The Primitive Artist

Running alongside my research for my essay I have also been exploring the work and seeking to gain an insight into artists who paint in a primitive style.  They are achieving high public recognition with prizes such as the John Moores, so it is important that I understand why.

What is their motivation, why this particular style when I am sure they can all paint ‘properly’?  What is it that I am just not getting?

Roy Oxlade, an artist painting in just such a style, writing in his collection of essays, Art & Instinct, 1, ‘For the adult student to begin to take part in a primitive language forming programme would require what, for him, would amount to a suspension of common sense, in order that fresh insight might be aroused.’

This is the first time I have come close to understanding.  As someone who has spent their entire life being sensible with an over reliance on common sense, it is no wonder that I am struggling to comprehend the work.

Oxlade continues ‘Art is an extended autobiography featuring man himself in relation to his objects and his space.  For many artists this has taken the form of an expressive search for  poetic or metaphysical equivalents for life as it is experienced . ‘

Quoting Matisse in the same essay, he say ‘Exactitude is not the truth, and students must be helped to understand that ‘getting it right’ in relation to image is entirely different to ‘getting it right’ in relation to model.’

Referring to the philostine society he perceives today, he suggests ‘What has been lost is the capacity to respond intuitively to fresh experience together with the imaginative ability constantly to revitalise that experience with new insights. ‘

In his essay Some Thoughts About Rose Wylie’s Painting and Drawings 3 Oxlade offers this insight, ‘Her paintings are representational insofar as they have clearly defined and recognisable depictions of her subjects.  While her intention is to create a certain likeness it is necessary to understand that likeness here precludes realism, portraiture or exactness in the conventional sense.  She draws a lot.  She draws to achieve a certain likeness to the subject;  she paints to achieve a certain likeness to the drawing.  In the context of Wylie’s work, Gaston Bachelard’s ‘naive consciousness’ 4, is best understood as unaffectedness.’

I feel something needs to unhook within me to allow me to fully comprehend.  Angela, in my tutorial, suggested I step back and explore more, that I suspend my way of working with the sole purpose of exploring the subject rather than focusing on producing an end result.  It is amusing that in trying to work differently I am actually sacrificing the spontaneity and intuition that normally guide me.  Back to basics, but this time with more of an insight into the direction that I may be going.


Author: susanmilleruk

Watercolour painter living, working and loving Hastings and St Leonards on Sea. MA in Fine Art.

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