Joe Strummer, may he rest in peace, once said that he much preferred to hear musicians ‘struggling with their instruments’. By which I think he meant that in that struggle is truth, whereas in virtuosity, there is only beauty. Passion beats proficiency, right?
With that in mind, I’d like to bring another rock and roll quote into the proceedings – as Jimmy Rabbitte asked in The Commitments – “Who are your influences?”
Pretty much everyone actually. I’m a fan of painters. But if I could only choose a few, these would be the few.
Lascaux. That’s not a painter, it’s a cave in France. On its walls are the primal scream of our craft, images which still shimmer and pulsate with life. Every painter in the twenty thousand years since is merely standing on the shoulders of whoever left these images.
Michelangelo Buonarroti. It’s not that obvious in my paintings but I come from seven generations of marble carvers so Il Divino has been a presence since I first picked up a pencil. I learned to draw by copying from him. I am still learning to draw by copying from him.
Rembrandt van Rijn. For his self portraits, an entire life documented in paint. In these paintings is every possible human condition. Mynheer Van Rijn is an old friend, with whom I have celebrated and commiserated over the years.
JMW Turner. Any time I feel as if I’m starting to understand oil painting, a moment or two spent looking at Mr. Turner’s paintings will soon have me feeling like a novice again. If ever a painter makes me want to do better, it is Mr. Turner.
Claude Monet. In Monet’s last works, his vast waterlilies, each brushstroke is a world unto itself, yet remaining part of a greater whole. I can think of no higher praise for a painting.
Jackson Pollock. Who freed painters from painting. Pollock made it possible for us to do whatever it took to make people see what we see.
Mark Rothko. Who freed painters from the image. In a Rothko painting, what we see is not the canvas. It is ourselves.
Alberto Giacometti. Whose continual and obsessive return to the same few subjects gave them a linear narrative in which I find echoes of Rembrandt’s lifetime of self portraiture.
And lastly, Vincent. I came to Vincent late, having many times visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam but never seeing what other people saw. Until I read his letters to Theo. Here was the loneliest man who ever lived, a pure soul who wanted nothing more than to be a part of humanity. In December 2008, sitting in front of one of his paintings
I finally saw Vincent.
That’s what we really want, you know. We make paintings to show you ourselves.