultaneously, and in the early 1960s R.B. Kitaj and David Hockney (fig. 2) took these two elements but marched sideways into abstracted figuration, losing accurate representation so as to deal with causes like homosexuality and the art of the displaced Jews. Jenny Saville though, is currently using sheer scale and gesture as her abstract elements, and is sticking to a correct, if extreme proportion in her figures, with monumental results - while working flat on the floor of her studio.
I read R.B. Kitaj’s First Diasporist Manifesto, and in history I notice that these gangs of like-minded artists have tended to make manifestos: statements of intention, which were a philosophical consensus for their proponents. HR: These manifestos were the flags behind which ragtag groups of artists unified themselves to explore artistic theories, because what they were researching was complex. A case in point: the human figure has predominated through all the chapters of your paintings and public sculptures, but in these new works the emphasis has changed, giving your figures an unexpected intensity, which I ascribe to a decrease in the ‘staging’ of the figures somehow. In the Mannerist and Baroque traditions the human body was a political marionette, for example in Caravaggio’s marvelous
Crucifixion of Saint Peter (fig. 3) we are looking at a stage set with dramatically posed and lit actors. How are you able to make more articulate statements with less demonstrative figures?EP:
I’d always painstakingly designed my paintings, making accurate cartoons and then posing carefully chosen models, lit and dressed to suit the designs. I tried to use this familiar method on my current paintings, but I couldn’t get it to work. I concluded that the figures carried too much intention, which brought shades of narrative along with them, prescribing certain interpretations and so narrowing their possibilities.