Stride Magazine - www.stridemagazine.co.uk

  STATES OF MIND

To the God of Rain by Tim Liardet
[60pp, £6.95, Seren]
There are certain works that are both epoch spanning and making; uncommonly reverberating and formative; that challenge and inspire; innovate; excite emulation, variation, application in different contexts or genres. The cubist, futurist, expressionist and surrealist art of the early 20th century was of this order. Amongst the achievements of these movements that include the work of Picasso and Braque, de Chirico, Delaunay, Kandinsky, Marc and Jawlensky are the three pictures that form Umberto Boccioni’s States of Mind triptych, painted in 1911. The central panel is entitled ‘Farewells’, the left hand panel ‘Those Who Stay’, and the right-hand panel with its dynamic interplay, its thrust of faces against lines of force that, with hindsight, could seem the lances of war, ‘Those Who Go’. A glance at the web is sufficient to confirm the enduring impact of these images; the number of reproductions and examples of their influence on prose and verse, besides visual art, in the intervening years. One caution is necessary. Confusion can arise with reference to individual panels through the existence of two versions, one in Milan, one in New York, and the variant orders in which galleries may hang them.

The ‘technical’ legacy can be seen to include the vibration/juxtaposition of simultaneous viewpoints; interlocking and inter-sliding planes; and stages in real or imagined human, animal or mechanical physical locomotion in line with the pioneering photographic sequences of E.J. Muybridge and Professor Marey. Together with the work of Friese-Greene, Evans and Varley, and the developments of the cinematic sequence, with its present day refinements of reality, juxtaposition [and illusion!], these technical experiments interplayed with the artistic ones of the early 20th century to great effect. It is a matter of animation [or the giving of life] through technical resource of a force and scope that includes but is by no means confined to those deft animations, based on a painstaking series of ‘frames’ [or ‘drawings’] that [reminiscent as they are of Muybridge and Marey] we associate with the work of Walt Disney.

The looking at a thing from different angles is something futurism shares with cubism [certainly with Picasso] and with these photo-cine experiments, but in the case of a work such as States of Mind the subject is looked at not only from different angles but from different emotional points of view.

Boccioni’s own dynamic intention involved these multi-faceted forms [or images] moving or evolving within a continuum and interacting with the space, background, forms round them, sometimes blurring [as with the affect of motion], sometimes in the act of merging. It is this sequence of moments ­ or suspended moment[s] ­ to whatever degree allied with or conveyed through colour or pattern, which makes a sensory impact on the viewer. It does so directly, not as a secondary consequence, as is arguably the case in traditional narrative and representational work. Indeed, the futurist photographer Giulio Bragaglia recalls the painter Francis Bacon when he writes: ‘For Photodynamism, it is desirable and correct to record the images in a distorted state [my italics] since images themselves are invariably transformed in movement’ [and involve a series of steps or frames, each one of which alone would not exert the same] ‘fascination over our senses’ or invoke the ‘lively dynamic feeling with which the universe ... vibrates.’ [Futurist Manifestos, Appollonio, 1973]. Bacon in his well known interviews with David Sylvester says that for him the accidental or blurred mark or image, that seems to come from the subconscious or by ‘accident’ can give a truer reality, a deeper bite to the face or fact that he is concerned to capture than any attempt at a tame, literal, pictorial likeness. ‘Anything I have ever liked’ he says, ‘has been the result of an accident on which I have been able to work. It has given me a disoriented vision [my italics] of a fact I was attempting to trap. I could begin to make something out of a thing which was non-illustrational.’ [David Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon,
Thames & Hudson, 1980, p.53]. A ‘non-illustrational form works first upon sensation and then slowly leaks back into fact.’ [op. cit., p.56] This is not the same thing as Boccioni’s futurism but it touches on the conceptual and sensory vibration that both artists were trying to achieve.

Not without reason, Turner’s Rain Steam and Speed
and Monet’s Gare St Lazare series have been cited as predecessors but Boccioni dislocates in a way that the two earlier artists do not. The dynamic surrealist-like juxtapositions and blurrings of his States of Mind pictures exercise an expressionist effect independently of ostensible subject depiction.

What Liardet and other later artists derive from these developments, and from Boccioni especially, in the present case, is of course not simply a matter of technical procedures ­ and the opportunity to transpose them into their own genres ­ but the idea
for an approach to, a differentiation or individualising of, a subject’s facets, and an ordering of texts, concepts or images into patterns at once innovative, vivifying and metaphysical. By ‘metaphysical’ in this case I mean the approach to rites of passage, as evidenced by the work in the present book on arrival and departure, meeting, finding and loss, death, love, and the static, active aspects and/or periods of most lives.

