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  • Writer's pictureHaydn Dickenson


Updated: Nov 26, 2022

Back in the mid 1980's, I used to drink with the brilliant cartoonist and commercial artist Willem Van Beek (the Flying Dutchman as we called him), and a charismatic young artist named Adrian. Adrian was tall and would be seen striding distinctively around town in a flowing overcoat.

During the course of one ale-fuelled conversation about art and music criticism, Adrian postulated the following:

The problem with criticism is that it is opinion presented as fact”.

UNTITLED (2018) - Haydn Dickenson

This utterance has stayed with me and, like most fine and bold statements, it makes me think. Sometimes I concur, but often I think that there is a little more to it than that.

Today I thought it might be interesting to ponder on a few statements by artists and, and to offer some responses to them.

Let's begin with Helen Frankenthaler, pioneer of 'soak-stain' painting. She believed that “Every canvas is a journey all its own”.

This statement strikes a powerful chord in me. Almost invariably, before I begin a painting, not only do I not know where it will take me, but I do not know where it will begin. There is the blank canvas, of course, but contemplating that is a little like standing in front of a door before opening it. I try to begin without preconceptions. Preconceptions, if they intrude are, more often than not, thrown aside. This is one of the most beguiling and engrossing aspects of painting; that the painting takes me with it. I am not in charge. I strongly and deeply believe this, and I love it – the reality of working in symbiosis with the will of the painting.

And as for that door – sometimes it is opened cautiously, peered around, sometimes it is flung wide - but always, new realms are revealed, to be traversed in a fresh voyage of discovery.

In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present”. It was Francis Bacon who made this searingly accurate statement. In music, consonance must be balanced by dissonance. In life, turmoil and pain, alongside happiness and fulfilment, sculpt us into the rounded beings that we are. In art, Bacon saw beauty in the violent, the horrific and the brutal, allowing him to create work of transcendent sensual magnificence.

In a similar vein, Louise Bourgeois opined that “Art is restoration: the idea is to repair the damages that are inflicted in life, to make something that is fragmented – which is what fear and anxiety do to a person – into something whole.”

Critics have on occasion suggested, misguidedly, that minimal effort goes into my paintings. Thank you, Willem de Kooning, for stating that “I might work on a painting for a month, but it has to look like I painted it in a minute”!

FALSE ALARM (2019) - Haydn Dickenson

Music, poems, landscape and dogs make me want to paint...and painting is what allows me to survive.” - Joan Mitchell. The first three, I have in abundance – only the fourth I currently lack. I lost my beloved dog to a cruel disease seventeen months ago and am not yet ready to adopt another, but the time will certainly come. Dogs teach us about ourselves.

Finally, I will leave you with some words from Jean-Michel Basquiat which bring us full-circle to my old friend Adrian's sentence, referred-to earlier:

I don't listen to what art critics say. I don't know anybody who needs a critic to find out what art is.”

And one last one from me:

When I paint that line, I am most content when it exists for a reason no more or less great than the sheer joy of its creation”.

THE BEST OF TIMES (2019) - Haydn Dickenson

Copyright Haydn Dickenson 2022


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