Using a filter for what see, and what we choose to see

Sorry – this isn’t a post about using Instagram filters! Just a view on how we choose to see the world, and why that’s so important (especially these days)

The beauty of a misty morning seems to appeal to everyone and recently we have had some wonderful misty mornings. In Chiswick House they currently have an installation of Chinese lanterns. Last year some of these were rather incongruous; cartoon ducks against a Palladian mansion anyone? But through the mist there was something quite beautiful about the display this year as the colours were softened but glowed against the greyed out landscape…

no filter used – only what nature provided…

When I shared it on Twitter this photo was noticed and used as the changing daily photo for our local website; it seems we all enjoy the mystery in such images. When things remain a bit hidden it allows more of our imagination perhaps. Seeing the sharp details, all the detritus of life can become distracting; instead the mist draws a partial veil across reality and lets us get lost in the space.

Against what we might expect, removing some of the visual information makes it easier to see the overall impression. The mist gives us a filter for what we see. Once there is a restriction in place we notice other things about what we are seeing.

Through the mist, nature allows us to see things differently. In painting, it’s the role of the artist to choose what restrictions they put in place so that the focus of the painting becomes clear.

Sometimes the idea is strong from the outset and at others it develops as the painting progresses, but you can bet that in any successful painting there have been a million considered decisions about what to include and what to draw a veil over.

This painting began simply as colour forms on the panel, and although it’s far from being finished, as I continue to add forms and marks, it’s beginning to make suggestions to me. Of perhaps a coastline, the way the land cuts into the sea. I’m not painting a specific place, but of course I’ve been to the sea many times. Places become part of our history – we can’t cut off from memory. All these are part of me while I’m painting and I’m learning to allow them to influence me, rather than control them.

As I was working on this painting I became aware that there were links between the colours I was using and this view I had noticed earlier in the week as I dropped my daughter at school. I wasn’t thinking about painting at the time (it was too early to be thinking much rational thought to be honest) but I looked and saw a certain stark beauty in something as simple as a pile of dirt by the roadside. That soft grey blue mist and the fragments of rusty orange netting. The birds flying across at just the right moment were a chance occurrence that was simply the icing on the cake!

This is what I love about making art. It all comes together somehow. What we feel, what we see, what we remember. Paul Klee wrote “Art does not reproduce what we see. It makes us see.” If art sharpens our perceptions and makes us more aware of the world around us, that’s an important role!

But sometimes we also need a filter. I know I’m not the only one finding the current political climate difficult. I don’t believe the answer is to shut ourselves off. I want to be aware. I want to do my best to see things clearly, to be observant and ultimately to make decisions about what I can do to make a difference. I don’t want to reproduce without trying to check the source is accurate, but I also need others to be a reliable filter. That’s what we have journalists for, and editors, and writers and people prepared to be out there and keep us informed.

I can’t take on world leaders but I can choose what I read and support whoever is trying to provide a balanced and considered view. However there are also times when I want to filter out the news and remind myself that there are still wonderful things in life, even in a pile of building rubble.

If you’d like to visit and rejoice in a rather magical mixing of history, different cultures and spaces, you can see the light festival at Chiswick House, London until 26 February 2017 more details here







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