Don’t Turn Back
Greeting the visitor in the Jerwood Gallery is a barrage of images. Surprising and extraordinary. It took HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths a few minutes to get her head around the display and focus on the array of drawings.
There are about 360 drawings in the show, Turn Back Now – an intriguing title but, please, don’t obey the order. The show is honest and raw in places, contemplative, personal and universal. Memories, reflections, the effects of childhood.
The themes are jumbled, not thematic or necessarily connected; it is like a diary – the micro alongside the macro. Inspirational.
Keith Tyson is not a man tied to one style or thought. There is painting, sculpture, writing, naïvity, depth and complexity. It makes you think and look at the fragility, poignancy and tenderness of a human being and being in life; a record of what it is to live today; his emotional states, thoughts, personal issues and aesthetic mood.
Keith Tyson was born in Ulverston and still sports his Cumbrian twang in spite of living in Brighton for the past twenty years. “I had a difficult childhood. My stepfather was not very nice to me.”
After working as a fitter and turner in shipbuilding in Barrow in Furness, he began an Art Foundation course in Carlisle before moving to the University of Brighton. A 2002 Turner Prize winner, his drawings first had an airing at the 2001 Venice Biennale.
What started as experiments, work processes, have matured into a body of work in its own right. In reality they aren’t drawings but works on paper. They started as felt tip pen drawings; because of the size of his studio, he couldn’t paint large canvases but could draw and pin paper to the wall. Eventually they became an important part of his practice. Like so many creative people – musicians and writers and probably dancers – Tyson gets out of sorts if he doesn’t do what he does. “I now need to do it pretty much every day. It stops me getting too precious and if I don’t do it, I begin to unravel.”
His grandfather was a great inspiration and there is a touching prose piece in tribute to this man, who was blind. How he lost is sight is obscured in the mists of family folklore; however, he taught Tyson to appreciate sight, “seeing can sometimes blind us to our senses”.
20.05.09 A Blind Man on the Beach: “So I sit here listening to the sea brush the shoreline. I used to see the waves coming in and out, while I now hear the waves emerge to the far left field and travel across the shore to the right field before fading again. All things emerge and fade to me.”
Although Tyson has ostensibly laid out his life in front us, “I wouldn’t want this to be thought of as being completely autobiographical,” he say. “It’s not just about me, it’s about everyone.”
Many of the paintings are dated; they might be the day he did the work although many have taken somewhat longer – one as long as six years – or it might be the day it was started, finished, or even the day of the thought.
His images are flights of fancy, chasing thoughts and memories and mining his interest in science, the cosmos, randomness and serendipity. He sees the exhibition “as scales, a musical composition, each drawing a single instrument, a phrase or a nought”. Like a symphony. He is not fond of all the drawings but “it is important that there are some images that I don’t like, because that is the nature of life.”
Not all of them are personal, some reflect world events.
24th June 2016,
Love, Joy, Beauty, Truth.
Painted in the colours of the European flag, a Referendum Manifesto: What went so wrong?
There is an amazing silvery orb, smashed into and studded with meteorites. If that wasn’t awesome enough, I was literally filled with wonder at his giant portrayal of the cosmos. I thought it was a photograph that he had painted over but no, he has created it from scratch, Tyson has brought each star and satellite into being.
Endearingly, he employed Tony Hart’s technique, the favourite artist of children’s television. “Painting with a toothbrush, spraying it against the black paper, I flicked the paint with my thumb – all 3,000 little dots. There are 100 billion stars making up the galaxy – and each dot represents everything that has happened to us and everything we remember.” Inspired by Dante’s Canto Hell and Heaven, a spark in the void, we are microscopic in time and space.
Before I leave, I notice tucked low down in a corner a painting March 09: So then he dealt the King of Owls. The owl looks at me looking at him into the depth of his eyes, into a pool of knowing. Then I read at the bottom of the painting ‘… and instantly the game seemed pointless’. That somehow deflated me. I wished the owl could have winked at me, shared his wisdom, the precariousness and chance – since it refers obliquely to Tyson’s love of poker. The game of life.
Turn Back Now is on at The Jerwood Gallery, Rock-A-Nore Rd, Hastings, TN34 3DW until 4 June 2017. Opening times Tuesday – Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays: 11am – 5pm.
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