Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Art Space Talk: Timothy Hawkesworth

The art of Timothy Hawkesworth is known for conveying a sense of urgency and disruption. One could say that his work is a visual translation of the chaotic flow of creative energy that stems from the soul of this artist. These battered surfaces reveal the passion that Timothy has for his work and for life. I feel that his images convey a sense of raw purity that has been caught in a twisted maze of chaotic uncertainty and peril-- a perfect reflection of our times. Timothy's paintings are the survivors of this creative exploration-- they shed insight into the very essence of humanity.

Out #18, Oil on Canvas, 30" x 30 ", 2007

Brian Sherwin: Timothy, you have exhibited for over three decades in New York, Los Angeles and Dublin. Can you share some of your insight into how the artworld has changed during that time? Has it changed for the better?

Timothy Hawkesworth: Oh yes well first I would like to put this in context. The artworld is a very small thing when you think about painting and the consciousness that painting addresses. To paraphrase Emily Dickenson, a painting is a rectangle of burning consciousness – nothing else! So as we explore consciousness, filling out what it means to be human, following the paint – that journey – that great ride – has a strange and awkward relationship with the artworld. It is like the relationship between spirit and religion. My God it is almost hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic! So I think as artists we need to understand the misfit at the heart of this relationship between our work and the artworld.

I remember the story of Jackson Pollock and Williem De Kooning running into each other on 57th Street after they had got some fame and just falling over laughing at the thought of it. Don’t get me wrong I like the fact there are places that show paintings and people who buy them and people to write about them – I even like all the trendy coffee shops that spring up around the galleries. I like showing my work. I just don’t want to let my relationship with it get out of hand or to be too worried about it all.

Yes the artworld changes, it has to, that is marketing. It will keep going round and round being surprised and excited by the view of its own tail. It forgets where it has been so that it can be refreshed by what it comes upon. Painting is slower. Brancusi talked about the patience of the peasant waiting for the harvest. Medieval time. Painting and consciousness unfold more slowly. They need more quiet, more time, more sensitivity than the artworld tends to give. James Joyce said "Silence, exile and cunning!"
Going Out #2, Oil on Canvas, 36" x 36", 2004

BS: Considering the current art market-- do you have any advice for artists who are just starting out?

TH: Oh dear I don’t think young artists if they were anything like I was, would listen to the likes of me. Still here goes. Don’t "consider the current art market" whatever you do! You have to be crazy to paint. Crazy enough to believe that in the end they will come. I am crazy enough and I do believe that if you do the work and take the time to come up with strong personal painting, they will come. People hunger for this.

So figure out why you are painting. What is the job? Really what is it and why does it matter? You will need a broader context than the one usually offered by art schools, art magazines, great blogging, curators and critics. Then just do it. Stand in your vision and experience – paint from there. Figure out ways to let yourself do it. You need time. Get part-time work – whatever you can pull together. Know that the longer you do it the better you will get. When you have work to show, really work at getting it out. It is your job to get the actual pieces in front of people with the resources to show it. After that it is up to them to decide if they want your work. This is not easy. I found that being aware and considerate of the predicament of the curator or gallery owner was the most effective path.

Really though I have no idea.

When the Heart Opens, Oil on Canvas, 60" x 72", 2003

BS: Tell us about your early years... when did you decide to pick up the brush-- and why?

TH: I painted as a kid. I grew up in Ireland in the mountains of Wicklow. I did landscapes and sold them to tourists out of one of the farm buildings. I wanted to paint like John Constable (I think I still do). Anyway I always painted. Back then you could get grants to go to university. So I got paid to study history while I painted away. It was a strange time. Ireland was on the brink of civil war. There were two histories and always two different responses to events as they unfolded. It was hard to know what to believe and how to get past all the lies. Painting seemed like a place where I could do that – where I could build a way of working that I could trust.

