This week as I continued to explore new directions in the studio I found myself in need of a certain pair of eyes to cast their gaze over the latest works to emerge from this ongoing creative project about my father’s exile owing to fascist victory in the Spanish Civil War. One artist friend, and no other, could help me I felt with the sudden and vertiginous uncertainty which came over me on finding I’d pushed through to a different kind of abstraction where line and colour block begin to take a lead. This was not like me at all.
I suppose any move into new territory can produce dizzying sensations and a temporary loss of identity (as with the exiles themselves no doubt). Lacking a fluent grasp of culture and language an interpreter may be needed. Martin Olsson, himself an accomplished abstract painter, is one such expert in the field, employing his own rather wonderful brand of colour-field based minimalism to brilliant effect. I have long been an admirer of Martin’s work and as I sat alone in my studio amongst painted strangers, not to say strange paintings, I longed to have the studio next door to Olsson. So this blog is about some of the recent changes in my work but will also tell what happened when through the power of the internet Olsson miraculously appeared next door.
Previously, my work focused on an intense exploration of texture and atmosphere related to the internment camps of France in which the exiles found themselves in the Winter of 1939. But after the Exilio show at Wolfson College in January 2015, I began to depart from these gritty textures, and started focusing more on the arrival in England. And so began a definite move towards colour and even line, but the line was subtle and submerged through a working of cotton threads into the surfaces of my paintings. Yet in no time at all something entirely new came about and bold painted lines and blocks of colour sprang to the surface, joining the other elements to sharpen their narrative and visual thrust.
Looking back I see that the earlier Exilio works wander most aptly in the wilderness. They are all meandering looping threads, crusty earth, squally seas and dense fogs. No doubt I’ll find myself there again in time as this is a particular landscape of exile – thick with inchoate emotion, and the peril of uncertain footholds on foreign and shifting soil. These lost landscapes as I called them are all imagination and longing – vanished spaces conjured through touch and at one remove with an increasing sense of distance and dislocation.
So what’s with the new stuff? Martin has been extremely generous with his time and his comments and I’m both delighted and intrigued by the notion that as creatives being online means we can reach one another so easily to discuss work and exchange ideas. I was so impressed with Martin’s easy and ready fluency in reading this work that I asked him if I could share it here. Sit back and enjoy a most interesting interpretation from my trusty guide in colour block and line. Bear in mind that this commentary was delivered at great speed via FaceBook private messaging and that I have omitted my exclamatory rejoinders which here would only gum up the works.
“This, to my eyes is going down a very good line for you, Sonia. This is distinct, yet abstract, military, yet progressive, non-figurative, yet with “wear” added (rather than “atmosphere”) and sits very well with your specific link to the Spanish Civil war. Also, Brown is such an evocative colour when dealing with History! It’s also the colour of coagulated blood. These pictures look indeed like they’ve been travelling for as long as your own narrative…Worn uniform emblems, yet “patterny” and thusly feminine…I get associations of the fabric strips that undoubtedly would have held together numerous knapsacks in the Thalmann batallion…Plus, crossing lines, aka horizontal AND verticals may denote so much traversing nature/people or indeed good/evil or indeed now/then or home/away, you get my drift, I’m sure. You will have, like I did in my youth, been poring over historical photographs from the era in question. You have the advantage of working with a tremendously stark and pervasive narrative, of course, Sonia, and you dare working with politics. Underplaying and controlling your passions in this abstracted manner is, however, very attractive to me, as your force in the ideas seems to increase, rather, from this approach. You have engineered the new layers to be torn and thusly exposing the past, and considering the nature of upheaval your past & present converses through, this seems absolutely appropriate here.”
Who could ask for more? Faster than a pizza, this analytical feast was delivered within minutes, nourishing and sustaining and replete with associative gems I can continue to examine over time. The power of social media to connect us is impressive, but the power of the artist to decipher a specific visual language is even more so. My huge thanks to Martin for lending his eyes and a vast and ready knowledge so willingly.
I’m both excited and daunted by the new ground I walk on in this quest to translate an experience of exile and to disseminate it’s effects in visual forms. My project somehow provide a passport to experimentation and while my subject is often immensely challenging, I’m also enjoying this exploration of visual geography. In the company of artists like Martin Olsson it just keeps getting better.
You can find the brilliant Martin Olsson through the following links and on Twitter @martinolsson7