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  • Writer's pictureHaydn Dickenson


While painting, I am constantly reminded of the way in which the brain 'works with itself' in calling up already-created elements in order to quote and develop them as the picture unfolds. In this way, structure is achieved.

As my followers know, painting is an act during which I feel guided rather in charge; I am only partially aware of my surroundings and of external stimuli while working. I consider this state to be somewhat akin to hypnosis, a subject whose relationship to artistic creation I intend to explore in greater depth in a future article.

Important structural components regularly appear in my canvases without my deliberate intervention. Often, I arrive at a point in the journey at which I know that something is 'right', but I do not know why.

COME FILL MY SENSES UP - Haydn Dickenson (2020)

If I'm wise, I'll stop right there; I always remember my mother, an artist herself, advising me to be on the lookout for the stage at which I should not 'fiddle around' any more with a painting! The reasons for halting the process may only become clear afterwards, once the creative dust has settled, and they are almost invariably connected with structure, composition (there are many who believe that abstract artists don't bother with composition!) and balance.

Video by Lucy Dickenson

My agent has generously stated that: “The energy, the light and the colours of nature constantly infuse his work – they emerge, like motivic connections in a Beethoven Sonata.”

Some of my readers are musicians, and they will know to what I am referring when I speak of motivic connections. For my non-musician followers, let me explain. Motivic connections are instances of a composer either deliberately or subconsciously employing short motifs at different places in a work to bind it together, be it a classical Sonata, a freer Romantic-era piece or a contemporary one. Typically, this is achieved in a way not recognised by conventional (and potentially limiting) academic analytical approaches; such connections tend to be quite secret and hidden, but exciting and revelatory when one discovers them. Incorporated into one's listening or performance, the discovery of motivic connections can lead to a substantially elevated and more holistic understanding of the music in question.

Yesterday morning I felt a strong impulse to sit at the piano to play through and practise the Fourth Ballade by Fryderyk Chopin, a major repertoire piece for me during my concert-playing days, but one that I have not practised properly for more than twelve years. I have always been aware of motivic connections in this, the most complex, noble and profound of the four Chopin Ballades. Indeed, I once discovered in a dream that all four of the Chopin Ballades are connected motivically between each other. Upon waking, I tested the dream-revelations and shared my tentative discovery with my teacher at the time who confirmed that I was correct.

My subconscious made me privy to that thrilling knowledge all those years ago, but the sudden and magnetic pull of the piano yesterday morning felt like a summons to receive yet another level of comprehension of the magnificent F minor Ballade by Chopin. As I worked, I discovered even more revelatory internal connections than I had previously thought existed; suddenly, I realised why I had always interpreted particular passages in a certain way, and why that way seemed 'right'.

How does all this relate to Visual Art?

It relates in a way that reminds me of something often mentioned by collectors of my work – that each day, they see or feel something different in the painting, depending on the light, their mood, the time of day or year and, of course, the phases of the moon. This thoughtful and searching appreciation of a painting contrasts sharply with the lazy viewpoint that abstract art is meaningless because it does not depict something tangible. I am reminded again of Georg Baselitz's statement, quoted in my last article, that 'Reality is the Painting'. My pictures take form in a way that is guided by them and not by me, my subconscious holding a key to the door that opens onto a fresh, untouched canvas. Without structure, without connection between various elements of the painting, I believe that its emotional reverberations would be shallower.

I often, though not always, have music playing in the studio while I work. On occasions I am oblivious to the music on an immediate level, but listen in a subliminal way, so deep is the creative trance into which I descend. Music, whether imagined, replayed mentally, or listened-to at the time, infuses my pictures. It influences the way in which I throw forth marks that will dance with each other, fight, make love (for painting is also a profoundly sensual act) and ultimately settle into an apparently pre-ordained balance, a composition that makes sense.

ARABESQUE - Haydn Dickenson (2020)

I am not the first artist to confess that sometimes I do not know what I am doing; I feel deeply privileged however, to become a channel for inspirational energy. I was struck yesterday by the way in which the development of tiny motifs in the Chopin Ballade, many of them arguably placed there not intentionally but by the composer's subconscious, find parallels in what I perceive as the emergence of structure in my paintings.

I might add that the 'final marks' made on a painting may represent a rather more conscious decision, something cooked up deliberately to adjust or remedy an apparent imbalance. Because pre-meditation intrudes at this point, there is the likelihood of temporary wreckage, requiring a descent into the subconscious again; and so the cycle continues.

Of course, not all of my paintings runs such an ideal creational course – you just don't see those ones! When all is well though, with a little help from my friends Music, Nature and Life with its constantly engaging struggles, I arrive at a point where Structure plays a major role in a picture's aesthetic impact.

Copyright Haydn Dickenson 2023

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