Painting for me has always been an extremely physical body centered language. The paint goes onto our nervous system. We follow Rembrandt’s finger through the paint. It is communication by touch. It is always a physical presence and that is its gift. To look at painting and to paint we need to stand in our bodies responses. Painting insists that we stand there. It is how it works.

The poets talk about making a temple of the inner ear for sound to echo down into the psyche, painters have to make a temple of the belly and stand with how marks, paint and imagery go onto our bodies. This is a radical stance in a culture that keeps trying to separate us from our body’s experience. The social and political dialogue is designed to separate us from the experience of living in our bodies. It creates a gap in which people get lost. Painting is one way to close that gap. So when I first came to painting it seemed like a way to get straight – get to some bedrock.
Heart #1, Oil on canvas, 60" x 72", 2003
BS: Timothy, your art has been reviewed in The New York Times, ARTnews, Art New England and several other publications. How do you feel when you are asked to be featured? Do you get nervous?

TH: No, I am pleased. I believe strongly in the value of painting and its relevance. I am driven to talk about how it works and why it matters. I don’t feel that artists and critics are doing a very good job at explaining this. There are exceptions like Philip Guston, who was a great talker, and the great critic John Berger. On the whole, however, poets do a much better job. I read what they write about the relevance of poetry and this helps me find the words to talk about painting.

BS: Timothy, has your art been influenced by any major world events? Also, where do you draw inspiration from? Can you discuss your influences?

TH: Yes I think whatever effects me effects my painting. I have done series of works that came out of my response to events. During the first gulf war I did a series called "Para La Quinta Del Sordo" which means "From the House of the Deaf Man" this is a reference to Goya’s house. This was because I got so angry. It seemed everyone was lying to me and yet they were going to war on my behalf. I hated the military news briefings – the jokes and high aerial photographs of targets being bombed that showed no understanding or compassion for what was going on on the ground. They were very angry drawings and I was grateful for Goya’s great angry response to his own time.

Now I think my work is impacted by the planetary crisis that is unfolding. I don’t know fully how it will show itself but I am aware of my growing unease and my grief at the awful and profound violations of nature that are continuing to threaten our existence. I believe our survival now depends upon our return to a humbler and attentive relationship with nature. Now I work to do just that – to be a better watcher of the incredible complexity and power of nature and to paint from those experiences.

As to where I draw inspiration, it always seems to go back to the landscape in Ireland where I grew up. I have wanted to paint, not so much the landscape itself, but the experience of being in it. How it opens me, dissolves me. It has always been the question how do you get to that? At first I would paint my body into the painting – paint myself in there. Then it was a matter of getting past my body’s presence into the energy that is the experience. It’s into the body then through the body then out of the body. It’s about pure energy. The motifs that have shown up over the years were stepping-stones to this dissolution. Basically the ambition to paint experience as a subject has been with me a long time and it is the Irish landscape of my childhood, and its weather, that opens me up.

Out #4, oil on canvas, 36"x36", 2006
BS: Timothy, can you tell our readers about your 'Going Out' and 'Out' series. What are the differences between these two bodies of work? How are they connected?

TH: These two series happened when I stepped up to the challenge of my long search to paint the way landscape opened me up. For years I had worked at it, pushed at it. I would take as long as two or three years to complete a painting. I was working on 15 foot triptychs trying to get at the impact of landscape. I was banging my head against it. Then I decided to just paint it directly – to go straight for it.
I chose a smaller canvas size, 36" X 36", and I did a painting a day for two weeks without a break. I just put them out. Just to see. I found that I got further and I got more coherent the freer I was. This amazed and delighted me. I discovered that when a painting goes well, it is easy; it has a life of its own. Its quality and its conviction come from its naturalness. It appears effortless because it is. The work, the struggle, is getting to that place of effortlessness with enough knowledge and experience so that it will cohere into the language of painting.
The other challenge is not messing with that effortlessness: letting it be; not letting the conscious mind mess with the wonderful lightness of those moments. These paintings were the "Going Out "Series. The paintings that followed were the "Out" Series. These came as I stood more confidently in the painting of the experience of nature.

