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University of Huleva (Spain)
by Jonathan Huxley
April 2010


“First of all I think I should discuss why, as a British artist unknown to all of you, I am here in Andalucia collaborating with Juanma Romero, an established poet with some reputation here in Spain.
Eight years ago, I came to live in Sevilla for one year and set up my studio there.
Everyone in England said to me how lucky I was to be going to work in such a warm and sunny location and how wonderful the light would be for painting.
For the first few months I worked conventionally, like any other painter. I built large canvases, bought lots of oil paint and worked every day with the sun pouring through my studio window. Then it started to get hotter...and hotter.
As you can see, I am extremely pale and I have a particular eye condition that makes me very light sensitive. Not a sun worshipper by any means. By June I could barely leave the house. Outside it was 40°C and the “wonderful painting light of Sevilla” was blinding me. How could I work in these conditions?
I use many different mediums in my work, one of which is ultraviolet light. I have produced a lot of fluorescent paintings and installations for nightclubs both in London and New York – work made in darkness to be seen in darkness.
Here was my solution: I put on my sunglasses and I went out and bought ultraviolet lights and fluorescent paint. I returned home, closed the shutters to the sun and spent that summer working in the dark.
“What a waste” you may understandably be thinking, but necessity is the mother of invention and in the process of turning my day into night, I had some of my best ideas.
My work often seems to revolve around memory and very often the lack of it. I know time has distorted and blurred many of my memories so I have a tendency to speculate on the missing bits and in short – make up stories.
Working in the dark seemed to distil my memories.
Working with no visual distractions other than the dull purple light of the ultraviolet lamps and the glowing pen in my hand was akin to silent meditation. The tiniest visual memories began to flood into my mind.
I began to draw them all in black pen on glowing white paper. I did not edit or rationalize them. I just let them flow out unquestioned like automatic writing. Tens, then hundreds of them. Tiny bone white memories lying there in the dark on my studio floor.
It was about this time I met Juanma.
My wife and I were preparing a fiesta in the apartment where my studio was and I began to hang all these images from the ceiling lit by the ultraviolet light.
I remember talking to Juanma in my dreadful Spanish and he to me in his even worse English each catching fragments of sense from each other. The same applied when I tried to read his work; I understood only fragments but precious ones.
I remember looking at my tiny white images spinning around in the dark, blown by the huge fans we had on permanently in absence of air conditioning. They would appear and a second later vanish into blackness.
It was the start of a memory work I am still adding to and which will probably never be finished.
I called it A boy’s own story.
In contrast to the work I have just described, some of my paintings involve the repetitive use of anonymous figures viewed from above or from an areal perspective to speak in architectural terms.
These are a series of works I began in 1998. And despite their minute variations, this is work I am still deeply involved with today.
These paintings which I refer to as Figurescapes are the antithesis of “A boy’s own story” in that they refer to nothing more than painting for painting’s sake.
The figure is the sole motif for no other reason than it is what I am familiar with. I would dearly love to have possession of an abstract vernacular as powerful as artists like Jackson Pollock, Jean Dubuffet, Piet Mondrian or Joan Miro. These are the painters I truly admire, all of whom undertook long apprenticeships in figurative study before arriving at their own unique abstractions of the human and natural conditions.
This is a stage I am aiming for in my own practice but in the meantime these Figurescapes provide a kind of meditation through repetition of an almost arbitrary image. What I mean by that is having settled on a short hand representation of the most potent image there is – the human figure. I now have such a command over its representation that I no longer need to think about the making of a single image and can concentrate on more objective concerns like colour theory and composition or, to sound less dry, rhythm and mood.
I’ve probably produced over 200 of these works but I take comfort in the knowledge that it took Mondrian thirty years of painting trees to arrive at his minimalist and elemental late works.
On a more personal note, these formal works provide an antidote to memory. When I don’t wish to remember anything and want to exist entirely in the present, then the Figurescapes are a retreat from the past.
When Juanma asked me to provide the cover art for one of his collections I was flattered. You will see works here which are attempts at stories or ambiguous narratives. They are as close to poetry as I can get.
I will leave you with a description of a small painting called “Park” which recently won me a prize back in England. “Park” is from a series of small watercolours collectively called “small change”, a title I stole from a Tom Waits album. I like the songs of Mr Waits. They are sparse, spooky, sometimes sentimental, always colourful representations of the crazed and the dissolute. Drunken clowns howling at the dawn or playing with the traffic. These are not necessarily actual people, just the murky ghosts that we see when we’ve not had enough sleep. This is what I’m trying to express – sometimes.
I think like most artists, Juanma and I are trying to get to grips with things we don’t understand and I am very happy to collaborate with him on such a futile path.”






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