Presence: artistic practice, poetry and phenomenology
Publish Date: Tuesday, 28 April 2020
Presence: artistic practice, poetry and phenomenology

Peter Belton - Prospecting; Livingstone Country, Waitaki 2014In 2014 Peter Belton’s research and studio practice took two not incompatible directions. The first has been the continuation and development of his practice with drawing into painting, and the second has produced a series of poems about painters, both contemporary and historic.

Peter created several poems as part of his artistic practice in 2014. ‘Through these poems I have brought to bear my interest in teaching art History and Theory,’ Peter explains. ‘Each makes reference to an event, or a trauma, in another artist’s life and each identifies saliencies about that artist’s method or style.’ Peter started writing in mid-2014 and completed a series of 18 poems about painters, some of which have been published in Landfall and on the National Library Website; Poet Laureate’s Blog.

Between the 2nd of May and 15th June Peter exhibited four paintings in South, a Celebration, at the Southland Museum & Art Gallery in a ‘by invitation’ group show. These paintings were part of a continuing development of his interest in constructing the sensation of movement in and through landscaped space, presented on a flat rectangular surface. ‘Compositions such as these rely for making sense on both phenomenological and analogical associations,’ says Peter. ‘And, what is meant by this? Phenomenological association happens through the medium of our own bodies; through physical sensations and the discovery of limitations, challenged and recalled. Sensation arouses recognition and memory.’

By way of illustrating his point Peter has invoked, when teaching a first year art history class, a story about J. M. W. Turner. ‘When Turner’s painting Rain, Stream and Speed on the Great Western Railway (1844) was shown for the first time at the Royal Academy exhibition, in London, its sensational surface effects caused offence. One gentleman, standing in front of this canvas, declared it to be a nonsense. There was, standing near, a woman. She had been looking and seeing into this painting for some time. She turned to this gentleman: “It is true.” she said, “I was there.” And, she described what she saw. When travelling on the Great Western line from London to Bristol the train pulled into Pangbourne Station. Outside it was dusk and the weather was atrocious; raging wind and driving rain. Into her compartment stepped a thickset middle aged man; his oilskin shedding water. When the train rocked into motion he asked if this lady would mind if he opened a window. Thinking of travel sickness, she assented. He then hung out of the carriage window up to his midriff, in the tempest, for a good ten minutes. Then, with no apparent ill effect, he shut the window and sat down. Captured by her own curiosity, she tried the same; if only for a few seconds.’

Peter suggests that stories are sustained, as myths, through the relevance to our own circumstances and a necessary connection to feelings such as anxiety, desire and fear. ‘I wasn’t sure whether this story was apocryphal as one account gave it, or based on a real event,’ says Peter. ‘I had read the name of the woman in one account. Imagine my delight when an art student at SIT, with the same surname, told me this was a story told in her own family of a meeting with “the” Turner.’

Peter’s work is based upon the concept of presence or being there. He sees this as essential to the thread of connection, be it in the domain of poetry or painting. ‘Presence is a fragile condition; it can be easily erased or overridden and altered. In that case any replacement is a palimpsest; as when a new text or meaning is written over the top of the old. Nothing holds permanence and what we thought of as indubitably being seems to be slipping away into the realm of the spectral; as with memory.’

The Tricks (2014)

The trick of poetry lies in parenthesis.
Which is to say, between breaths.

The trick of painting lies in palimpsest.
Which is to say; its rubbing over.

As Picasso said to Marius de Zayas​ over another bottle: ‘To find is the thing.’

- Peter Belton

Pictured above: Prospecting; Livingstone Country, Waitaki (2014) by Peter Belton. Mixed oil media with encaustic and Livingstone marl. 770x900mm.