The Space Between
Feasting & Fasting: Connecting the Plate and the Planet
The Space Between
by Suzy Murphy
Cover: Oranges, Seville, Spain Photograph: Chris Caldicott/Axiom
Clancy in a frosted field, painting by Suzy Murphy
In Africa you need a torch light even though the stars are out, painting by Suzy Murphy
Beauty lies in the places where there is seemingly nothing.
I WALKED AROUND the Tate the other day and wondered (rather vainly) where I would place myself if I were asked. It would have to be with the Ancients, Samuel Palmer, William Blake. It is with them I feel most connected. Their belief in the spirituality of the landscape, where Nature takes on a God-like presence. If there are any good artists today, they often create with an urban anger that I don’t feel in my soul. Yes, I feel it daily, living in the city, but not at the core of my being.
When I look at Samuel Palmer, I understand what is being said. I want to continue that language into the present. I want to say, “God has not been forgotten in our Western, intellectual, material world. He is still here. We just don’t look.” I have always been looking, and feeling, and it is in the natural world I sense Him the most.
I look around my studio, at this body of work, and see that there is a continuous line that travels far back, over twenty years. Once, when I was nineteen, or twenty, I dreamt of a poem. It said very clearly:
When God created the Flowers, It was not the Flowers That were important, But the spaces Between
It is a line of thought that I hold, like a thread, in my work and diaries. I believe in this ‘sense of divinity’ that lies behind the ordinary. It doesn’t rest for me in the glamorous, wonderful flower, but in the places we don’t always look. In the space in which there is seemingly nothing, I want to show that there is everything. Every line, every mass of colour is significant. The space, for me, vibrates with meaning.
THE ANCIENTS BELIEVED that the landscape was the Bible resurrected. For me the landscape is a vista poignant with spiritual meaning. Or the studio still life, where the space it occupies is as important as the object itself. The quiet moment, which resonates with significance. It’s there in the painting of the snow, the torch in the dark, the vase in the studio. All these things hold for me deeper truths. They are symbols.
Then there is the process of painting. The putting down on canvas or board this symbolism or spirituality. Do I want the line to be clear and solid, or do I want it to be layers of many lines? Showing the time. Layers and layers of time. What is real? Where does the image, the line begin? Where does it end? Many images layered, one on top of another. So many experiences. Which one is true? There is not one absolute defined image, surely, but an accumulation of moments. Each one holding its own truth at that particular moment.
Isn’t our life simply a collection of all these experiences? Experiences layered on top of each other, blurred edges. At the end there is the final image and the decided line. Beneath, however, lie all the other days of painting, and we feel these moments too. The empty space resonates with these, now lost, moments – and all the marks on the canvas tell of the stories that were told, and lie, still, underneath. And aren’t these canvases a little like our lives? Lived and retold. A little unsure of the clarity. For if we are looking for a truth, artistic or spiritual, isn’t it always unfolding, changing and remaking itself? For truth can never be static. It moves with each experience.
I TRY HARD (and fail) to hold all these ideas together in a painting. The spirituality, the symbolism and the energy of the mark are what I strive for. Like the perfect composition of music or poetry. A world complete within itself, always communicating to you more than you can see. This is almost impossible to achieve, but the struggle is worthwhile. For being a painter is the best thing you can offer to the world, and to be a great painter would be, surely, divine. I know I push hard, but the path is magical. Everything is light, because when you understand what is meant by the ‘spaces between the flowers’ you understand that there is beauty in the ordinary, and it is this, more than anything, that I hope my work conveys. A diary of an everyday life, lived and felt, and the spirituality it contains.