Points of stillness

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I first saw Trevor Barton’s art at this year’s Oxford Internationl Women’s Festival and was taken by it mixture of reflective stillness and dynamism. Talking to Trevor, it soon became clear that a fascinating approach to both art and life lay behind his work (he introduced me to intentism, of which I have to say I wholeheartedly approve), and it’s a joy to get him to talk about that here. Do check out the links to his work and go and see the series of shows he has coming up.

1. Your art combines still points on the canvas with feelings of rhythm and motion around them. To what extent does this reflect your wider philosophy?

Hi Dan. Like in Stepping Out of the Mental Movie, you mean? Ideas for my current exhibition come from themes arising through Zen practice. Zen’s not a philosophy, though. It’s a sort of ‘way’. Way to be. (Philosophy doesn’t encompass the whole human experience, only ideas. Zen is not an idea.)

Mental Movie is about learning to step out of mental drama – that incessant running commentary in our heads. What happens when the film rattles out of its cage. Does life stop, or get better?

2. I also get a sense of distance from your work. Or rather, of smallness. As though we fit into the world of the picture as only a very small piece…

That’s interesting! It hadn’t occurred to me before. But you’re right. Like in Artfinger or Come In or To Truly Enter the Mountains. Yeah.

Though say ‘smallness’ and it sounds restrictive. I’d prefer to say we fit at just the size we are – no bigger, no smaller. A realistic human scale.

Anthropocentrism has a lot to answer for. Think how Earth would be without humans. Maybe better off right now… Maybe having an ice age that’s now overdue.

We put ourselves in the middle just because we’re at the top of the chain. It’s erroneous. Literally – it’s not what’s real. Our place in the chain is not what we think it is. Not as important. And not as unique. Dolphins are sentient, ants have tracking abilities we should envy. We’re even learning that birds are developing language.

At the same time (in Mountains), there is paradox of scale. We are just the size we are – but that’s liberating. The meditating figure, if you turn him (it looks mostly male) around, slots in to the mountain behind and to the right: like that’s what he formed from, or what he is part of. If that scale were literal it would be a massive mountain-sized human body. But it’s a comment; it’s not painted literally. You might miss it all together, even.

So – just the size we are. But that’s where the hidden magic is.

3. Which brings me to the other sense I get, that you mention on your website, that of the interconnectedness of the cosmos…

On the personal page. Yes. The …feeling… that every thing in the cosmos is connected to everything else in the cosmos.

That’s the hidden magic.

The entire cosmos is intertwined with our veins and nervous systems. And you can either take that from Lao Tsu, or Brian Cox explaining the Pauli Exclusion Principle of advanced quantum theory. People hate it when quantum theory gets used to talk spiritual stuff – but on this particular point, both ancient wisdom and modern science describe the same tenet of reality here.

The Californian New Age dolphin brigade say that we are One. I tend to prefer the ancient wisdom traditions to the new ones. I haven’t really heard anything new from the new ones; only people dressing up old as new to try and make cash by taking advantage of the vulnerable. Mostly in the US, but over here too.

Personal, and bad, experiences of this – when I was in a vulnerable place myself – led me to make a protest piece about how important it is to be weary of religious claims, even when shared amongst the post-religious. F*ck the Enlightenment Industry, TM is part of my current show, but is not on display in most venues of the tour for obvious reasons.

I made it using Microsoft Word and a canvas printing service.

It’s for sale! Ha.

But yes. Yes. That’s there in my work. I hope it’s there. Even in the commercial stuff I paint. It’s not just ‘we are one’. It’s everything is one. ‘We’ tends to anthropocentralise again. Big mistake.

Experientially, I’ve had more beautiful moments in life since after my first serious mental health issue than I ever did before. I lived like an automaton before. This is a bit simplistic but it went something like I was working in the city, flying regularly to New York on business. Fast forward a bit later to one day, a feather broke an already-laden camel’s back and I woke up. To emotion. To myself. To the universe. Break through not break down.

Lucky me but that’s not the point.

In those peak experiences I’ve felt every planet and every star nurse me to sleep, caught the odd word out of bird song, and conversed with trees. Hey, if I’m mad then so was St Francis – the Dr Doolittle of the beatified. But he can’t be mad because he got vindicated by the Vatican. So there you go. The Vatican beatifies mad people, so we must be OK.

Not that we need vindication from any religious institution ever again.  Oh dear. Yes, I’m still angry about a few things. Hardline Baptist upbringing.

The best way to step past something that angers you is not to give it the right, wouldn’t you say?

Perhaps I’m the one that should be ignored! That’s what Zen’s about. Getting over yourself, you find the magic. That interconnectedness is very real to me, so it will come out I guess.

4. In what kind of space do you think your paintings work best?

In your house. On your wall. When you’ve paid me some money to do a commission.

