Watching the Gulls
by Abhayavajra Newman
One day in the spring of 2012 I was sitting by the Serpentine in Hyde Park, watching the gulls ride gusts of wind, when one particular bird, gleaming white against the dark background of trees, circled upwards and suddenly appeared black against the brightly lit sky. Moments later it changed to grey against some distant buildings before returning to pure whiteness. This sequence in a changing order was repeated over and over as the bird circled and dived in the space above the water. For a moment there was a shift in the normal order of things. Was it a white bird, a black bird, a grey bird, or even a bird at all? What was I seeing? Was I seeing what was actually there, or just my assumptions about it? And everything else in my perception was posing the same question. My mind was searching for something to hold onto but couldn’t grasp all the interchanging complexities. Out there, beyond the containing walls of certainty, was a dimension of changing flow and interaction in which everything was participating. It was only a brief experience, but it stayed with me long afterwards, and looking back I can see that it provided both a source and a direction for my subsequent painting practice.
Contradistinction (contre-jour) is a familiar and traditional element of painting, whether used consciously or unconsciously. So is the interaction of colours and tones – the way they transform each other when brought into relationship. That is what my painting is about: the basic elements, techniques and their relationships. The possibilities of a brush loaded with paint, covering and revealing simultaneously. What difference does the size of the brush make? What happens when two colours are alongside each other, or overlap, or one covers the other? How do the parts relate to the whole? And how do all those relationships change depending on the viewer’s distance from the painting?
Pursuing these and similar questions has led me to a space where physical activity, image and meaning arise intertwined, and all the elements of the painting are turning and working on one another. Paradoxically, the painting’s materiality and emphasis on surface calls up an awareness of what transcends the material and the superficial. In other words, it!s an object that questions both its own nature and our perception of it. What are we looking at? How has it come into being? What opens up is a space within which white ‘gulls’ can become black, grey or any other combination of interacting colours. And creating and illuminating that space are the truths of conditionality, perception and communication.