I threw myself during the Christmas break, into the task of contributing new compositions that reflected advancement in my understanding of the tonality of colour and complex colour mixing. To form this link was becoming urgent in order for me to maintain a creative interest in New Epoch Art. The jazz paintings created through the year had made significant advancements in the complexity of our use of shape and colour, and had left behind to some degree the few scores still active with the exception of ‘life in the Garden’, which continued to be interpreted in surprising ways.
Philip, Baden and I attempted one group composition at this time, a score written simultaneously to an improvised studio performance in the workshop. For this venture we employed a greater emphasis on glazing, fading from dark to light, and targeted plane work that caused the pictures surface to swell with vibrant activity masked in colour and augmented by a complete avoidance of geometric form. These works were different to the visual jazz coordinated chaos that had been emerging for some months, in which brush marks seemed to pile up on each other, themes strengthened and sometimes lost in the web of gesture. Having the language, and its disciplined cohesive syntax in mind changed the decisions we were making, all be it in a subtle fashion. Being used to a more conservative approach to structure in our formal scored sets, the images like a landscape of storms and weather garnished in the fizzle of extreme temperatures were discarded as being an interesting experiment, not quite successful. We were still very much burdened with the fear of losing our selves to the expression of the moment, forgetting the unique manner in which the notation may capture it and transcend its butterfly life with a noble longevity. I look at these pictures now as most effectively catching our running speed, our changing through light and dark, failure to triumph and later I coined the title ‘Red River’ in recognition of the passions that forged Extended Vision and our artistic cohesion.
‘The Tempest’ was a more disciplined attempt to create a performance ready set, again written in unison to its formative performance as was the custom at that time. Again the scale of these initial studies created a bias or predisposition to those proportions. An artist’s sense of scale is always linked to a medium in this way, as a title seemed for me to frame the intended finishing point and overall concept. It is the rhythm and flow of the paintings progression that is so critical to a successful performance.
Following on from the ‘Summer Blaze’ composition of the previous year, ‘Transitions No.1’ shows a composition type focused more on the evolution of the paintings than a series of acts leading to a finished work. This makes seeing the performance in all its stages of equal importance to its conclusion and the memory can live on to enrich the viewing experience of the end result. This idea was brought to the fore during public performances, where you were constantly aware of being judged by the audience and having to justify the appearance of the paintings at every stage of their development. The most radical expression of this idea was the ‘Hidden Imagination’ score that I wrote born out of a conversation with Baden. On the final turn the paintings are completely obscured by white, nothing remaining except the memory of the performance.
“Hidden Imagination” – Single plain composition returning to white on last turn.
In composing ‘the tempest’ and ‘Transitions’ I found that the language was not equipped to handle these new instructions for colour mixing, and this became a new source of tension within the group. Deciphering the rough draft scores like bad shorthand, was difficult enough without the feeling that I had broken some unspoken rule, and intruded on the domain of ownership. The New Epoch Art colour system represents a significant shift in the way we perceive the relationship between hues. It was born out of a life-long study by my father into the nature of colour, its associated theories and his own practice in both his trade and his art. While traditional theories have seen colour as a continuous gradated phenomena, the NEA colour language treats colour as seven totally separate primary ‘instruments’: red, yellow, green, blue, brown, black and white. My father asserted that every mix of pigment reduces its strength and should be avoided. Philip held firm on this position, while I advocated the subtleties achieved through mixing pigments were an essential part of the artist’s intuitive language. I did not understand why any limitations needed to be placed on the way a composer can manipulate ‘instruments’. The need for information such as when to preserve a prepared colour for the purpose of mixing later in a performance for me exposed considerable deficiencies in the existing notations capacity, a position that Philip instinctively recoiled from in the belief that it undermined his work, and violated the teachings of our father. At our ‘Art Around Town’ workshop and exhibition at a vacant shop front in Temple Court in January 1993, we rehearsed ‘The Tempest’ and Transitions N0.1’, both scores which were beyond the parameters of the language at that time.
Relations reached a new low on the first morning at Temple Court, and as tempers flared it became clear to me that this phase for ‘Extended Vision’ was coming to a conclusion, despite Baden’s enthusiasm to continue working. We had forgotten the keys to the shop, so it was charged to me to find someone in the office block who could help out. The elevator was larger than necessary, its buttons still gleaming from factory polish. It opened on to a grey corridor lined with easy clean carpets the texture of a clothes brush. This lead toward a world so foreign to me that I almost felt I needed a map and an English to office translator to proceed with confidence. There was a slight absurdity in my presence, and my reflection in tinted glass and burnished silver could have been any hobo out of time. A secretary quizzed me with a vague disregard. She was young, only a year or so my senior, and pretty in an air brushed magazine sought of way. She was dressed with a crisp clean style and with a walk that owned the carpet and the walls that were conspicuous in their lack of adornment. Her reflection in the high sheen was all that was necessary to complete the picture. Those few minutes away from the conflict waiting down stairs was enough to bring me to my senses. I didn’t want to be that person, fighting his brother. There was too much pain and it seemed so divorced from this other reality. We could hardly assemble the change for the parking metre through the day, our resources were low, our energy dissipated, and with just a dribble of passersby mostly from within those strange offices, the feeling of absurdity flourished into a full-blown melancholy trapped behind glass like a bizarre exhibit, my first taste of claustrophobia.
