'A Dying Art'oil on linen, 90 x 180cm (36 x 72 inches) 2010
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This painting reflects my love of mountains and desolate places, the stark light of high-altitude sunsets and of the slog and struggle of mountaineering. Like many of my images, it emerged from doodles and small thumbnail sketches in an ‘ideas’ notebook that I keep for this purpose. I began with the image of a figure dragging a cart behind him with the rope running along the diagonal of the rectangle – the line of greatest tension. I had no idea what would be in the cart: this and other things fell into place later, as the image developed. Once it became clear to me that the cart would carry an old man, the rest of the mis-en-scène came into focus, and it was more obvious to me what this picture would be about.
The two figures in this painting embody a duality, a tension in my art. One side of it is hard work, great effort, a commitment to struggle and overcome obstacles, a manifestation of pure will – virile and forward-moving but in many respects blind. The other is backward-looking and lyrical; the embodiment of something ancient. The strain in my art is in keeping these things together, in not letting either side defeat the other.
While this painting has a personal significance for me, I think the image will resonate with those in different circumstances. Most of those who reach my age find themselves dragging a good deal of baggage behind them: memories, traditions, burdensome convictions, responsibilities to others not easily shed. These things become part of us. They also ware us out.