Tuesday 28 June 2016



     At first glance I took an instant dislike to the abstracts of William Griffiths currently on show at NAC.  They simply did not speak to me, and since I like to take a sympathetic interest in the works of art I review, I really wondered if I would be able to write about him.  This attitude changed when I read his artist's statement.  The statements of young artists, struggling to make their art sound as important to other people as they feel it is to them, are often vacuous and pretentious, but William Griffiths, who is an artist of experience and even some international reputation, comes straight to the point.  He says "I am intrigued by the beauty in the natural world ( landscapes, trees, rocks ), as well as the beauty in man's manufactured masses ( metal, deteriorating structures, forgotten dwellings ).  I photograph overlooked objects, and use them as inspiration for abstract work.  I strive to recreate the moment and express what I see."

     Of course every artist I respect strives to recreate the moment and express what he sees, but William Griffiths and I have very different ideas of beauty.  My ideal of beauty is expressed by Baudelaire in his famous poem, "The Invitation to the Journey." 

"There, everything is order and beauty,
Luxury, calm and deep sensuality."

Baudelaire was thinking of Dutch interiors, for he was inviting his lover to join him in Holland, but I find the same inspiration in other works of art, for instance in the landscapes of George Sanders, with which I have filled my living room.   I cannot imagine covering my walls with the abstracts of William Griffiths, which are austere and uncompromising to the point of brutality. 

      I don't often get excited about abstracts.   I admire the abstracts of Lynette Fast, which have a playful, fantastic kind of beauty, but usually I can take abstracts or leave them alone.  As Steve Remus remarked to me, abstract art has been going on for a hundred years and it's hard to do anything new or shocking in that field, but William Griffiths manages it.  Furthermore, what really struck me when I took a closer, more objective look at his art, is that every picture is different.  That takes some doing.  Usually, once an artist - and that applies to really good artists too - has found a style that suits him, he tends to produce endless variations on the same design.  I know I do it myself.
But in the case of William Griffiths one picture seems to contradict the one next to it, even in the physical way it is put together.  Maybe that is why I found his show so abrasive at first.

     For instance, "St. Peter's" - I am not sure if this is the one in Rome or a parish church of the same name since we see it basically in a vague, misty outline - is completely different from some other pictures around it, which have distinct shapes with little knobs glued onto them.  In some pictures the definite shapes are in distinct, separate layers.  Next to "St. Peters" is a bunch of orangey pink zigzags on a blue background which justifies Steve Remus's praise of William Griffiths as a colorist, but is in opposition to the misty, semi-representational dark and light greys of "St. Peters."  Quite different again is a picture that leads off the show, "Vacant Lot."  When I first looked at it, it just looked dull and drab.  Then when Steve Remus shone a light on it, I saw an interesting jumble of blacks and reds.  Then this in turn turned out to be painted on a pliable panel of some heavy material which, when lifted up, revealed the lighter vacant lot below.  Different again is a pyramid which William Griffiths simply calls "Pyramid."  The more I looked at this how, the more interesting I found its contradictions and varieties. 

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