Sitting here in my studio, if I look at the paintings that I have completed recently, the style does not feel important; they are a willful mix of stripes, blobs, dots, swirls and swathes, feathery bars and wide planes of pure pigment that juxtapose, mingle and conceal one another and bump into and complicate one another. There is no logic to these forms of coexistence beyond what I intend for them, just as there is nothing to be gleaned about the world in them; they are about feeling, and the emotions they portray is their essence.
As a child I received no formal art teaching – the wastelands where I have lived as a nomad recently have been my teachers. All landscapes keep the painter on their toes, but in a desert the process feels more urgent somehow; the heat causes constant shifts in apparent shapes, sizes and differences of perspective in the line of sight. Apparently solid land can in reality so easily be a heat haze. Rocks and plants wobble and merge into it, vegetation swim in its sea and, in the midday furnace, when the air crisps and boils, a blurry veil drifts across a plateau, making mountains appear blue.
One minute the sand may be completely smooth, but elsewhere it is rough, fissured or crumpled. Where the wind strikes diagonally, the ground is folded in waves or in broken circular patterns. Where it blows gently over a stretch of sand and is dried by the heat of the sun, it cakes in crinkled yellow cascades, then a ridge, half-baked and solid to the touch. And where a breeze lifts off a dune, almost perfect triangles of sand are formed, starfish shapes that can appear almost unreal because the undulations almost too precise, as sculptured by some divine hand.
Observations such as these can only remind us of the fallibility of perception, making our own judgment feel equally uncertain. A lake appears that I know perfectly well does not exist. I blink and look it again and it feels so near I could swim in it. At that point I become aware of a pattern of gold lines in a geometric crisscross, but as the pattern crystallizes, only then does it occur to me it is the jagged edge of the rocks above the riverbed. On another occasion a cheetah shoots across the horizon, which turns out to be another deception caused by the light and a cloud break.
And so, it is always the eye that determines movement in a picture, and not only with regard to the context and the subject. An artwork always undergoes endless variations when there are constant changes in surroundings to take into account and reflecting this, I believe, is an artist’s responsibility.
One afternoon might go thus: 2pm: donkey standing by tree; 3pm: donkey lying down by tree, shadows on the sand; 4pm: donkey gone, no shadows. No shadows made the rocks appear one-dimensional strokes, as in an impressionist work in which sand, rock and sky are all the same size. Everything appears to expand to the corners and have no context. 6pm: by now bright red stripes on the sand; tree swaying in the breeze, as slivery, translucent as cobwebs.
Air and the light are also variables. In sunlight, if you watch for long enough, a tree appears dark gold, the dark blue branches like horsetails, but when the light is behind you it penetrates the horsetails and picks out the dolphins in the sea beyond. In the dry air of the desert the light makes the dunes shrink and appear distant; but in damp air when the light is behind you, the dolphins seem to grow, and in the rain they even appear to have an almost mystical quality. Once, recently, as I was sketching a meadow I had the sensation of swimming. Half-closing my eyes, a scattering of daisies seemed to be floating. Changes like this, depending on one’s position and perception, are common.
The reason I am telling you all this is not only because I became certain of it after it has begun to rain and I am soaking wet, but because it is the same with time and space. When one moves, something is triggered, and the other shifts as well; but each variation is subjective as it is transitory, the product of our uncertain viewpoint. And so it is with life, I guess, because absolutely everything that is going on in the world right now depends on our limited perspective, but at least if we recognize that fact, we will be in a better position.