ALEXANDER STODDART: RECENT STUDIES

3 October - 8 November 2014

'This small exhibition of recent works, small bozzetti (lightly modelled sketch studies for larger works), revisits subjects I first troubled over when a student at Glasgow School of Art between the years 1976 and 1980 and immediately thereafter. These themes caused me great difficulty owing to my technical inability to attempt them at the time and also because the subjects were weighty. They came from the two cultural summits of the great Classical Greek and German Romantic traditions, brought to my attention first of all through my reading of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900); so many names, taken to be perfectly known to the reader; so many schools of thought and streams of sensibility understood to be currency. I tried a few of the themes but they came to very little. Now, in decided middle-age, I have returned to that ‘Land where the lemon-trees bloom’ to try to see what it was I was attempting so long ago, why I could not at that time succeed, and also to look, for once in a long career of biographical avoidance, to see what I was, and perhaps, in part, still am. Exposed first to the writing of Nietzsche, I quickly encountered Schopenhauer, whose thought has informed so much of my later work – a lasting benefit. The exhibition contains a single work from my youthful output; a self-portrait modelled in 1980, much damaged and scarred by studio abuses over the thirty-four year interim.


Friedrich Nietzsche continues a northern-European tradition, stemming perhaps from Johan Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768), in which the artist, or the poet-philosopher in his case, thirsts, above all, for the South. For Nietzsche the southern climate was physically necessary, Turin becoming the one place where he found relative physical ease, immediately before his final mental collapse in 1889. Others, like the painters Hans Thoma (1839–1924) and Anselm Feuerbach (1829–1880), the sculptor Adolf von Hildebrand (1847–1921), the critic and art-historian Konrad Fiedler (1841–1895) and most importantly the Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin (1827–1901), found in the specifically Italian natural and cultural climate a kind of Heimat, critical to their work and aesthetic outlook. They were trying, by going away from the Germanic lands, to come closer and closest to themselves, to bring themselves “home.” Why home, so far away? As a young man I myself became enthralled by the idea of exile-as-home; there was always a sense in which I considered the ‘here’ to be far from the right place to be. This was felt in geographical terms up to a point, owing to youthful restlessness and the compulsion to travel which is an almost physiological imperative in the young, but much more strongly in the time context. The ‘now’ was always something intrinsically fraudulent to me, the ‘then’ being the real, true and accountable temporality. In the stories of these Germans trudging off to Italy in the 19th century my own travels commenced – a vicarious Grand Tour. It was a kind of companionship, enjoyed in a dim, painted light with much discussion over the precise difference between a satyr and a faun! As these artists of past time tramped the dusty roads to the Sun, so I found, one after another, various dusty studios in which, chained to a stone floor, I might set about making the past-regarding monuments (the present and future-ignoring monuments) from which I have made my career.

As time progressed, I found that I had begun to neglect my companions in art, so far away now, and so long away. I seldom read Goethe, and it was so long since I had heard anything by Hugo Wolf. In overlooking the very sponsors of my youth I had come to neglect a part of my spiritual person. In my own case, as a very late and far-flung ‘Deutscher-Romer’, the call of the South has not strongly manifested itself in a particular desire to locate, geographically, in any specific place ultra montane. Instead, my entire dream of the South was slept through safely in the town of Paisley in West Central Scotland. I looked out at Italy, and at Greece itself, through the lens of Art and Literature, as the roof let in the rain. The picture had weird distortions, but also, I believe, a certain objectivity – for the dream faculty is powerful and its representations often startlingly clear. In the three decades that lie between my student years and the present, this ‘viewing’ of the cultural South, lately revived as a vivid dream just of the kind one often experiences immediately before waking, has resulted in my accumulation of a weighty debt to German culture in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I never learned the language and I seldom visited the German lands, having had neither the time nor the resources to venture there, but I discovered the art and architecture, the songs and verses, the thoughts and manners, by other means. My personal road to the classical sun, therefore, while not being in any sense an autobahn, was nevertheless signposted in Gothic script. On that path men walk arm in arm and greet the views, as they emerge, with expansive gestures.''

ALEXANDER STODDART
Paisley, August 2014