The Silent Eloquence of PAINTING
We live, as to borrow a phrase from Wordsworth, in a ceaseless ‘round of tumult’; our sense of reality is continually shaken by endless streams of significant and insignificant information: words, words, words, images, images, images and noise, noise, noise. Oh to be silent and still and be open not to the multifarious strands of the near-chaos that bombard us but on a single centred zone of experience.
Take a bus, a train or simply, next time you are in Manchester, allow yourself an hour and walk. Walk to Mosley Street and enter the City Art Gallery and settle yourself before the small painting of Rhyl Sands by David Cox currently on display in Gallery 4, painted1854. Stay before it for an amount of time. Enjoy it, move away and after wandering a little taking a cup of coffee perhaps, return to it and stay in front of it for again for as long as you did before.
In a perfect world that would be enough.
Allow the world and its immediate concerns to fall away. Allow the painting to infiltrate your being, its subject is simple, accessible: picture of a common, everyday experience even though it was pictured over one hundred and fifty years ago. It is painted snapshot of a moment caught or imagined on a beach in North Wales. The figures are tiny, busy with their own holiday concerns, it seems, and the main impact of the painting seems to be its evocation of light, weather and place – conjured up by the movement of the artist’s hand across the canvas – short dabbed marks melding with the broader, sweeping brushstrokes that describe the sky, beach (sand) and buildings. Limited colour, It is a supremely modest painting of nothing very much and yet, for me, it is a beautiful affirmation of the human spirit, an shining example of how art can in its making and in its reception, counter something of the horrors that we humans inflict upon ourselves.
Michael Howard is a writer and artist and former senior Lecturer in Art History at Manchester Metropolitan University