“Can I see another’s woe” 2011
Today I have finished the first part of my work for the show that follows on from the Inferno show in Bologna. The new work is inspired by Dante’s Purgatory, the second part of his Divine Comedy; the first piece for it is a series of numbered, stencilled paintings that highlight my proposed focus for the Purgatory exhibition. The show is scheduled to open in New York around the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Whereas Inferno sites its residents depending on Dante’s consideration of their actions in life, Purgatory deals more with motivation and intent. As much of the work in my Inferno paintings relates to issues of current conflicts and it ends with a painting of the attack on the World Trade Center towers it seemed appropriate to relate Purgatory to the political decision-making made following the attack. Historically 9/11 is probably the most significant event since the end of the Second World War, not just because of the terrible loss of life that day, but out of consideration of the political events that both led to it and from it.
To echo the aftermath of the attacks I will be using a reduced colour palette with a predominance of greys and white and there will be a heavier use of collaged paper fragments and pencil work.
As in my Inferno work I will again be referring to other artists and writers that have also been informed by Dante in their own work. With this ‘edition’ of paintings I have tried to tie up a basic summation of where the Purgatory work will be going before I start it properly. Each complete set consists of two different portraits. There are 33 of each portrait (one for each canto of the Purgatory). One is of a New York resident and the other of a Fallujah resident. The two pieces take their titles from the first two lines of a poem by William Blake: Can I see another’s woe, And not be in sorrow too? Can I see another’s grief, And not seek for kind relief?
At first the plan was to release a limited print, however the only medium available to me in my own studio would have been a wood or lino cut and I did not feel that it suited the subject matter.
I wanted to incorporate text so stencilling seemed appropriate, particularly since I’ve been using stencilled text in my paintings for years now. My method of building an image by stencil also allows a high degree of variation between repeated versions of the same idea. This then became an exercise in personally further developing my competence in another paint media. I have now built for myself a method that allows me to produce a limited edition, that though bearing general similarities, hold an almost infinite capacity for individual experimentation.
Though each piece can take up to two hours painting time, it is still to some degree more dependent on a fixed, repeated method. I have arrived at something approaching serial paintings or repeat mono-prints and it’s a method I will develop further in the future.