Seriously! I haven’t taken to eating locusts quite yet. Or kamala extract with candy. There’s still time. Especially in 2012!

I’ll tell you where they don’t work, and never will, and that’s most galleries and dealerships. Saatchi online, yada yada. Get me a bucket.

I’ve got something I want to tell the world – anyone who will listen – because I believe it might empower artists. Do you mind if I indulge? It will sort of answer your question too. Though there isn’t room to say it all here, so I’d like to invite anyone interested to read my new manifesto proto blog, The Artistic Shift, and get the message out with me. I don’t want it to be my blog, my message. I’m looking for people to work with to carry out a task of re-education for the benefit of other artists. I’m thinking seminars, workshops. Whatever.

Art’s true calling, IMHO, is the positive transformation of social space. Full stop.

From there, it transforms the brain patterns of those experiencing it. And from there, it transforms the world.

It does that because it’s a recording. (If you think about it, every art form is recorded somehow.)

It’s a recording of something. That something is intention.

But that’s only if the intention is positive, of course. I listen to Massive Attack and want to slit my wrists – not kidding – so it works the other way too.

The intentists are on to this (www.intentism.com). But I don’t know if they’re going far enough on that train of thought yet. They’re protesting outside the big commercial galleries but it’s like they hardly quite know what they’re kicking against. They’re just doing it intuitively. Something in their gut tells them they should.

I say they hardly quite know why because it shows in the work of some intentists. There’s a focus they have on leaving a trace of their intention in the work. To my mind that’s getting caught at the first philosophical hurdle, having philosophical doubts, being afraid of failing in the task of getting intention across, and rolling backwards.

They should step past that hurdle and keep going, I think.

Here’s what to fight.

The middle man is not your friend – whatever your field of art. (Well, duh.) Thankfully with an internet economy we artists potentially have the tools to cut him out (in my case gallerists, dealers) – we just need the guts.

You’re doing it, Dan. With your publishing model.

You could say musicians have tried to go it alone and look what’s happened to the music industry. Arctic Monkeys did OK but it all went downhill from there. They used to say that the days of penniless musicians was a long phase and then musicians got rich and that old phase was over. Now it looks like rich musicians was a phase, and the norm is people not making much money from popular music. So they spoilt the industry for everyone.

And book publishing. Look at the book stores closing and the rise of online monopolies. Or scientific publishing and the fight scientists are having to establish open-sourced, free journals.

It’s happening in so many fields. Everywhere you look, old authority systems are being challenged. At the same time the belief prevails that the middle man makes it pay so surely we need him? Surely we need those institutions?

I’d still disagree. You’ve just got to get smart at marketing.

Like you and your blogs and events, if you don’t mind my saying, Dan. That’s a form of marketing – the best kind for the emerging economy, if you ask me.

And you’ve got to do it with a generous heart, or not at all. That’s the way the new economy works too. The new economy is flat, local, global (not national), networked, interdependently co-originating, and everyone wins. There is no top dog in the emerging economy. If you try to stay on top you will fail. Perhaps not to start with, but in a while. And that’s because to be on top, people have to believe you should be there. And we’ve stopped believing in top dogs. Nobody believes in old hierarchical management structures any more. So they’re falling apart at the seams. The church, politics. Everywhere. So we’re trying out new management structures: SCRUM, for example.

The middle men are only there because they’ve disempowered the artists long enough for them to believe that they are essential for survival. It’s a lie and we’ve swallowed it. In the case of art, it’s because of three things:

  • artists stopped believing they had anything useful to contribute to the world after Derrida’s deconstruction and Barthes’s death of the author
  • which unfortunately coincided with the popularisation of mass mechanical reproduction
  • Chuck in the old fallacy that artists have always been struggling and weak and you have a recipe for disempowerment and, frankly, abuse.

Who baked with that recipe? That’s the real question. Financiers, middle men firstly. After that, the educational establishments did too, by rote.

So… ditch the middle men. Use alternative spaces if you have to. Understand your market. And yes, market yourself.

If you’re turning your nose up at marketing as an artist, you’re just regurgitating the ideas that are keeping you disempowered so that someone else can pull your strings.

And it means you’re not necessarily ready for the new economy either, which we have to make together.

But it’s not so much forget the rule book as….the old rules are dying out. Fast. So we’ve got to learn new ones.

I hope that means the days of self proclaimed experts controlling who goes up and who goes down in the art world are coming to the end – being replaced instead with artists going direct to their respective markets, and the markets fairly trading for their goods because markets are changing too.

5. Complete the following “I wish the next time art and artists come up in conversation people would…”

Recognise them as some of the strongest and emotionally matured humans that exist.

