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With any painting, there's no doubt
one passes far more time looking at it,
getting into a state of mind to take whatever action is necessary,
than one does in actually manipulating a paintbrush.
It feels like pulling yourself together on a high board
before you attempt a swan dive.
NARRATOR: 'Scenes from working lives, artists on film.
'William Hayter in his Paris studio in 1964 -
'the first time an abstract painter was filmed at work
'talking about the job in hand.'
The brush begins to move by itself
in a sort of rhythmic fashion,
because rhythm is involved in all these things, quite clearly.
It is in the whole business of living -
heartbeat, circulation, and so on,
and the thing sort of takes off by itself.
It can hardly be said to be uncontrolled,
because there's quite clearly something controlling it,
though one isn't entirely conscious of that.
And there are other moments,
of which one becomes conscious in a curious sort of way,
in which absolute certainty is necessary.
Which doesn't mean they must be done painfully and meticulously.
Even they have to be done very spontaneously and very freely,
but they must be right, they must be right to the thickness of a hair,
or the whole thing will fall apart.
The general matter of the picture is something to do with the sea,
the movement of water -
not the appearance of the surface of waves,
but the sense of what we understand about water,
which is an extremely fundamental matter.
It's a good subject one could work on most of one's life, if necessary.
Everything that ever has been done to that canvas is visible,
and the total effect should be of this rhythm, of this motion,
and it should, if successful,
involve the person that sees it in this flow and ebb of the sea.
NARRATOR: 'In this programme
'three other abstract painters are shown at work.
'The point of such work is often questioned -
'what does it mean?
'Over the years on television, there have been several occasions
'when the painters themselves have talked about what they have in mind,
'what they're trying to achieve.'
'John Hoyland was born in 1934.
'In 1979 he was filmed over a six-day period
'talking candidly about painting a picture.'
MUSIC PLAYS ON RADIO
I very often have the radio on
because just that sort of constant junk that you hear,
I find that it sort of empties my mind out,
it sort of acts as a filter
so that I don't get too conscious of what I'm doing.
I think that's very useful.
Plus, it stops you feeling so lonely!
Just making a painting, I mean, is such a...
It seems such a ridiculous...
ridiculous activity, in a way.
I mean, nobody wants it, particularly.
And you don't know if you can do it,
you don't know if you're strong enough to do it.
It's just you on your own in a room.
I don't know, you have some...
Some barmy idea that you could...
You know how to... You've had a glimpse of how
you might be able to go ahead and make a painting, you know.
I always start by staining it,
but as far as the colour and the placing of the colour and so on...
..you know, I don't have a clue what I'm going to be doing
by the time I get to that side of the picture.
Somebody once said that painting on a blank white canvas
was a bit like shadow boxing.
There's nothing really to have a dialogue with at this point.
Just the colour and getting it on.
It'll give me something to work against later.
I mean, you have to sort of...
I mean, it's so fragile an activity, I think, making a painting,
trying to bring a painting sort of into the world, as it were,
that you have to sort of give yourself all sorts of barmy...
..kid yourself along, you know.
Kid the painting along and try to kind of keep your confidence up.
I mean, you're painting these things that nobody wants,
and the whole activity is sort of a bit unreal, in a way,
at least while you're doing it.
Everybody keeps coming out and saying it's rubbish,
You know, then a lot of people,
they're going to succumb to that, aren't they?
They're going to think, Christ, it is pretty unreal, you know.
During the three-day week, for instance,
the whole country's grinding to a halt,
and then here you are in a corner of the room
with a feather duster in your hand
kind of flicking away like some chambermaid or something.
I mean, that's pretty unreal. You think, what the hell am I doing?
It's all panic, panic at this point.
I mean, I'm trying to coax the painting along,
but I'm not trying to... impose on it, you know.
I'm not trying to force a...a rigid idea on it.
So things are just happening.
And letting the paint...
Trying to let the paint work for me, you know,
trying to let the paint do things for me.
It always amuses me when they...
People say they've been having problems,
nervous problems or suicidal problems,
and they get them into painting as a form of therapy.
And that always amuses me because I think
if you want to drive somebody crazy
the thing to do is to get them painting.
I mean, it's such a nerve-racking business,
I don't see how anybody could relax with it.
I think when you look at a painting, and you look at what's there,
I think very often in my case...
..the charge I get back from it is I get after-images back.
So I often tend to paint the after-images in.
