I have recently come across a book entitled Contemporary Art and Memory by Joan Gibbons. Reading through the introduction it occurred to me that here were a lot of my thoughts written in a far more readable manner than I am capable of. The following is a selection of quotes;

“memory is never just a straightforward process of recording lest we forget and, even in the best equipped of minds, it can be a slippery mechanism. it can be both elusive and intrusive and we can rarely be completely sure of its fidelity to the events or facts that it recalls.”

“The claims that are made and the stories that are told in the name of memory can alter people’s understanding of the world and, of course, alter the ways in which they act in or upon that world.”

“Locke (John Locke, English philosopher 1632-1704) claimed that the knowledge that is recalled is frequently recalled through images or sense impressions. Because of this emphasis on imaging or the formation of impressions, memory became closely related to the imagination.”

“the veracity of memory began to be questioned by some of Locke’s contemporaries on the grounds that images and sense impressions are exactly that, never the real thing, making it difficult to distinguish memory images from those produced by the imagination.”

“In his quest for authentic personal knowledge, Proust,(Marcel Proust, French novelist, 1871-1922) like Wordsworth and Coleridge before him, treated memory as something that has an emotional rather than an intellectually organised base- as an important constituent of a persons inner self.”

“far more meaningful is the sort of unsolicited recall sprung by the involuntary memory, as produced, for example, by the randomly encountered taste of a petite madeleine, which, uninvited, calls up an assemblage of sensation and emotion that is beyond the reach of the intellect and voluntary memory.”

“Henri Bergson (French philosopher 1859-1941) defined memory as the intersection of mind and matter. It is a short step from this to see art as constituting a similar intersection, but, in this case, acting as a ‘memory object’ or a memory work that intervenes and forms a connection, as Proust knew, between the work and a number of minds-or, better, a number of persons”

“allusive and suggestive of the past, tapping into our reservoir of emotions as much as into our store of cognitive knowledge.             The way that memory is valued, then, has shifted enormously from the idea of it being a storehouse of data which, given the right techniques, is recoverable in an ordered manner to the notion that it is a key to our emotional understanding of ourselves and the world.”

So, that’s it then. I’m particularly taken with Proust’s “assemblage of sensation and emotion that is beyond the reach of the intellect and voluntary memory.”

I also found another quote from Henri Bergson;

“The present contains nothing more than the past and what is found in the effect is already in the cause.”





“I believe that the quintessential task of every painter in any time has been to concentrate on the essential […]I had to wipe out details.”           Storr(2002)p293

So said Gerhard Richter.

Luc Tuymans was of the same mind when he stated;

“It’s very much the intention that questions will arise as to what’s missing[…] The reductive element in this method refocuses your attention on how you portray history or a visual story.”                                            Dexter&Heynen(2004)p16

This is a painting I have been working on recently. As can be seen there are areas which have been worked on relatively intensely and other areas that have not been worked on at all. I don’t know if I can say that this work is finished. One part of me says that all I wanted to convey has been conveyed and therefore no more work is necessary i.e. it is finished. Another part of me thinks it’s a bit too vague, too incomplete. I can’t see that painting in the details of what’s reflected in the windows of the houses or the colour of their doors will add anything to the, possible, narratives of the image but at the same time I’m not sure it stands up as it is.

My intention when starting this work was to leave areas untouched, to concentrate solely on what’s necessary. I thought there was an element of originality in doing so. Somehow it had not quite clicked in my mind that this is exactly what a large proportion of contemporary realist painters are doing including both Luc Tuymans and Gerhard Richter. It may be that one of the delineating features of Postmodernist painting is the moving away from filling the picture plain with meaningless detail. It certainly fits well with my concept of Snapshot Painting. I’m beginning to wonder, though, if this concept is not just a belated cottoning on to what’s been going on around me for a very long time.



Emma Dexter and Julian Heynen (ed) (2004). Luc Tuymans. London: Tate publishing. p1 et-al.

Robert Storr (2002). Gerhard Richter, Forty Years of Painting.. New York: The Museum of Modern Art. p286-309.



Luc Tuymans has said;
“It’s more about memory and mimicry, about (re)constructing what might have happened.” Dexter & Heynen(2004)p8
In her write up for an exhibition catalogue in 2004 Emma Dexter stated;
“Tuymans uses these indirect means to explore not just history, but a painting of memory, its failures and illusions.” Dexter & Heynen(2004)p16
So memory is important to producing and viewing art. As Gerhard Richter says;
“We only find paintings interesting because we always search for something that looks familiar to us” Storr(2002)p304
What exactly is meant by the term memory? The Collins English Dictionary lists nine possible definitions, the most useful, for the purposes of this blog seem to be; “The ability of the brain to store and recall past sensations, thoughts, knowledge, etc” and “ The sum of everything retained by the mind.”
As one looks further into the subject the more elusive a definition becomes. In the book Memory in the Real World Gillian Cohen divides memory up into many different types; memory of intentions, memory for places, memory for events, memory for faces etc, etc. add to this the concepts of long term memory, short term memory, visual memory, tactile memory, explicit memory inferred memory etc and add in the biological basis of memory; neural change induced by learning etc the subject becomes so huge that an understanding of it seems almost impossible.
One thing that becomes clear, however, is that it is not constant, we all have different capacities and abilities when it comes to encoding, storing and retrieving experience. This may be due to injury, illness or simply that some people have good memories and others don’t.
If this is the case it may be justifiable to ask; If a work of art induces memories in the viewer to what extent would these be shared memories?