All artists need permission to be artists (from themselves, from others). To become an artist is a journey of struggle for many. It is a sign of tremendous strength and persistence to have reached a point of self-realisation where being an artist is wholesome. Is OK. And that process can’t be taught so some people qualify academically as …painters…. before they’re ready to accept the artist within. Some.  

The idea that artists are weak is a fallacy. But I think it’s prevailed for so long because of the previous issues cited (philosophy, mechanical reproduction, built dependency relationships). OK, Van Gough cut off his ear, allegedly, Joe Orton topped himself, etc.

But then if you think about art in Eastern countries, this ‘suffering artist’ myth suddenly looks very Western. Not universally human. So if it’s not human then it is a myth – you have to ask yourself what it is in Western culture that gave rise to it. I suggest the reasons cited.

Humanly speaking, people only do extreme things when extreme things have been done to them, right? So if our artists are sick it must be because we are all sick on some level. The few profit at the cost of the many; depriving everyone from what art can be.

Artists are the perfect and always broken who have the tools to heal us.

But it relies on self-belief. If you’ve got that, if you can see art’s true calling, as well as your own, then you’re an artist.

6. Very very many thanks and best wishes with your upcoming shows – would you care to end by telling us a little about them?

Thank you. It’s called UnStuff: Art, Mindfulness, and Mental Health, and it’s a touring cameo show. Size isn’t everything.

I have about four works from the tour at the café of Blackwell’s Bookshop on Broad Street, Oxford, throughout July. We love Blackwell’s! Woo!

The show is online-interactive on my website. Anne James calls it innovative so it must be good! Ha.

Please come. And bring your smartphone with you, with a QR code reader installed. That’s how you interact with the artworks.

Then… I hope to be back at Art Café (Bonn Square) around October time, and possibly sending a few to Art in Woodstock (27th October to 4th November). Follow me on Twitter (@zeneverything) for dates. There’s still more to confirm.

But the main thing I’m pushing is my commissions for interiors. I feel no shame at all working with interior designers and their projects, or with direct clients for their homes. It’s not selling out. It’s my main focus, and has been for 6 years so it’s become my area of expertise.

Interior designers are themselves artists who know the transformational power of aesthetics – it’s what they do. They’re on the ball and ahead of the curve in that respect. They’re already following art’s true calling. It’s quite common for interior designers to become artists later in their careers. Or earlier. Some might not see themselves as artists. But they are to me. Real proper ones, too.

Shiny.

So another way to see my upcoming show of work is get me to do one for you where you are.

Dan – can I just say this…..

2012. So we have to embrace change, look for potential, think big, go with our intuition. It’s a day of reckoning for our species, not just our economic system. Economy. Environment. Energy. Survival depends on adaptation. Greater potential depends on letting go of fixed ideas.

A great transformation is happening. We have to move with it and help each other along. Make the new rules before they’re made for us, because you can be damn sure that new ruling elites will establish when the dust settles and then it gets harder again. They’re already working on it – so why don’t we.

‘Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’ – Margaret Meade.

Bless you, Dan. I’d say you’re on the case already. You know where it’s at. Let’s go for a beer and plan art’s next evolutionary leap!

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4 Responses to Points of stillness

  1. Viv says:

    Wow.
    Just..wow.

  2. alisonwells says:

    I’ve thought about intention from the amoeba onwards as the basic optimistic impetus in the world, just doing something and being aware of it. The doing itself is the meaning and I like how you frame it, how the intention of the artistic and the autobiographical background all being part and parcel. I got up today thinking about slow writing and wanting balance from the hype and the productivity machines that we’re supposed to be to win. You talk about going direct, bypassing the middle men and reaching out directly. You’ll reach certain people but people have grown up with certain handles and model, people like to be guided, told what’s hot. Which is painful really when I see so much quality unknown while the same people are trotted out by the media.There are certain kinds of middle men I imagine who, like Dan, individuals in publishing houses who love books and writers (as I writing I use writing examples), small presses, who aren’t the devil and in the right conditions could nurture creativity. I don’t know if we can do it on our own. I’m feeling a bit strung out over having to join masses of screaming self-publishers and the worst aspects of narcissistic self-promotion. I will continue to write, blog about real things not just how to jump up the Amazon charts. I want to work slowly on this not contribute to mania. Thanks for the post and all the links, food for thought.

  3. danholloway says:

    Viv 🙂
    Alison – yes, being part of teh screaming masses just fills me with cold terror. I don’t think it’s the only way to be as a self-publisher. I would love to think there’s a way of maintaining integrity and modesty and decency and yet still reach an audience – and if there isn’t I think I would still rather look for it and keep failing than do it another way – but I think that very much depends on your make-up. We here a lot of talk from self-publishing gurus about how things happen slowly and organically, but they rarely mean it in a recognisable sense – there’s a lot to be said for taking one’s time, doing the right work, and growing slowly

  4. Pingback: Community Building for writers | dan holloway

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