It was at this time that I began to feel that the language was too rigid, too restrictive to give rise to further innovation. The personal quagmire needed to find form in an intellectual argument. I remember feeling that we had put more energy into ‘the performance’ than we did composition, and I wanted to take it back to a more fluid state, and reinvestigate the motivation behind the symbols. Recapturing a spirit of experimentation was at odds with the public performance agenda of ‘Extended Vision’. Philip was justifiably protective of the language and adopted at times an authoritarian stance in its defence, frustrated by my needing to break the rules. There was not a specific moment that we made a decision to cease performances, it just occurred as a natural consequence of moving on with our lives. We remained locked down in our respective positions and for a long while Philip and I found even simple communication difficult, let alone complex negotiation.
What appealed to me was the experiment, failed or otherwise – keeping it in a state of evolution. This was akin to the assertion that art school was a place where you paint bad pictures; where you can make your failures free from the preciousness inherent in grasping for a success. The danger then is you end up recreating an elusive achievement, duplicating technique in a contrived fashion in pursuit of another favourable communication. Critical opinion only serves then to heighten ones self-consciousness of achieving worthiness. Painting is a private world, even when conducted amongst the challenges of a public place, where a clown may identify you as a target around which his whole act may be constructed.
A new score “Day After Day” contributed by Baden during the Christmas period of 1992 further illustrated the divergence in each of our approaches to painting, and seems to present more as a visual argument than harmonious collaboration, with the canvas predominantly worked on by Baden holding the melodic centre ground. This was an interesting composition holding much potential which did not get a chance to be reinterpreted repeatedly. The studio had a calmness this day, and shows Extended Vision at its peak working through new material and continuing to incorporate the “jazz” aesthetic into composed sets.
Extended Vision ventured forth once again to the Canterbury Jazz festival on the 28th of February 1993, with a new member Bernard Stahr taking centre stage in his first public participation. The performance got off to a less than ideal beginning, essential equipment having been forgotten and an extra journey home needing to be made to enable us to proceed. Tempers boiled over briefly before we settled in to a good days painting. The clouds were threatening on and off and eventually brought proceedings in a premature conclusion, but the event went some way toward restoring the enthusiasm and excitement of earlier performances. I fashioned a brush out of a fallen twig to make my themes appear more organic and scratchy, but reverted to a more traditional means after finding I was behind Baden and Bernard in getting through my turns.
The Canterbury Jazz Festival had been a staple of our public performance calendar and always seemed to lift our spirits as it was a happy occasion, and the audience was particularly accepting of our presence. It was a fitting venue to be our last public outing as “extended Vision” for many years to come, although we were by no means aware that this would be the case.
Philip continued to pursue the idea of establishing regular workshop sessions and Sporadic performances continued in the back garden at Canterbury through 1993. Philip was particularly interested in investigating the educational potential of the New Epoch language as so many of our participants in the community were of a younger age. A number of these events were very successful and provided valuable knowledge in relation to how to adapt New Epoch Art to an Education setting. We talked about making this a career, a living and Philip espoused passionately the possibility that we should make this our future direction. I was not sure I wanted to pursue the path he was illuminating, and Baden was still very much wanting to push the public performance in a theatrical direction.
New Epoch Workshop Proposal – by Philip Graham
Maximum size of class 17. Duration: one day camp. Two meals will need to be provided. Ideal location for workshop is a shaded outdoor area or a large well lit hall. Workshop environment is passively exotic, providing a non threatening but profound distraction from emotional and interpersonal baggage of the participants. it is a low stress environment, where participants can establish their own pace. it is relentless, slow burning, interactive, egalitarian and cooperative. Workshop activities Unpacking and assembling of equipment (one hour) Learning a new language (Half hour) Painting and drawing with acrylic paint on stretched canvas. Sharing and cooperating with other participants in the creating of complex images on different canvases. (four to six hours) Clean up (half Hour) Pack up of equipment (Half Hour) Comparative analysis and discussion. (Half hour)
Strengths of New Epoch Action Painting
It allows anyone to paint a picture even if do not know how or ‘where’ to start. Children as young as 7 have anticipated the meaning and purpose of notation structure. Demands social interaction and thereby over rides student rivalry. All of the composition advantages of the literary and musical arts become available to the visual and plastic arts (arts involving the manipulation of physical materials). A child can learn enough to start painting like an adult in an hour. The child can complete a mature, fully resolved painting in a day. A student can absorb the empirical knowledge necessary for ongoing study in a day. Depending on the individual, public performance is feasible with a few months of regular work. Mastery takes a life time. Workshops structure will quietly demand the following from the participants: Full physical mobility and flexibility, physical and mental endurance, rapid acquisition of new skills in the field, s concentration over an extended period, Advanced colour recognition advanced hand-eye coordination intimate but mostly non-verbal cooperation and goodwill between participants over an extend period, Expected outcomes. Participants will be exposed to a challenging creative experience with a guaranteed positive outcome. They will come away exhausted and dazed, but with a profound sense of accomplishment and physical proof of that accomplishment.
