School of Art
Pictures for an even smaller room29 November 2004 – 28 January 2005
Gallery III A celebratory 60th birthday exhibition of some 70 small drawings, paintings, prints, watercolours and photographs
I arrived in Aberystwyth in January 1974 as Lecturer in Graphic Art, Visual Art Department, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. The title of this exhibition refers to my first exhibition in Wales in 1975 called Pictures for a small room held at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre Gallery, a gallery which the art department originated and ran in those days. Thus 2004 marks my thirtieth year in Wales and this exhibition will end with my 60th birthday. I am not sure if I am celebrating.
That 1975 exhibition reflected a major turning point in my work for I had left behind the arid desert of deconstruction, art language, art theory, that was Coventry Polytechnic, a hive of much debate but with little objects worth looking at as a result, indeed, often no objects at all. It was all ‘cutting edge’ or as one first year student perceptively remarked, ‘emperor’s clothes.’ If that was art, and they were artists, I decided, I would be a ‘picture maker’ instead and go with what my eyes and the history of my subject taught me. I cast myself adrift for I think ‘instinct’ is a much better and saner place to go forth from than listening too much to the preacher man, or woman; I do not believe that ‘art’ is ever the product of (some one's current) theory of art.
I have always liked small pictures; it may be said I collect them. I am not sure why. I like the strength of fragility, as in Gwen John. I like the fragment, the bit of something else, the promise of much more to come. I don’t like rhetoric, big noises, seeking attention, look at me. I am certainly more interested in ideas rather than displaying a manufactured persona. I like to find things, rummage, discover, wipe the dust off. I like little surprises. I like to see things out of the corner of my difficult eyes. One critic once kindly wrote of my pictures: “They invite your attention not with rhetoric but with he gentlest of gestures – ‘gentlest’ until, having submitted yourself to them, they hold you very firmly”. I will settle for that for you can say everything in a postage stamp, as Blake has taught us.
Recently, I found myself buying little frames, then more eccentric ones (It gave me something to do on endless shopping trips; to stand and stare at them in the department store and try to feel a picture) and so that I could stop smuggling them into the house, I declared that I was now going to fill them; fill them with pictures made specifically for the frames. (I had no idea of the outcome, of course). Immediately I started to put them together I noticed the similarity to that first exhibition here in Aberystwyth so long ago, Pictures for a small room. The largest then was 18 x 24”, several were as small as 6 x 8,” and framed in cheap (but trendy, eccentric) white plastic. It was also the time of aluminium frames and perspex boxes, 1960s glitter, they tell me now. Once I started working on this ‘new’ project, I also noticed, as always, that I had been here before, so, since this is a celebratory affair – at least for me, I began to recycle myself, both kinds of work and kinds of ideas, from as far back as 1964, now updated to 2004, a journey of some forty years. Thus it made itself into a small retrospective.
Alistair Crawford, November 2004.