from the cerebral




I think artists grow from the cerebral to the sensual. In our youth we find our way into art through intellectualization, thought processes and ideology. So the early work of an artist is primarily concerned with theory, idea and a desire to bring new concepts into the realm of art. Later in life, with maturity, this passes and is replaced by a love of the sheer sensuality of life.

The late work of an artist is their final conclusion of creative purpose and fascinating to compare with the work of their youth.

For example, in the early work of Cy Twombly, I’m struck by the continual references to the mythological fantasies of ancient cultures. The ancient myths of Greece and Rome are such a distant and academic source of inspiration.

To grapple with real human experience by looking back into the story telling of the ancient past seems a very intellectual route to subject matter. He seems to be seeking back to the primal roots of experience but through a very cerebral exercise rather than immersing himself in the actual rich and vivid experience of the present moment.

This very literary and conceptual approach to subject matter seems reflected in the formal means by which it is conveyed; largely with delicate and ethereal scribble that seems thoughtful and uncertain.

Yet there is a late blossoming into the final massive and deeply sensual,  floral paintings, where all reference to myth is gone, replaced instead by a pure and wondefully, indulgent sensuality. In these late works paint seems the very embodiment of the physical and erotic carnality of the subject.

This is where I understand completely and admire and it seems a dramatic and deeply profound move away from the work of his youth; almost a complete contradiction of the earlier cerebral and literary wanderings.

For Vincent, his  political and ideological socialist instincts drive his early work. “The Potato Eaters” epitomises his concern for the poor, the struggling, the labourer in the field, the weaver….

But then the move to Paris and Art and Impressionism…colour, the moment…cafes, Montmartre…and then Arles…apple blossom, parks, vast wheat fields and vineyards……to the SUNFLOWERS…..and the giddy, swirling, starry, starry nights….

From the intellectual to the entirely sensual…..the political ideology of youth supplanted by a surrender to the lush eroticism of life…

Here’s the young de Kooning;

He’s painting the concept of “Woman”.

He’s thinking of Picasso with a bit of hip angst and stealing directly from “Les Demoiselles D’Avignon”

He wants to make a statement.

This is all thoughtful  deliberation and manifesto.

Heres later  de Kooning;

Older…in search of more…

Journeying out to Long Island and escape from the metropolis. A way out to nature.

He’s unable to withstand the apprehensions of the countryside  which then emerge in a voluptuousness of painterliness….and a softer light….

Nature breaks in through a “Door to a River”.

A river of sensuality flooding his sensibility.

Heres de Kooning.

His “Woman” all fleshy sensuality and erotic  carnality.

A softer light, women reappear as “Clam Diggers, 1963” all beachy cream and fleshy pinks they quiver tantalisingly and seductively…

Now the rich sensuality of nature is over whelming… nature itself is now all fleshy and erotic carnality…no longer needing the armature of a figure the feminine is all in the paint, the movement of brush, thrusting swathes of wet colour into more wet colour and all is painterly licentiousness…

From the conceptualisations  of youth to the carnal sensuality of maturity…


Apart from Conceptual art, what more cerebral movement in art than Cubism? An entirely intellectual reconsideration of perception and representation on the pictorial plane. Certainly one of the dullest!!! All those murky greys and a pipe…..but like all thinking art, thoroughly rejected in the end.…

Along came Marie Therese Walter!!!!…

And then Cubism finds its true value in the service of love….some of the most voluptuous and lascivious erotic dreams in paint….as Jerry Saltz describes it…”Picasso, bursting forth into a wanton carnality rarely see in Western art”.

Most profoundly from the cerebral to the sensual in a life….

Thinking of Howard Hodgkin…”Grantchester Road 1975” is a work of careful planning, geometry and design. Thoughtfulness and deliberation govern the subject…

…but by the time of “Red Bermudas 1978-1980” there is a far deeper and defiantly playful involvement with the sensual pictorial possibilities of oil painting to reproduce experience that alludes directly to the realm of the erotic….

“Now 2015-2016” is a painting that seems to have rejected all thought, all planning, all design…all that remains is 3 swathes of paint bleeding into each other….brilliant yellow into brilliant red….3 gestures…now less has become more, in fact, everything with the melting together of one colour into another and the rich sensuality of life is fully conveyed and compacted into all we have….the moment…here…now…

Surely for Howard Hodgkin, sensuality conquered the cerebral….

Do artists grow from the cerebral to the sensual…?

I think it clearly true there is a phenomenon of many great artists breaking free from the thoughtfulness and conceptualisations of their youth…in the end a surrendering to the sensuality of life…perhaps when we’re young we want to change the world…as we grow older there’s a hunger to simply convey the rich, sensual beauty of life and nature as we find it in the precious moment that is now…and as the clock ticks the hunger grows more urgent…

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