‘i will not avoid the conflicts of existence…’

June 2, 2010

These are the words of  the Cornish abstract painter Peter Lanyon (1918-1964) in a letter he wrote to fellow artist Roland Bowden. It is now displayed in a glass case in the Tate Britain. I copied it down; it spoke to me of how when we traverse below the physical surface (of body, the ground) and lose ideas to do with ‘balance’ and ‘truth’ we discover new depths:

“My contribution so far has been towards a return to the source of my disequilibrium and therefore to what humanity I have in me. I will not avoid the conflicts of existence but I am unable (as yet) to transform them. Therefore due to my own failings my work contains the whole constuctive process which I illustrate as follows:

“The miner extracts inside the earth; his trolleyings in the galleries, a shuttling within the earth and his laborious incisions are eventually brought ‘to grass’ ( miner’s term for the surface). Here the change continues by controlled processes in the furnaces and eventually the product has no resemblance to the rock ore. That is the mechanics of it. But the mine is also hollow and men have their being therein and the miner also comes up to grass and that is what I also hope for in my painting, and he brings up with him the ore in his legs and is a body of it and he passes it all upward and is an optimist. Possibly (in passing) that is why the miner has been so willfully exploited.”

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