The importance of imagination and intuition.
MY PAINTING IS an exploration of the interior world of the imagination, that same archetypal imagination which has accompanied humanity since the beginning, providing us with the means to express our deepest most precious realities. This is William Blake’s ‘sacred imagination’ or ‘Jesus the imagination’ – that force of lyric truth which seems to exist independently, accompanying humanity through its evolutionary journey and enabling us to sense the ‘whole’ and to express it seriously and reverently through the imagination.
For me, imagination and intuition play the most important roles in painting. These two forces provide not only the impetus but also the subject and reason to work. My imagination has something to express that will not be denied, so much so that at times it feels like an impersonal, almost independent force that is pushing itself forward. And in opposition to this force is the observed outer form of the material world which blends with the imaginative, subconscious mix that also includes sacred archetypal symbols, all to create a more potent form. This gives the art an intensity which is not achievable by the intellect alone. Experiencing this I have come to understand that my imagination is a conduit through which the material world – the solid form of reality - is translated into an imaginative reality which offers me a more complete understanding of the whole process of life. It’s an understanding which confirms existence as a multi-dimensional experience with imagination as the key to understanding and realisation.
AS A YOUNG man I tried to imagine what it was like hundreds of thousands of years ago on the day the first image was made. If I could travel back in time and visit any event that is where I would choose to go. It must have been a pure moment, an intuitive contact with the ‘whole’ at a time when the reception was clear and the imagination unhindered. That pure moment is something which I seek whenever I attempt to paint. It is a moment which can not be achieved through knowledge but only through contact with the unknowable. Recently, precious little attention seems to have been paid to what Yeats described as ‘imaginative insight’ and yet we live in a time when inspired thought was never more valued, a time when culture devours images, literature and music, interpreting this unquantifiable aspect of life and human need for confirmation of that mysterious ‘other world’. It is a world our ancient artists understood more completely than us - it is a world accessed through the imagination - the contemplation of which offers a more vivid and complete experience of life.
The imagination is something which we need to embrace and trust more regularly than the prescribed structure of our present culture allows. We need the vivid colours, the depth charge of imaginative experience to connect us to the whole. For me painting is a re-connection with the consistent and ancient principles of ‘imaginative insight’.
In consideration of the above when I start a painting the preparation is focused on the material aspects of the process and not in anticipation of what the image might be. The canvas is carefully prepared so that it offers a smooth non absorbent surface – this will ensure that the oil paint which is diluted or thinned with linseed or safflower oil will dry outwardly preserving the eggshell sheen and flexibility of the oil as well as the translucent vitality of the pigment. Brushes are clean and sharp. Although I am often described as a ‘landscape’ painter it is only because my scenes are set in Nature, micro and macro cosmically. I have never to my ‘knowledge’ painted a location. I usually develop paintings in series so I have a rough idea of the subject or motifs which I might be using at any given time. I start a painting with as open a mind as possible willing to follow the promptings of my imagination whenever they lead. Those promptings are inspired by the previous painting and by the paint itself, so the first thing I do is to apply paint. Starting at the top of the canvas (the back ground) and working forward. The image is then made painting wet in to wet, adding and removing paint working with the broad compositional forms first using big brushes and finishing with the detailed small brushwork last. It is a technique which lends great flexibility, allowing me to ‘find’ the image rather than consciously paint it.
I have learned through many failures it is best to serve intuition without reservation, to be prepared to change or destroy a picture in a second if prompted to do so by my imagination. It is impossible to ‘know’ a painting in advance of its making. So as a result of this trust and out of this apparently chaotic, almost preposterous process of work come images of such structure and clarity that it seems impossible to believe every detail of their execution was not some how mysteriously, magically planned in advance. Painting is a partnership, a symbiotic relationship between the craft, vision and the sensibility of the artist and the core poetic which is contacted during the painting process and is derived from the consistent forms which inhabit our inner world. I try to portray these two worlds existing together – the inner world of the imagination together with the corporeal. To express this in paint I create a believable naturalistic ‘scene’ or space and then I add the ‘other’ worldly elements – ‘the unseen’ that our imagination adds to heighten our sense of life. To illustrate this to a friend, I described a walk in the woods close to my home when occasionally out of the corner of my eye I might see a snake which on closer inspection turns out to be a tree root. Rather than paint the tree root, I paint the snake – thus staying in touch with my original imaginative response to the world. It is the way I have found to express the magic, the wonderful mystery at the heart of existence that I have always felt acutely and seek to share through painting.
For information about Christopher P. Wood: www.christopher-p-wood.com
Christopher P. Wood’s new paintings will be on show at Agnews, 43 Old Bond Street May 6th - May 30th.