Going Down in Time III, mixed media on paper, 32"x 22", 2000

BS: Timothy, I really enjoy your Horse Drawings series... these images are loose, yet they have a sense of static about them-- as if the horse figures are encumbered or stuck. Can you tell us about this series of images? What is the story behind this body of work?

TH: I was very surprised when I started doing these drawings. They came from my memory of a horse I had when I was a kid. She was part thoroughbred. She was perfect except for the back legs which scraped the ground going down hill. It was a kind of loss of faith. She feared that her legs would give out. She refused to trust the rhythmic movements passed down in her genes. Fear and stubbornness ruled. It was a fear fed by a rampant imagination. A swooping bird, a rustle of leaves, a passing shadow, everything reduced her to a trembling nervous excitement. "Shy" was the word we used: she would "shy" from anything that moved.
I grew up with her and I grew up like her. After she died I started to imagine her journey through horse history. She told me stories – how she crossed the Alps with Hannibal: how she was part of the battle of Wounded Knee. This was the starting point. She provoked the memories and the connections to make these drawings. However, once started her presence was submerged in the process: a backdrop to the making and unmaking of the images. Her sensitivity was a conduit with nature.
I had the physical memory of the movement of her body – of her attunement – of the speed of her mind as it manifested itself in the twitches of her body. She taught me to see. I think when you don’t have religion you need an imagery horse or a boat. You need transportation to the other side. Maybe that is only true for the Irish!

Feel Good Saddle Sores, mixed media on paper, 40" x 30", 1998

BS: Timothy, you have stated the followings: "At the heart of painting there is a kind of affirmation; it returns us to hope. When form appears in the paint, when the color starts to sing, it’s already on the side of hope.". I assume that you see artistic expression as a form of hope, both for the creator and the viewer, correct? Can you discuss this further?

TH: Yes I’m really talking about all creativity when I say that. We live in a creative ecology. We are by nature creative – all of us. James Joyce has his alter ego Stephen Dedalus say "the only limit to creativity is [self] consciousness." We have no idea how far we can go. When I work and when I teach I see how creativity is encouraged. What helps it. It comes from feeling good, from openness and fluidity. It comes from an ‘up’ energy. To be creative we have to stand in possibility. Creativity by definition means going out beyond what we know and already realize. For this to happen we must believe that there is more to us than we realize: that there is more out there to be experienced and that there is more inside us. Hope is different from optimism. Optimism suggests things will work out. Hope implies that there is more to it – more over the horizon. In this way the creative act is always an act of hope and possibility.
Leah’s Lift, oil on canvas, 70" X 62", 2007

BS: Timothy, can you go into further detail about your artistic process and philosophy? How would you explain your art to someone who is not aware of what you do?

TH: I believe the job of the artist is to fill out what it means to be human – not to illustrate or just conceptually explore what we don’t know about ourselves – but to actually create the possibility of expansive experience. This is what we experience in nature – in our experience of nature’s creativity and rejuvenation. The roots of aesthetics are in our response to nature, which is why artists have always studied the natural world. Painting along with the other arts offer the opportunity of this expansive experience.
For me to stand in front of a painting that expands me, that refreshes me, that feeds me as nature does, is really a return to sanity and possibility. It is a place where our learning and our nature co-exist. When they are separated we are dysfunctional. If we are to survive as a species we need to return to a humbler more holistic, perhaps reverential relationship with nature. Painting, poetry, drama, dance and the other arts are built on the holistic nature of experience – the very way they work is dependent on this fluidity between body and mind, nature and thought. They also stand us in our creative possibilities. We need them now more than ever.

