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  • Writer's pictureHaydn Dickenson


Updated: Nov 26, 2022

Art has always fired me up, even at a young age when my creative life was veering, due to paternal pressure, towards Music.

As a boy, I remember staring at my father's huge loudspeakers as they pumped conversation-numbing decibels of Scriabin and Sibelius onto a family subjugated by the wrath of sound. I imagined how I might paint those speakers in the style of Matisse or Bonnard, maybe in an inner attempt to calm the furious intensity of the music. I can feel the visceral sensation now, of the colours I visualised, pinks, greens and blues, and the expressive brushstrokes that I would make, which seemed in my mind to be at an opposite pole of sensuality from Scriabin's bombastic, priapic trumpet motifs as they blasted forth.

GARDEN (1935). Pierre Bonnard

Though not a religious person then or now I would stare, transfixed, at the luminescence of Dali's 'Christ Of St John Of The Cross' and Holman Hunt's 'The Light Of The World' in my mother's books. I was hypnotised by the distorted perspectives of Cezanne's Still Life paintings. I would run to the kitchen to commandeer bowls of apples, chipped jugs and bottles and I would scrunch up tablecloths for use as backdrops, before attempting to immortalise these objects which to me were brimming with secrets, using oil paints that I had received for my birthday.


In the early 1980's. I used to visit a friend who was studying at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, on the campus of which is situated the magnificent Sainsbury Centre. There, I first encountered the works of Francis Bacon and Alberto Giacometti. Bacon's paintings, in particular, cut through to my core with their fevered, passionate, brutal but supremely sensual handling of paint.

My painting-heart skipped a beat when I encountered Bacon.

Visceral reaction, and the imbibing of energy gleaned from great Artists whether they be household names or lesser-known, have always been at the centre of my creativity. In Art, nothing exists in a vacuum. I found myself thinking recently about influence, and whether Art can ever be truly original.

In the book, 'Steal My Art' by Stuart Alve Olson, the author explains how the subject of the book, the T'ai Chi master T.T Liang, used to grumble to his students that they were trying to 'steal his art'. This was a tongue-in-cheek reference to his fervent belief that stealing the art is something the teacher must permit. Though he reluctantly tolerated students who took up T'ai Chi as a trendy fad, Liang was always searching for those few who, to quote Olsen, “could learn his entire art – those, from his perspective, who could steal it.”

My copy of STEAL MY ART complete, appropriately, with a Matisse bookmark.

Perhaps then, when we assimilate, we steal in some way. By taking into our souls the energy of a great artist and allowing its essence to be reborn subconsciously in our own work, are we 'stealing' from that artist in the most respectful way? In previous articles on this blog I have mentioned how I never seek to imitate, but it would be disingenuous to suggest that hints of my artistic idols never break through in my work. Heron, de Kooning, Motherwell, Diebenkorn, to name but four, are all artists whose art resonates on my frequency and I have no doubt that observers will note this heritage in my own paintings.

TONE FIELDS 2 (2017). Haydn Dickenson

THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (2017). Haydn Dickenson

In 2015, I attended the incredible exhibition 'Francis Bacon And The Masters' at the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich. Here, Bacon's magnificently disturbing work was curated alongside that of masters who had been major influences on the artist – Soutine, Van Gogh, Picasso, Velasquez.

Bacon's 'Study after Velazquez's portrait of Pope Innocent X' picks up the older artist's creation and reinterprets it through the searing prism of Bacon's own incredible mind. His series of paintings based on works by Van Gogh also demonstrate an extremely moving homage.

Copying was, until recently, the basis of art education. David Hockney deeply admires Degas' copy of Poussin's 'Rape Of The Sabines. In Hockney's opinion, Degas made the copy “to educate himself”.

JS Bach famously reworked compositions by Vivaldi and others, Liszt took folk themes for use in his Hungarian Rhapsodies, as did Bartok nearly a century later; and any composer who has written “Variations On A Theme Of....” has surely performed an act of respectful theft! It is hard to deny however, that Rachmaninoff's 'Rhapsody On A Theme of Paganini', or Lutoslawski's Variations on that same theme are works of high originality in the way they treat the famous melody, one that also fascinated Schumann and Brahms who both treated it in their own inimitable ways.

Composers and poets quote, artists make reference, playwrights create entire plays based on a single line from Shakespeare's Hamlet – well, Tom Stoppard did anyway, in 'Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead'! It is part and parcel of artistic utterance that we celebrate, in our own creativity, the work of others with more than a nod of the head.

I will end by quoting the Art Critic Martin Gayford:

“The cult of originality in art neglects the fact that much great art has been made from working within a tradition.”

Copyright Haydn Dickenson 2022.


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