MICHAEL STOKES - England
About his Art
The origins of my journey and understanding of painting whether it me, my own work or the works created by others specifically Cézanne, Delacroix and Vermeer began forme back in 1991. I had notlong lost my hearing as a 6 year old boy. In many ways becoming deaf and loosing sounds made me quite isolated. I was always considered to be extremely bright and gifted with the ability to learn. However, not being able to hear my mother talking to me, having to be rubbed on the shoulder to get my attention and feeling like I had to constantly look at my mother and family members in order to be aware of directions and situations, left me struggling and unable to express myselfin many ways.
One Saturday morning, my Uncle Leslie who had a significantinterestin painting and art history came to visit my mother. Both Leslie and I were very close. I looked upon himas a father and he looked upon me as a son. Ithink he found it very difficultto see me as a small boy not being able to use all of my senses and to my knowledge when talking in the kitchen to my mother he said to her thatI may be deaf butI can still see.
I had my rain coat put on me my hood pulled up and we walked to the bus stop and we got on the bus to Liverpool City Centre and I was taken to the Walker Art Gallery. WhenI initially walked in I was fascinated by how open the place was, how clean and how the viewers ofthe art work would just stand in front of paintings and look atthem. Whilstslowly walking around I could see colours emitting from the surfaces and what struck me was just how realthey seemed, how they were could of been photographs and appeared so rich in colour. The definitive subjects almostfrozen in time.
We walked around for over an hour before I stopped at Cézanne’s “The Murder” 1867 and I remember thinking to myself we have seen a lot of paintings today butthere is nothing I’ve seen in here quite like this. I looked atthe work as this almost paused scene,the gestural positioning ofthe figures,the darkened background,the detail and whatseemed clothing aspects of modern times broughtthrough into here and now. I asked myselfis this killer wearing jeans. The painting appeared to me quite conclusively in whatIthen described as bonded, I would now describe it as a work united. I knew thatthis painting was a very profound experience for me because it shaped so very much of thought processes back then and stilltoday. I know thatI haven’t simply justlearned about Cézanne allthese years, I’ve actually transcended that and “experienced Cézanne” Ithink collectively after studying the teachings of arts greatest mind Professor Meyer Schapiro,the once quote of his saying “printing kills” has a lotto do with experiencing art by viewing itinstead ofinitially reading about with images in books.
After this profound introduction to painting. I made it my mission, a magnificent obsession If you willto learn all I could about Cézanne paintings,to view that painting and asmany others as I could. I was given book upon book written by Meyer Schapiro and others, although it was Meyer’s teachings that really taught me everything I needed to know. His books were read over and over again. By my mid to late teens IfeltI had learnt as much as I possibly could on Cézanne, Eugene Delacroix and of course my greatly loved Vermeer. My art knowledge was something I was greatly proud of myselffor achieving. I was no longer deaf butlooked upon thattime as something that happened for areason.
Upon entering into my late teens Itook art classes,the construction and application of content within paintings being this raw exciting area for me thatI wanted to always improve on and try and explain to others to help them see whatI was seeing. My artteacher would sit back in his chair, with his arms folded and have a smile upon his face that appeared to be from ear to ear as I almost every lesson presented to the class talking about French, Dutch, and Italian painting.
Painting for me is this area of depth and enrichmentthatis quite possible unless you make the definitive decisions to either act upon your ambitions may pass you by quite quickly. It’s this area oflife that has been historically presented to you with allthe opportunity you would ever need, butifit’s not realised by you the magic ofit all could quite easily distance itselffrom your daily thoughts. Painting is my ally, my magnificent obsession and if you are truly going to make it or even better help others by allowing them to view your work then you must become obsessed with trying to achieve your goals otherwise you will never getthere.
In 2015 I was greatly aware of Robert Ryman, I looked upon him as the greatestliving artistin the world. I was fascinated by his works, how he applied the paint and these unfinished borders. They reminded me a lot ofthe Cézanne and Pollock paintings and I reached outto him via emailto see ifI could engage his guidance on my own painting inrespect of whatI wanted to achieve and and how to best relay thatto the viewer. I was conflicted within this feeling that my classical approach to painting figures,flowers and landscapes wasn’t objectively addressing my complete design on the relationship with the viewer wanted to have. I was given great guidance and supportfrom Robert, even as far as wanting to support and advocate my paintings butthere was just something missing. In 2019 I decided to take what would be seen by many as a clinical attempt to stop my career within painting,to a haltit by destroying all my art works. This was also againstthe advice of my then mentor. However,the decisions an artist makes playsa large partin our personal representation. I didn’t hesitate to do whatIfelt must be done.
I had these ideas around wanting to prove the emotional importance of a work by looking upon my paintings and seeing this view of subject as being this integral part of why we musttranscend the message through all walks oflife to stop many issues within the human condition. I believe that when an artist creates a work,the only relationship that should be realised, is between the artist and the viewer. When you look upon a work in a gallery or museum there’s no intermediary force the guides you to it, no when your eyes meet a work it’s rightthere in front of you,the artist has laid his subject upon a surface through the application of content and the visual relationship is inherited from him or her to you. When thinking aboutthis relationship exclusively I realised the importance of subject as this complete entity ofits own that must be addressed in a definitive self explanatory way in order to incorporate the message,the view,the emotional depiction thatimpacts your mind systemically to either be aware ofthis area of mankind or do something aboutit. I can only describe thatlevel ofintegrity and objective viewing experience alongside my first of experience of seeing Cézanne’s “The Murder”.
Painting as a whole means everything to me, it speaks to me in such a way as to fulfil my every waking desire to change the negative aspects oflife in order to realise how we collectively must progress. If we take for example my emotional connection with a work I executed in 2021 “Spielbergs Little Red Coat”. The impactin which thatlittle girl had on me in Schindlers list,the only part ofthe movie which is in colour, a red coatis perhaps the singular most powerful part of a film I’ve ever witnessed and I’ve thought aboutthat coatfor over 20 years, whatit meant and so on. Another work being “India” for which I will soon complete,this notion and action of stopping all other paintings and concentrating for the last 10 months on this work alone, sacrificing so much of my time and efforts to realise whatis truly important within its message. Perhaps, you could describe this as my most complicated work and in response to thatI would say “in 2022 is the consistent rape of women in India and Bangladesh is one ofthe most difficultissues we face today because it affects the lives of so very many”. At what point do we realise thatin comparison to the latestiPhone or smart device purchase consistently putin our faces for example, is nothing compared to women and young girls being raped as people walk by on the streets and do nothing. When does the human condition really prevail.
I now realise thatif we are not responding then we are not painting. In the words of Cézanne “a work of artthat did not begin with emotion is not art” My emotions will keep me responding.