With Sigmar By the River 1. Oil on collaged artists note paper. 2014 Andy Metcalf. In Private Collection.
I have a patchy kind of connection to Sigmar Polke and his work. Looking back it could see to me that its almost been by chance. The faint threads of connection between us seem too insubstantial to write about. I appreciate that, I am being ridiculously presumptuous to link myself to his work. I can agree with that . But I also want to write – he has been an inspiration to me. His work has helped me. Through him I can see some sort of a path I can sometimes follow in my painting. He is a diverse artist and that is my intention too. Its taken me a long time to make even these inconclusive threads to him, and with him. Its taken me a lot of time to understand that we can’t go back to the old ways, the old blissed out union with romanticised nature or the female form, or an inner state of mind.
Also I am fairly new to his work. I remember quite vividly going to see the 2003/2004 Tate exhibition ( see more below). I was struck by the work. Held by it. It stays with me, but paradoxically at that stage in my cultural life, I did not really get it. I saw him doing something somewhat Warhol with his Texan gun culture paintings. I did not take in the way the whole exhibition is a sustained radical counter blast to core western values and positions, most obviously through his rendering of the Bush/Blair/Drone war nexus. In that exhibition he shows us the other side of the western dream in a powerful series of sombre, dark, death ridden paintings.
Then, two years ago, in the way these things go, in an oblique, hidden, unconscious way, I went on to the Cable Car across the Thames in East London and took photographs from high up over the sludge green/brown water. And from the ground made sketches. As they taught me to do at Art School. And then, as is the way, I had to spend many months not knowing what to do with this material. Finally I was helped out by a deadline – making my debut in May 2014 at the Crouch End Open Studios weekend . I was also helped by the chance of going back to look Polke’s images in the book of the 2003/4 Dallas/Tate Modern exhibition. Slowly, through the painful work of preparatory paintings, I began to see a way forward for me in using the high point of view, the surveillance point of view. Undoubtedly, somewhere not quite in full consciousness, I was also accessing the importance of the Snowden revelations, which have shown us that we have been moved ( without our consent ) into a Surveillance world. And at the same time, re-looking at the photos of his paintings, I was gripped by the way Polke combines ‘mechanical’ painting ( via the half tone digital printing of newspaper images ) with organic shapes and painterly gestural marks. I plan to keep on experimenting around these contours.
He, much more than either Warhol or Lichtenstein, does not do EITHER/OR but instead does BOTH.
Now I am working on an extended series of these paintings – the image at the top here is of the first one. This blog is one way of paying tribute to the guidance and inspiration he has provided for me, even though I have never met him. The inspiration is also that he has shown it is possible to inhabit an anti western establishment political stance without becoming crassly propagandistic.
In July 2014, I went to Zurich and saw, entirely by chance, his Stained Glass Windows in the Gross Munster Church in Cenral Zurich. I will post about this encounter shortly.