Passport to Paint - New book by Clive McCartney
When Clive McCartney, who received his art education at the Central and Chelsea schools of art in London, found his true voice he was able to set free a vast array of subject matter.
However appealing the subject matter at hand – and McCartney is aware that it is the rightful provenance of art to celebrate the delectable, sumptuous, ornate or exotic – the artist’s real motivation is formal. Not only does he structure a composition by working from dark to light, from the broad and general to the specific and defined, but he relies on a basic colour scheme to inject emotional sensation and thereby create an underlying mood.
One can point to Sickert or to the virtuoso paint handlers like Seargent and William Nicholson. But McCartney neither strives to identify a specific social climate nor to make an ostentatious display of technical bravura. From a formal and thematic point of view his art is neutral. He does not deal in the ethics of the ‘Kitchen Sink School’, nor does he tell us what a good time he has been having in Tangiers, or Florence, or Rome, or Paris, or Lisbon.
The striving after such locations does though typify the artist’s search, more or less endemic to modernism since Van Gogh and Gauguin, for the foreign, the unusual, or the exotic.
These provide ways of breaking down cultural conditioning. As Susan Sontag has pointed out, this makes the travelling artist less a tourist or journalistic reporter, than a seeker, and more specially an observer. What McCartney observes, above the specifics of local costume, the idiosyncrasies of rituals, or the vernacular features of architecture, is a kind of ennui. The contemplative ambience of quiet cafes, drowsy with the intake of caffeine or alcohol, creates a stillness of almost metaphysical proportion. And the rhythms of tables and chairs or the fortuitous clusters of figures provide a satisfyingly visual completeness. There is no narrative here, no major event other than the drama of light, the wonder of atmosphere rescued from the anonymity of the everyday and commonplace.
McCartney’s one-time tutor Cecil Collins often referred to ‘knowledge in atmosphere’, and such a quality is achieved in the very different stylistic context of the younger artist’s work.
In spite of the way the appearance of McCartney’s art seems to relate to the pochades of Whistler, the peopled interiors of Degas, and to the legion of tonal impressionists that followed, he is wholly a painter of his time.
It may be a little glib to characterise McCartney’s art as lying somewhere between the virtuousity of Ken Howard, the solemn gravitas of Stephen Conroy, and the apocalyptic undertones of Bill Jacklin, but his work does fulfil the fleeting panache of the first while echoing the latent mystery and oblique symbolism of the second and third.
McCartney is not only an artist on top of his craft, but is articulate and clear-headed about his identity and goals. While sharing many traditional and contemporary concerns, McCartney’s art has a unique position in the art historical matrix.
Peter Davies - author and critic
Beautifully bound 200 page hardback book chronicling the life and work of the artist. Introductions by Ken Howard and Peter Brown.
Signed copies available from the gallery during the course of the exhibition.
To view Clive McCartney's latest exhibition, click here