Something a bit different for the Specs blog this time. Looking back over the posts dealing with art or photography, I can see that what I'm writing about is essentially the 'shared' experience. I'm not a critic - I'm a punter, so I go along to the exhibitions that interest me, along with God knows how many other people. We all look at the same thing, but perhaps we all 'see' something different. I then come home and write up my thoughts on here - generally positive, I like to think, since (a) I don't go and see stuff I expect to hate, and (b) there's too much dissing on the internet already. My main aim on here is to ignite enthusiasm and generate some love and appreciation for artists and musicians I admire. Get people interested in things rather than put them off - otherwise, what good are you doing here? But I digress....
If I've ever come across something that might be new to people that know me (or to those who don't and are still kind enough to read the blog!), I suspect it's normally on the musical side. I like to think that there might some people listening to, say, Janice Whaley or Bitter Ruin, partly - or purely - because I've raved about them. I'll never know. But I think this might be the first time I can usefully get the word out about an artist.
Full disclosure: I consider Peter Ray Billington a good friend, even though we have only met 'virtually'. Occasionally I think I've made reference to the online community that revolved around the now defunct music magazine Word, and Peter belonged to that group. So first and foremost, he was to me the kind of excellent chap that shared with many of us the ability - and tendency! - to bang on about all manner of musical topics, more or less ad infinitum. Only after learning more about him, did I discover that he is an extraordinary abstract artist.
Mentioning the music upfront is significant - as Peter does himself in his website biography, declaring it possibly his key influence. From conversations with P, I can only doff my cap to his encyclopaedic knowledge of jazz in particular, even sharing as I do his pretty much obsessive love for it.
But even though some of his titles give the game away ('Bird', 'Miles'), can't you just tell that his head is full of jazz? What other music expresses so well the importance of two seemingly contradictory characteristics: the need for precision, the absolute mastery of one's instrument - balanced with the unleashed joy of improvisation, of loosening up, of finding a place to go where you haven't been yet. Without the first part - the virtuosity and discipline - the second would be a mess. With all the elements in place, though, there seem to be no limits to what can be achieved creatively when the 'conscious' process gives way to spontaneity.
I find this comparison is such a good approach to Peter's work. The more you study its detail, the more you appreciate the impossible care that has gone into each line and shape, and even on-line reproductions reveal an extraordinary variety of subtle moods as one hue morphs into another (notice how this goes on in the background shades as well as the foreground patterns). Yet step back, and the whole image is unfettered: an explosion of colour, wit and abandon. The circular shape used in several of P's images imposes a kind of control - just about keeps the lid on the contents - but the miniature fireworks within are breaking out at the edges. Improvising, if you like, around the endlessly repeating chord changes.
All the same - while I find the jazz connection really illuminates P's art for me, you could take it away and still be left with something wonderful to appreciate. P has not had an easy ride, and the jostling yet compatible motifs in his art also make me feel what it's like to try and contain, or hold together what can seem to be falling apart. The 'suffering artist' is a cliche I would prefer to avoid - but I think P's paintings have a lot to say about making art. It can be awkward and demanding, I suspect. Difficult, untidy even. It provides a release, while exerting a kind of control over you at the same time. That P can take such dizzyingly disparate elements and weave them into images that feel perfectly composed and unabashedly joyful is the mark, I think, of his own peculiar genius.
P does not currently have the budget or facilities to exhibit in a gallery, so it all has to happen through the magic of the internet. He is taking commissions AS I TYPE, so if you like what you've seen, please follow this link to his website, browse more of his work, and - if you fancy one of your own - drop him a line. Mission: a commission.
All pictures by Peter Ray Billington:
Miles No.1, Silent Way
Tower of Babble