This is an image taken from the publicity material for the 1972 film Caberet. I painted this because I remember seeing the film as an impressionable teenager. The events in the film are of secondary importance to the events that were taking place in my life at the time, indeed the film really only provides a backdrop of longed for decadence to my recollections of my youth.
I, however, am the only person in existence who has these precise memories and yet many people who view this painting, even younger people who have never even heard of the film, seem to appreciate it and take something from it.
This then is surely what Tuymans meant when he referred to “constructing what might have been” a good painting is one that offers possibilities rather than fixed and documented events.
“memory is always partial, and can indeed be deceptive, creating a kind of forged or false version of experience to replace actuality.”
Luc TuymansDexter & Heynen(2004)p12

Emma Dexter and Julian Heynen (ed) (2004). Luc Tuymans. London: Tate publishing. p1 et-al.
Robert Storr (2002). Gerhard Richter, Forty Years of Painting.. New York: The Museum of Modern Art. p286-309.


Gerhard Richter was born in Dresden in East Germany on the 9 February 1932 but escaped to the west in 1961 just before the berlin wall was built. He refers to himself as a visual artist. “Richter has produced abstract as well as photorealistic paintings, and also photographs and glass pieces. His art follows the examples of Picasso and Jean Arp in undermining the concept of the artist’s obligation to maintain a single cohesive style.” tate
Richter has said;
“I would like to try to understand what is, we know very little and I am trying to do it by creating analogies. Almost every work of art is an analogy.” Moorhouse(2009)p15
In 1962 Richter incorporated a copy of a photograph of Brigitte Bardot in one of his paintings and has been using photographs, film, magazines, newspapers and advertisements as source material ever since.

“photography has provided an immediate and readily available mine of images, which he has plundered in a completely open and all-embracing spirit. Inevitably, therefore, portraits have been a rich vein (in his work).” Moorhouse(2009)p19

“The tangible sense of each images photographic origins is persuasive[…] the boundries between conventional, named portraits and representations of unnamed subjects are dissolved. Rather it is the inscrutability of these images, their refusal to convey meaning or specific information about their subjects, which confounds understanding according to conventional ideas surrounding portraiture.” Moorhouse(2009)p16

While at art school in Dresden Richter head been schooled in Socialist Realism after moving away from Dresden he encountered Art Informel and Abstract Expressionism which he toyed with but found unfulfilling and reached something of an impasse. He said at the time “I’ve had enough of bloody painting.” Moorhouse(2009)p32
But, as mentioned earlier, painting is Richter’s way of trying to understand the world he lives in, it is his means of communication. He had to find a way forward within painting and the use of pre-existing images as subject matter provided this a way of doing this. Richter cottoned onto Snapshot Painting quite early.

Paul Moorhouse (2009). Gerhard Richter Portraits. London: National Portrait Gallery Publications. p15 et al.
tate. (2010). Gerhard Richter born1932. Available: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/gerhard-richter-1841. Last accessed 12th April 2017.


Luc Tuymans was born in Antwerp, Belgium in 1958 and began studying Fine Art in 1978.
In 1980 he lost faith in painting and spent two years working with a film maker and producing his own short, experimental films.
When he returned to painting he incorporated many of the techniques he had used in film making, such as close ups, cropping and framing in his images.
Photographs, films and television form an important part of Tuymans’ source material;
“For my generation, television is very important. there’s a huge amount of visual information which can never be experienced but which can be seen and it’s impact is enormous […]One can only make bits of images. Existence looks edited.” Loock(2003)pg12

Tuymans’ subjects range from the deeply political, the holocaust, events in the Belgian Congo, to everyday, plates, lamps and wrapping paper.

“Tuymans’ range of imagery deliberately resists categorisation. Events and ideas are not expressed explicitly, but implied through subtle hints and allusions creating an ambiguous collage of disconnected fragments and details.” Tate website
He says;
“Representation can only be partial and subjective, and meaning must be pieced together, like memories, through isolated fragments.”Tate
Tuymans had realised very early in his career that to produce purely original work is almost impossible.
“The idea of the original faded away and after a short crisis that gave me a new idea; all you can do is make an authentic forgery. I wanted the paintings to look old[…]because they are about memory.”
Tuymans is very concerned with memory. In an interview he gave for an exhibition at the Tate Modern in 2004 he says;
“Its more about memory and mimicry, about constructing what might have happened […] you also have to dream history.”

Ulrich Loock (2003). Luc Tuynans. 2nd ed. London: Phaidon Press Ltd. 8-12.