before YOU LOOK
I By IRIS CONLAY, `C.H.' Art
IN his pictures the job of the artist is to show me something I could never have seen for myself—and by me I also mean you. But don't run away with the idea that everyone who looks at a work of art and exclaims: "Oh, my, isn't that wonderful!" has really seen anything he never saw before. The odds are that he has only seen just what he expected to see and he is feeling jolly pleased, and even a bit superior, to be so comfy in front of it. You can't tell anything by the reactions. The spectator may be to blame.
Seeing what is in a work of art is a strain; let's face it and admit that there are more people visually uncomprehending than there are people tone-deaf, only it's more difficult to detect them.
Everyone is pleased by natural beauties and most people think that nature is the same thing as art.
If you like an almond tree in blossom you won't necessarily appreciate the way the Chinese paint it; you may merely wonder why such a lot is left out, and why what is left in is so obscure and vague. If you feel that way, then I bet you are busy collecting up all the qualities you connect with almond trees and complaining that you don't find them all in the picture in front of you. Here you are caught, You're not looking at all, you're thinking. Stop. Come back to the picture and cease subtracting your notions of almond trees and trying to add them to the artist's, without considering what his notions are and whether your notions really do add something to his picture.
And then try with an open mind to discover what he is telling you.
'Recurring decimals THIS looking business is really a 1 kind of humbling process; a sort of getting outside of one's own viewpoint into someone else's; a thinking more about someone else than of oneself, if you like.
If it is difficult to took at an almond tree painted in the Chinese manner because it does not reflect one's own idea of an almond tree, it is understandably more difficult to face an original interpretation of a theme, made so personal to all Christians, as the New Testament. That is exactly why the religious arts go on repeating themselves with the same effect on your imagination that the recurring decimal has on the mathematician; neither of you consider it any more.
Brian Robb (Ashley Gallery) won't give you that recurring decimal feeling. It is quite necessary that you allow him the elementary freedom of exercising his own kind of imagination on the Gospels stories in his own way, and that you don't approach his paintings buttoned up tight against any breath of ideas that are not your own.
If you come prepared to take the airs of heaven as they blow upon you, then the greatest treat is in store for you.
BRIAN ROBB paints the kind of pictures that give one enormous pleasure—and contrary to those puritans who believe that the good is grim and unpleasant, I mean this as the highest praise.
Among the first things that strike you about his work is its sense of decoration, its architectural feeling and above all the controlled exuberance of colour which gives it. what Berenson pompously calls a "lifeenhancing" quality.
It would be easy, for the pure pleasure of it, to remain at this level, revelling in Robb's colour and texture, appreciating its pattern and variety, tasting its piquant contrasts of warm against cool, rough against smooth, and thinking only of Persian carpets and the feather, of fantastic birds, heat filtering through leaves, cold sliding like water over flagstones.
It would be too easy, too delightful, to be carried away by all these
excitements; to become contemplatively absorbed in the scintillating Worms, the quivering, brilliant crowds of "In Dulei Jubilo." the flickering light as in the "Angel at the Tomb." it is even a temptation' deliberately to do so and avoid the real thing which emerges far more strongly in the least spectacular pictures — the "Annunciation," the "Crucifixion _Or and in the small "Stabat Mater."
To discover exactly why these three have a more spiritual quality is a little like dissecting a body to find its soul. Don't expect tangible evidence. The first two share an essential monumentality which others also have but more by implication. yet the solemnity which this monumentality gives is a result, not a cause, of the deeper feeling that seems to lie behind.
"THE Annunciation's" precipita ting angel, reminding one of Tintoretto's "St. Mark Rescuing the Slave," which shakes the grave, rectangular, boxy interior into disintegrating segments, does not reveal its secret easily. Nor does the poignant "Crucifixion" which, set against a livid green sky, deliberately seems to have drained all emotion from the strong God-like Christ to pour it into the weak and broken St. John and into the detached and remote centurion.
"autism Mater," dim and mysterious. lit by lurid fires which surround and almost consume the white figure of Mary at the foot of the cross, is pure poetry.
Robb's pictures, although they are very much of their times, suggest that it is only by chance that they have been painted in a contemporary idiom. They might just as well have been painted in any other idiom. Such rare timelessness is perhaps the sign of their importance.