Here’s Whistler describing how he would paint while the dusk settled in:
‘As the light fades and the shadow deepen, all petty and exacting details vanish, everything trivial disappears, and I see things as they are, in great strong masses: the buttons are lost but the garment remains, the garment is lost but the sitter remains, the sitter is lost but the shadow remains and that, night cannot efface from the painter’s imagination.’
It’s interesting how he doesn’t describe a creative process but a process of dissolution – a movement from form towards tone, almost, if shadow can be described as tone. The ekphrastic process is also a movement away from form and content, or to be more exact, it’s a solution to the problem the painting has presented to me.
All paintings, of course, pose problems to the observer – they shout at us to take them at face value but through imagery, colour, metaphor and symbolism they whisper that we must search for something other in them, some wider meaning. In this respect, any poem I have written which appropriated an image as a starting point has never ended up as a tribute to that image, or even an interpretation of it, but rather an escape from it. The finished poem is the desperate trail I’ve left fleeing the scene.
When I came up against Tom de Freston’s ‘Cliff’ I acknowledged the painting’s imagery for what it seemed to give me: humanity, the segmented world, a threshold crossed, growth and culture, choices that either kill or kill. But most of all there seemed to be a vulnerability in the painting which spoke to me of openness or truth, and with that meagre baggage, I picked up my pen and headed for the hills.
John Glenday- 2014