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alongside the interpretation already offered in this essay. That first interpretation, we should recall, was dominated by space, its representation, and its suppression by opacity and materiality. A second understanding based on the play of time is not an entirely unheralded theme in Beattie’s work. In my discussions with him in 2005 about earlier paintings he noted how he thought of the juxtapositions, competing structures and references that were becoming an increasingly prominent aspect of his paintings as indicating disjunctions in time, resulting in paintings that were not only spatial conglomerations but temporal ones as well. But the Janus series can more pointedly be understood in relation to the stilled moment of narrative that a single frame of film represents, an allusion to cinema that is intensified by the likeness of the aspect ratio of the frames to widescreen projection systems such as Paramount’s VistaVision. Via this allusion each painting in the series becomes three or four stills taken from a notional cinematic journey.The atmospherics of these cinematic stills differ, as night follows day, or storm follows benign weather, meaning that they do not signify for us as a meditation on sameness and repetition, but as a way of distinguishing moments in the chain of time. The journey is of unknown duration; unlike the example of the renaissance painting evoked earlier, it is not a journey with a discernible goal, and there are no clues through which a meaningful narrative of journey can be constructed. It is an interminable passage across a relentless landscape of primal components. What is Beattie’s response to this allusion of journey? “I like the connection to driving” and to “intimations of travel”. But he warns us not to be too literal in our interpretation: “I’m not making pictures of places, I’m more interested in human experience – in the journey as a powerful metaphor, that might also be a cliché”. Not least it must be a cliché because in an existential sense the journey’s only destination is death. The issue of metaphor is one that preoccupies Beattie, and he extends his thoughts on cliché by insisting, “metaphors themselves suffer from a kind of exhaustion if identified too explicitly”.Yet he seems to have come to an accommodation with both metaphor and cliché. (They are, as for all artists and poets, important elements of his stock-in-trade). And for the latter he seeks a form of redemption: Contemporanity is characterized by “an acceleration of clichés” is how he

sees the dilemma. Even new art forms, like video, “gain a lot of history in a very short time”. The solution: “the process of making somehow has to have a way of putting a richness into the baldness of the cliché”. Here again we are returned to the first tug-of-war we identified at the centre of Beattie’s practice: to one side the physicality of paint – pigment and oil ground together like a primeval clay – and an intuitive mark-making untrammeled by the imperatives of representation, and counter to that, metaphor, allusion and the grand narratives of language. Now, on our second glance, we see his interest is not in having these two readings dissipate one another, but in setting the scene for, and playing their part in, a larger scheme of intentions. That larger scheme is what Lawrence Gowing (speaking of Matisse) described as “the reconciliation which is only within the reach of great painters in old age”. It is to harnesses together the two principles of artistic expression, the Dionysian and the Apollonian, in a policed truce. This is to ascribe to the Dionysian all that pertains to spontaneous abstract markmaking and the gestural immediacy that characterizes the play at the surface of the painting. In counterpoint to this stands the weight of the Apollonian where time/space has become a prominent motif alongside all that which Beattie ascribes to metaphor and allusion. This is to argue that his extension of the Apollonian principle has required him to exercise a heightened sense of how the other forces at work in the painting balance that principle. In making this claim it is necessary to admit that to refer to only the three dualities of illusion/materiality, transparency/opacity and time/space is but to sketch the reconciliation of forces at play in the Janus series. However, with reference to the latter duality, it should be noted how much of a surprise it is to find it successfully attempted in painting, albeit via an allusion to film, since it is well rehearsed in critical theory how the time/space image is the natural territory of film and video. One way to fill out further my sketch of the reconciliation that Beattie has achieved in the Janus series is to look back at the balance of forces at work in paintings that precede it. It is clear that in earlier works ‘units’ are organized in different configurations, and to different effect. They are scarcely ever regular (in 2005, writing an appreciation of Beattie’s works at the time of the Marking aYear exhibition, I described them 117

Basil Beattie LARGE WORKS 1986 2009  

Bail Beattie Large Paintings and Installations

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