So for me the process is one of surrender and immersion. I have to work my way into the painting, past the voices and the cleverness, to the place of silence where the imagination can find room to travel and where the paint moves ahead of thought. All my intelligence has to turn physical, to gesture and pass through my hand into the flow of the paint. Everything has to be re-found in the process. All the issues of painting – coherency, composition, balance, pressure, color etc have to be solved, but the solutions have to be found in the process. This is why it takes years to get fully free in painting – fully versed.
The freedom of the late Titian's and Rembrandt's were because they had learned to close the gap between their painting and their experience of living. To communicate experientially you have to get down into the tissue of experience. Experience is impulse saturated. We have to get down to the speed of impulse. For me that is where I make the good aesthetic decisions – faster than the conscious mind. It is what Robert Frost meant when he talked about "impulse and right action and some lucky events" as being the path to finding a poem.
Imagination too is characterized by movement. Painting is well suited as a recorder of movement. It is an incredibly subtle recorder. To have something to record, however, we have to let ourselves have experiences in the process of painting. To do this we have to get present and get past the chatter of our own minds. This is the great gift of painting. It shuts us up. It calls us present. It makes us stand in our own experience and our personal truth.

Out #10, Oil on Canvas, 30" x 30 ", 2007
BS: Timothy, what projects are you working on at this time? Care to give us some insight into your current work?

TH: I never know what is coming. Recently the paintings got darker and the pictorial space more expansive. I get opened up by new (usually wilder) ways to apply the paint. I call these cheap tricks but if they open me up and bring me along, then they are pure gold. I am always looking at the history of image making and I have a great library now which keeps feeding me. Recently I have been looking more at Chinese and Japanese painters like Hon’Ami Keotsu. Amazing work!
BS: Do you have any upcoming exhibitions? Where can our readers view your art in person?

TH: Yes my next show is at the Taylor Galleries in Dublin in April. Littlejohn Contemporary in New York also has work on hand and so does Peyton Wright in Santa Fe...
Out #18, oil on canvas, 36"x36", 2007

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the artworld?

TH: Well I suppose it is true to say what I do is out of step with much of what has recently been going on in painting, or at least what has been focused on by the artworld. Magritte’s painting "C’est ne pas une pipe" is analogous to walking onto a stage during a performance of Macbeth and saying okay it’s not a murder, it’s just a play! This mischief has become institutionalized. Contemporary painting is often reduced to the philosophy of the visual. This bores me. It’s like studying nutrition when you are hungry.

At the heart of painting is reverie, you sit in front of one and it quiets you. For me this is the opportunity in painting, this is the experiential base. Enough painting about painting - let’s deal with something bigger. The scientists are speculating that there must be at least ten dimensions in order for relativity and quantum physics to work together. The scientists are sitting out there with the mystics! Where are the painters?

This opportunity at the heart of painting to create expansive experience, to center us in our experience of living, is a radical stance in the commercial culture in which we live. Painting insists that we stand in our body’s response, in the holistic nature of experience. Our cultural discourse, whether political or commercial, is designed to separate us from the validity of our experience. It creates a gap between how it feels to be alive in our bodies and the discourse used to bind our community. This gap is then used to manipulate us and to sell us things or ideas.
We are told our bodies are not beautiful we need products and even surgery to be beautiful. We have romantic names for war that seek to separate us from the awful experience of warfare. It is all about manipulation. So when we stand up and speak from the truth of our personal experience – when we honor "the integrity of the senses and the truth of the imagination" (as Keats advocated), we reclaim the possibility of real dialogue. In this we reclaim all the great tools of humanism that have been usurped by the practitioners of manipulation. We put them back to work in the service of creativity and possibility.

For this to happen artists have to return to the risky business of going out beyond what is already known. They have to get used to exploration - to raid the inarticulate. They have to go below the floor of consciousness to expand our understandings and experience of life. This is what painters have always done since the Shamans of our ancestors reported back from their dream travel with cave paintings. However to do this artists have to relearn how to stand in their body’s truth, to honor its responses and to paint from that holistic place where the mind turns fluid and the imagination is given room to travel.
You can learn more about Timothy Hawkesworth and his art by visiting his website: www.timothyhawkesworth.com. You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page: www.myartspace.com/interviews
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

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