I have always worked in series. When I stumble upon a subject for one painting it invariably means dozens of paintings and months of work exploring that one idea and its ramifications. In the paintings shown here there are several distinct sets of works, each set building on the preceding one but each with its own point of departure.
The genesis of the Echo series of paintings is a visit to the British Museum. As I stared at the bas-reliefs of Assyrian kings it occurred to me that their beards alone could provide a rich vocabulary for an artist, and they did: the rows of curlicues would keep me busy for months.
The Response paintings begin with a trip to Pompeii to see the frescos. I realized that what really appealed to me was not so much the representational elements but rather the larger painted architectural divisions of the walls. I returned to the studio and set out to work on large repetitive motifs in a frankly decorative manner.
As for the Tigers, I had been casting about for a starting point to a new series, which was to have a repetitive abstract pattern drawn in black on a monochrome ground, when I came across a book about Tibetan tiger rugs. I saw at once that I held in my hands what I had sought – the subject matter for a new series of works.
The Heads are the fruit of a six month stay in New York City. Every morning, to pass the time as I commuted downtown to my Chelsea studio by bus or by subway, I sketched what I saw in front of me: the backs of people’s heads. From there it was but a quick step to start painting still lives and landscapes, my next series.
Laundry, hung out to dry, had been a part of my daily life as I walked around the streets of my neighborhood in Rome. The sight of the common things in life, presented to us formally and out of context: abstracted, in fact, fascinates me and compelled me to begin a new set of work: the Laundrylines.
Since then, in what might be called a formal spin-off, I have removed the laundry, taken it in, and retained just the lines. The line, no longer under tension, wraps around itself and the posts evoking at once dancing figures and calligraphic marks. On the Line.
Next came the Cornices. They surround us indoors and out, modulating space and delineating form; enclosing and separating; decorating and defining. An irresistible and ubiquitous material for thought and a new set of paintings.
Since moving to Paris, after many years in Rome, I have felt the need to appropriate some aspect of the city to become really at home here. Close to my apartment there are the Haussmann’s Grands Boulevards with their long perspectives: row upon row of windows and balconies, firewalls and chimney pots; motifs endlessly repeated and yet always different. I set to work on the Cityscapes.
Jacob’s Towers are inspired by my then four year old son Jacob’s apparently perilous yet, in the end, stable constructions. It is a delight to work with him and I now find myself looking forward to his next series! And indeed my faith in Jacob has not been disappointed: his Monsters are a great and continuing inspiration! We have both enjoyed meeting these child-friendly creatures, learning their ways and discovering their habitat!
The Cairns grew organically out of Jacob’s Towers. Piling things up; making markers to show where we have been and to point to where we may be going comes naturally, even instinctively.
Curb Cuts, are the result of my watching my step. I found myself obsessively studying the lines and forms created where sections of the asphalt sidewalks in Paris are replaced after street repair. Maps or runes, these mysterious marks drew me in and called on me to comment.
I return to landscape painting regularly. The Alps represent their latest manifestation in my work. The Alps are providing a great blast of fresh air in my winter-bound studio.
These tales of origins are simple and may even seem too so: banal, in a word. Of course they only represent a sudden intuition, a spark which sets off the creative process and signals the beginning of the real work.
Peter H. Begley
Paris, April 2013