Then there’s Brian Wood. He’s a problem here. A voluptuary Cistercian. I don’t know. A stalking cathedral. Something like that. A cathedral with a beautiful girlfriend. That’s more like it. I look at his paintings, I’ve seen only a few of them, but they strike me as very very peculiar. And what’s peculiar about them is that unlike almost every other picture I can think of, or I’ve seen, they do not invite me to look at them, instead they invite me… what do they invite me to? Almost the opposite of Duchamp. Think of Duchamp’s last work, that famous gas-jet down in the Philadelphia Museum. A knothole, through which we peer, into a very fustily ordinary kind of landscape, with a nude and this and that, and the whole point of it is to say you cannot come in. This is a private paradise. Second rate, bourgoise, but a paradise still, naked girls, a flame, what more could you want. A paradise but you can’t come in. Now when I look at a Brian Wood painting I get just the opposite feeling. The feeling is of a huge abundance of color shaped, shaped color, that’s better – inviting me in. It doesn’t want to be looked at, it doesn’t want to be seen at all. It wants to be inside me.
So I fancy myself sometimes, when I’m brave, because I am not always brave, no writer is always brave, or not for long. When I’m feeling courageous, I sometimes imagine letting the picture slip in, as so proposed. There’ll be a darkness on the right. Always a darkness on the right, and there’ll be some sort of vivid color the upper left — will it be a heart? — and that will serve as the sun or the moon or the light or whatever it may be, that opens a place in me where I’ve never been before. It’s not like anything else in here. No more cathedrals, no more girls, no more landscapes, no more wars, no more knotholes, no more lagoon, no more ocean, no more sky. Something different, something caught inside me. Not trapped, not that way, not that. It’s not frightening. Or is it. There’s an otherness. The way in which the two dimensions of color, the two dimensions of shape, have combined to produce a more than three dimensional problem. That’s what they’re like, they’re problems. I feel inside me as once upon a time I might have felt confronting a problem in calculus, or a problem, more pointedly perhaps, in geometry. What have I become, and where am I, exactly now? The geometer always assumes himself somewhere, and yet that is the big problem with geometry isn’t it, where are we? We can measure the moon, the sun, the stars, this shadow, the tree, the height of the mountain peak, the guesswork, the guesswork, the guesswork, all of that but where are we.
Brian Wood’s paintings take all those away, and say in this particular one that I’m looking at, I’m overswept by a kind of ruddy hood of pure speculation. Stand here and think, the painting is saying. Stand clear of the outerworld. Stand inside this space, your own space I give you, sacred enough for you to occupy an hour or two. Stand here, the way I once, I the painter, once stood in the abandoned chapel somewhere in France that I keep telling you the name of and you forget, as I stood once in the medieval chapel, made into a studio and it made me into a chapel, so that I too could produce everywhere I went, out of simple colors, and a box of brushes, and a place on the wall, and a friend at my side, I too could present a world with chapels, hidden, mysterious chapels in those who dared to look. Visible there. All you need to do is stop looking, and let it come in.
But how do you come in without looking? That’s the problem Brian Wood sets me. I’ve written poems about his work, trying to define what it is that happens in the interspace, the space between his inside-seeking painting and my outside -seeking eye, this absolute duel going on, what if I do win? Will I have anything to say? And if painting silences me, is that not a good thing? Is that not part of the age rule of the Cistercians, the Cistercians of the strict observance as we call them, or OCSO. We have a simpler name for them, Trappists, the Priests of Silence. Could his paintings be teaching me silence?
- Robert Kelly