The value of the public performances conducted by ‘Extended Vision’ cannot be underestimated, even though they probably are to date a pale representation of what a properly orchestrated performance could be like. There is no doubt that we always tried to assimilate the spirit of the moment, even if I sometimes found the performance to be at a distance – to be edited at a later date. In this case the idiosyncrasies presented themselves to me in snapshots or dazzling snatches of memory. I was soon left with a vague notion, a numb glow bearing witness to my participation. Now the real snapshots seem lifeless fragments, not at all correlating with my memory feelings. The deeper immersion was always hidden within the words passed out to onlookers. We were throwing ourselves out there making the parks and streets our studio exposing our considerable vulnerabilities; but with all the skin deep confidence that comes with youthful exuberance. We could feed off a positive reaction, be buoyed by enthusiastic banter, be amused by puzzlement and be clipped by disregard. My father once said that the worst thing that could happen to New Epoch Art was that it be ignored. Whether or not we achieved ‘success’ in our endeavours is then secondary to the fact that we were visible and noticed by many and our extensive archives bear witness to the fact.
It appears now that we caused many small explosions of interest, evident in wide-eyed participants, and those respectful of a new idea, with little to no outside help. We operated with limited resources stoked by our enthusiasm and commitment. We presented a uniquely inclusive art experience and although we never advocated a subversive stance against prevailing trends in the art avant guard, in effect we represented a substantial alternative. In the early 1990’s, Postmodernism in art had reached an impasse, and with the catalyst of the stock market crash of 1990, enthusiasm for the movement had evaporated rapidly around the world. The precepts of appropriation, simulation, parody and pastiche, were now widely viewed as synonymous with plagiarism and cynicism. In this vacuum, a new acceptance of street art has emerged, but once again, art as commodity has sabotaged its merit. An image intended for the exposed bricks below a billboard advertisement or railway overpass, divorced from that context and placed in an expensive frame in a prestigious gallery seems to lose its soul. The new heroes of ‘Street Art’, Banksy foremost among them, have now been taken up by galleries and collectors scrambling for a piece, but there is a growing discontent within the ranks of the street art community with the blatant disparity between this success and the spirit that gave life to the art form in the first instance. New Epoch Notation Painting in comparison adds a new tool to an artist’s stable. It is not meant as an attack or affront on other forms of visual art, or as a replacement for traditional modes. In the words of my father, it represents “an attempt to project into the future, to formalise ideas and concepts that will inspire future generations to express their thoughts and feelings about the wonderful, complex experience called life”. It can be provocative, it can be avant-garde, and it can be closely aligned to traditional forms of visual art, depending on the composer’s intent.
Street art has emerged in recent decades as a significant force in contemporary art expression. A movement defined by its embrace of hybridism rather than by its adherence to prescribed boundaries. The urban environment then becomes integrated in the conception, purpose and display of the art works – it becomes the new canvas. Museum and gallery art has become largely about preservation of the art object, as something to admire and value. Street art attacks this idea, born of a need for artists to engage with the emotions of the audience in a direct and powerful way, uncluttered by art theory and esoteric conceptual frameworks. It is this desire for accessibility that drives its conception. While street art is identified as being ephemeral with scant consideration for the durability and longevity of the piece, it still relies on the artefact to carry its message. New Epoch art can contain all these same ingredients. By becoming part of an environment by sheer force of proximity and through the raw experience of seeing the marks go on the canvas, it achieves an accessibility that goes beyond the understanding or appreciation of any single static art object. The art of Banksy at least on the surface seems to derive its strength from the post modern preoccupation with obtaining meaning through critique of the patterns of authority and mainstream values in the visual arts. Now some of the buildings he worked on are heritage protected forcing housing prices up in suburbs where traditional residents are no longer able to buy into their place of origin, replaced instead by the new chic. Extended Vision aimed to share the experience of creation in an honest and heart-felt manner with the score acting as a measure and as the subject, not in a clandestine fashion or as an act of defiance or rebellion. Yet its potential to break open the debate about what constitutes good art and bad art is unparalleled in the modern era. The performance fades away, the canvases re-primed, but the score remains ready to be interpreted, and re-assessed again and again. In this way New Epoch Art is truly timeless.