I mean, somebody pointed that out to me.
I didn't really notice it, but...
So that if I...
You know, I'll tend to put something that's kind of an opposite colour,
or a colour that is perhaps...
discordant with the one that's on there.
The reason I like to sometimes put colour on this way,
although it's terribly wasteful,
is that it's a way of backing into...form,
but at the same time not having to be inhibited by the hand
and the sort of skills of the wrist.
I mean, it allows for an element of control,
but an element of chance at the same time.
I've been knifing paintings for quite a long time now,
I don't know why.
Somehow I think that it's the density of the loading you get on it
you don't get with a brush.
The marks record the energy of the stroke,
but it's no use just having energy in the stroke,
because otherwise you've just got the record of energy.
The image itself has got to build that energy that it can sustain.
I don't know if I should do this, but I'm going to just do it anyway,
cos I'm not satisfied with what's there.
So, see what happens.
Of course, you feel very feeble at times, you know,
you feel very vulnerable.
I don't know what you want me to say
I mean, you feel very vulnerable.
But then you just have to keep going.
You just have to look at the people
that you respect, that you admire, and...
You know, most of the critics I've ever met in my life
are pretty damn feeble against the people I respect,
so that's a pretty firm, you know, back-up.
I'm not interested in the English idiosyncratic tradition
of, say, Rowlandson, Hogarth, Hockney, etc.
I don't know why that is.
I'm much more attracted to the idea of paintings that mystify me,
that overwhelm me.
I'm more interested in, you know, jungle, desert, mountains.
I'm not interested in painting pictures that resemble,
you know, neat English gardens with gnomes.
I like my paintings to overwhelm somebody.
I mean, the sort of painting I like would overwhelm them,
would make them think about it afterwards.
It would, you know, blow their minds.
That's what I'm interested in.
NARRATOR: 'Patrick Heron, born 1920.'
'Heron has made his home here for the last 30 years.'
'In that time, his work has undergone many changes,
'both of subject matter and of style.'
'Colour, he said,
'is now the only direction in which painting can travel.'
I started to draw at the age of two or three.
I certainly can't remember
ever having thought of ever doing anything else.
There are two headlands, one behind the other -
Clodgy and Man's Head -
and I found some very careful drawings that I made
at the age of eight of precisely the outline
of these two headlands,
and they are so close to so many of the profiles
of the colour areas in my painting of the last ten years
that it really gave me a profound shock.
This very, very intense West Penwith light coming off the ocean -
the nature of this light is to make what you see
already pictorial, in a sense that, curiously enough,
it flattens the silhouettes of headlands and rocks.
So it's already amenable to pictorial treatment
in a mid-20th century sense.
The illusion of space out of flat planes of pictorial colour.
The great thing about this studio is there are no windows,
just this huge skylight, and the light comes in and echoes round.
one of the things I always find myself doing every morning
is altering the positions of everything on the walls
so that it doesn't look as it looked the night before.
I mean, one wants to get a new view on everything each morning, each day.
And, of course, there's the other factor
that the light in every square foot of the walls -
of any room, actually - is very, very different.
I make scores, possibly hundreds,
of minute drawings on often small bits of paper.
You mull it over.
You think, right, that'll make a painting.
Then you run this line, this network of lines in 60 seconds,
and the whole thing is there.
And it's there indelibly, it's there for ever.
You know, roughly speaking,
the sort of image you're going to project
and your arm has to do it for you.
What always takes time, of course, is finally having
that sort of strange, sudden feeling that now is the moment to do it.
I mean, I never know, looking back, why it was at that moment -
3.15 in the afternoon on a Friday or something -
I suddenly, after having had this canvas around for quite a long time,
committed myself. And then comes, of course,
the question of the application of the colours.
The actual putting on of the paint is pretty fast...
..since it's oil paint and since I only want one layer of it,
because it means the white of the priming is shining through.
The moment you put two on, you've got an opacity and a deadness.
And, of course, once you've started to apply colour
in one of these white areas, you can't change your mind,
because it stains the thing.
That's why one walks up and down for weeks and months at a time
just trying to become fully convinced that,
right, this is going to be ultramarine,
right, this is going to be cadmium red, and so on.
Each kind of pigment has a totally different physical feel.
Obviously, the ultramarines, the blues, the violets,
are transparent and thin, they're almost like watercolour,
and you're aware of this.
But there is another thing governing, as it were,
the different weaving of the brush inside different colour area shapes,
and that is to do with the amount to be filled in.
