Cornwall Life Carol Burns September 2013
Cornish artist Matthew Lanyon emerges once a year from his studio
hidden up a quiet lane near Penzance for his annual solo show. Carol Burns gets a
private view of his latest work ahead of this month’s exhibition at Porthminster Gallery.
‘Write me a few short lines she said’
Matthew Lanyon 2013
An introduction to the medicine bottle series by Judith Hodgkinson
So these Bottles, homeopathic medicine bottles with handwritten labels framed and hung up like a painting: what are they doing on the wall?
‘Write me a few short lines she said ’ 2013, features hundreds of tiny glass vials, corked bottles behind glass, each label inscribed individually with his tiny writing. The words are fragments from things heard, overheard, used, imagined, read, or taken from personal experience – they transcend authorship. Lanyon produced his first small bottle piece in 1996 based on his own poem. Since then he has become an avid collector and the result is something akin to an expanding visual diary of language which acts as remedy; the healing arts. Take a look – this piece deserves close examination.
Showing in his Tipping Point exhibition it is, whilst visually similar, a marked departure and progression from his earlier ‘Bottles’ pieces in terms of the content and sequencing of the labels. For one, the presence of character is stronger; male and female seem in an intimate play, both enjoying and subverting familiar stereotypes. There is more dialogue, question posing between multiple characters and a push towards storytelling though the reader may find it well nigh impossible to follow the thread for long. It’s a tall order to read it for more than a few minutes anyway so the form is pulled all ways and open to any kind of abandonment. It is visual art, like jewellery etched or sculpted on the wall with all the visual power of multiples and all the draw of the unique. But remedy is key; try out “I’ll have two…” ‘instructors actually called Edwin’ before breakfast for example or a handful of, ‘angles between torso and buttock’ or overdose on ‘oh, I see you have ginger nuts’. It may not cure your redundancy, or your cancer, or your disappointing son in law, but it might make you feel a whole lot better.
For me reading it is hearing it; at best fruity, poignant, comic, or at worst sounding like snatches of conversation from a crowded room of poets, philosophers and psychiatrists posing rhetorical questions at each other. Actually what Lanyon is about here is more akin to the hunt of anthropology; he’s asking if we can join him in an enquiry into human beings, all the characters of the mind, all the human beings who ever lived. He starts the piece referring rather obscurely to Borges’ imaginary Chinese encyclopedia where the classification for animals is thrown to the wind, in western terms; for example ‘animals drawn with a fine camel hair brush’ and ‘animals belonging to the king’. He seems to be interested in subverting classification, and this relates directly to his art and to the Bottles series, but it doesn’t end there. He relates it to human behaviour and relationships. We make each other and ourselves up continually he seems to be saying, and what we are taught about how to interpret or conceive of it all is just a questionable part of that mix.
‘animals not included in the present classification’
Classification of the earliest cave paintings, frequently referenced in this piece, were for decades talking about ‘primitive’ images, made for religious/superstitious purposes: I’ll paint a bison then go out and kill one successfully - please. But Lanyon is engaged in the re-understanding of these paintings and the people who made them across the world. He thinks they are more about negotiating the male-female power relationship, when matriarchy was in the ascendancy and his vision of these artists is of human beings as complex and skilled as any of us. He insists we haven’t cracked the codes they were using and the similarity to the use of codes and similar themes in his own painting is to say the least, exciting. This Bottles piece is then if you want to look for it, a way in to understanding more about Lanyon’s art.
‘my eye and peggy martin’
Or put it another way could it be read as a self portrait for his year: he’s still exploring how he experiences time and relationship, just as he began doing in 1996. Experiential time is different from linear time he says; it’s the collapsing of history, knowledge, memory and sensation into one brief fragmented ‘is’ , and like this piece it almost captures the one moment of a disintegrating, unknowing and falling comedy of the present – as in the Joker’s tumble, into an efficacious tipping point of maybe, could be, got it enlightenment which always dices with tragedy and annihilation. But this is what poetry is; and art too, the way he comes at it, contains all these elements, and then some.
For me the pieces create an interesting public/private threshold: there is an opportunity for intimacy with the reader ; one can’t pretend not to be reading it or to be casually reading as one could with a poster or advert at a distance; it is a one to one encounter, earnest, playful, exposing, delivering perhaps the mysterious undetectable homeopathic hair of the dog to the self-healing organism, or the love heart to the sweet tooth, but right out there in a public space on public view...
‘it’s collage Jim, but not as we know it’
Judith Hodgkinson September 2013