It is true that Liardet combines ideas and technique in the brilliant variations he plays on the theme in ‘A Futurist Looks at a Dog’ with its:

            cactus of wags, its rapid legs
            a sort of tailback of centipedes,
            a strobile of stunted steps, a carwash brush,
            two bleary propellers rotating ...

            the leash ...
            a flung silver net, a soundwave ...

This is keenly observed and managed in a way that Boccioni and Picasso, surely, would have approved. The playful character of this aspect of To the God of Rain accords well with their
pioneer, experimental delight in their medium and, serious as Liardet is, is closer to them than to the expressionist angst of [say] Beckmann or Bacon, to name two other masters of triptych. Liardet’s is a poetry of controlled intelligence which avoids emotionalism or overt gravitas. It is ordered, patterned, restrained: verbally precise. As for the ‘static’ mood, nothing could illustrate it better than ‘The Evolution of Olives’ that sees ‘the olive-pickers snooze’ and the ‘ground around them, and the unattended fruit, / drink heat.’

It was back in 1966-67 that my own work became influenced by these early 20th century art movements, not least by this very States of Mind
triptych which Liardet makes such fine use of. Given the fame of these images, it is no surprise if an artist is not alone in responding to them. When I attended Trewin Copplestone’s course on modern art I immediately found myself trying to ‘translate’ or ‘recreate’ these styles in my own medium of poetry. The result was the ‘Easter’ and ‘Lightscape’ sequences first collected in Selected Poems, 1951-73 [Outposts, 1977]. ‘Easter’, a theme to which I have often returned, shows the influence of surrealism, German expressionism, Picasso and Gris’ cubism, combining as simultaneously as a poem may do the different angles of view. Akin to this is ‘States of Mind’, a four part response to Boccioni’s three paintings of that title to which I added a fourth, ‘Those who return’.

In one of the epigraphs to his book Liardet quotes Boccioni: ‘the excitement of “Those Who Go” is expressed in dynamic horizontal green lines which contrast with the pale perpendicular of “Those Who Stay”.’ Elsewhere, Liardet describes the former as ‘thrusting on through a metaphysical wind without losing their hats.’ Since he does not provide individual poems so titled we do not know exactly how Liardet would handle it in verse. In my own sequence ‘Those Who Go’ is rendered with short active lines and long sinuous down-running stanzas that ‘go’ at a lick, in direct opposition, it appears, to the epigraph quote, while ‘Those Who Stay’ has calmer, longer-lined stanzas that slow the reader. It is rather like the effect of a traditional Japanese miniature garden with its tranquil and turbulent sections.

In my The Tufnell Triptych
[Stride, 1997] the influence of States of Mind is worked out in fiction. The last of the book’s three novellas features ‘Those who Go’ in effect; the first ‘Those who Stay’, it appears, until it is set against the central ‘panel’ in which the protagonist ­ though arguably only in the physical sense ­ is as ‘static’ or ‘still’ as anything outside Beckett. The closing novella, ‘Syon’, which is the most ostensibly ‘active’ [and the most painfully reshaped in the writing] employs certain of the ‘cine’ effects mentioned above; see, for example, the italicised paragraphs to be found between pages 91 and 122. Indeed, a passage appeared in The Third Alternative entitled ‘The Flicks’.

Liardet’s approach, too, involves his whole book. The collection is organised around the idea of arrivals and leaving, the latter involving loss and death. Its restraint is one of its strengths; its alert awareness and verbal wit another. Energy and movement contrast with a piece such as ‘The Evolution of Olives’, cited above. The title poem [i.m. Gregory Fisk, who suffered from cerebral palsy] combines both active and passive qualities. ‘Circle Line’, where the travellers on the platform can do nothing but wait, could be construed as passive, yet it is full of ‘go’ with its marvellous evocation of the train’s approach, the blowing paper, the ‘fizz’ and ‘way down the line a light / that clicks over soundlessly from stop, to go.’ The structured rhymed/half-rhymed ‘The Wasps’ Nest’ is also a fusion of going and staying, with its emphasis on the massive humming and throbbing going on unseen below the floorboards: ‘a jacuzzi of fire’. There is a sonnet sequence, too, intriguingly scattered through the book.

Altogether this is an intelligent, resonant book written by an artist in his own genre: humane and ordered. Liardet builds on his model and extends its reference, providing his own contemporary
formative experience.

            © Brian Louis Pearce 2003