On a big area, obviously, there is a need
almost to sort of swing this on in a much broader away.
When one got actually to the frontier of a colour area,
one wanted to be absolutely exact.
No two colour areas can overlap even by hair's breadth
because they'll produce a third colour,
and you have to have a pretty fine point
in order not to make these overlaps.
Paintings are all about space,
and that space is the product of colours operating upon each other.
That really has been the subject of painting of all time.
NARRATOR: 'Victor Pasmore was born in 1908.
'He, too, has concentrated on space and spatial relationships,
'often in monochrome.
'Abstract work, he says, invites a special kind of attention.'
I would hope that people come back to my pictures time and again
and get something more out of it each time they come.
Certainly, I would say, looking at a picture is a process of time,
whether it's a modern picture or an old master.
'Pasmore was 70 when this film was made
'and he'd recently settled in Malta.
'Here he spent a great deal of time shaping his own surroundings
'with an eye to the abstract and geometrical forms
'that had become an unmistakable feature of his paintings
'and three-dimensional constructions.
'Like many abstract artists, Pasmore had begun as a figurative painter.
'It wasn't until he was 40 that he had his first show of abstract work.
'That's a term he doesn't much care for, however,
'since every image, in his view, relates to something else -
'perhaps, eventually, to everything else.'
Everything man makes will either look like something in nature
or work like it, because man himself is a part of the natural process.
The circle was there long before the wheel
and the bird long before the aeroplane.
This is an important point.
The artist is both master and slave of his work.
The process is reciprocal.
If the ingredients are right, the picture will,
to some extent, paint itself.
For this reason, I like to paint only when I feel relaxed,
so as to allow the picture to speak for itself.
And it may take a long time, even years,
in arriving at the simplest image.
The artist must have some idea of what he's going to do
in a purely physical sense.
There are so many possibilities.
He can make a dot, draw a line, dab with a brush,
pour on the paint, or outline a formalised shape.
Each of these factors will form a particular image
relative to its material and process.
The style is dependent on what you start with.
If you start with a blob, that will dictate a certain style.
If I start with a line, it will dictate another line.
I start with the physical painting, and the process will determine
the style and the form of it, to some extent -
not to the whole extent, but to some extent -
and so it depends what I choose to start with.
I'm now 70 years old
and I've got a long experience of painting.
Behind that splodge of paint
there's a lot of knowledge about painting.
I repeat Whistler's famous remark in which,
when asked why he charged 200 guineas for 20 minutes' work,
replied, "I charge it for the knowledge of a lifetime."
The kind of painting which I do,
you can look at the picture from different angles.
You can walk past it or look underneath it
and get a different aspect without destroying it.
I mean, if you look at a Rembrandt sideways on,
you can't see the picture, you've got to look it dead on.
In which case it therefore belongs to the old static position.
But you don't have to look at modern painting
only by standing bang in front of it.
You can move, you get a completely new
and sometimes more dynamic experience if you move on either side.
I don't agree at all that the general public
doesn't latch onto modern abstract painting.
I've had some remarkable reactions from people
who know nothing about painting, about abstract painting,
far more interesting reactions
than I get from so-called scholars of painting.
In fact, the worst people, on the whole, are the...
to understand it, are not the general public
but the scholastics of painting.
It's they who educate the public into preconceived ideas.
I get no trouble from children looking at my pictures.
Once you start working on the thing,
the thing, the picture, tends to paint itself
and go on automatically, on its own laws.
The values of art are ones of feeling,
and I believe there is a right and wrong in art,
but it's something you must know inside you.
NARRATOR: 'Artists and images.
'With a last few words, the most influential sculptor
'of his generation - Anthony Caro, born 1924.'
It's very difficult, analysing what goes on in your mind
when you're in the studio, because...
I don't think it's very good
to be too self-conscious about the actual process.
'Scenes From Working Lives, filmed over the last 40 years.
'In this series we've had a chance to see
'more than 20 painters and sculptors going about their business,
'making things and talking about what they do.
'Whether they work with watercolour or oil paint,
'iron or steel, bronze or marble, whatever the material,
'whether their work is figurative or abstract,
'they're all, in Caro's eyes, in the same business.'
All art, I think,
all art that's any good, that's worth its salt,
seems to me to be...to do with what it's like to be a human being,
to do with what it's like to be alive.
'Artists On Film.'