Thursday, 5 February 2009

Painting and conscious awareness

Philip Nicol, Sun Shower, oil on canvas

This painting depicts a scene that I have never seen in actuality. It may be something the artist never actually saw either. But this creates no problems for me in recognising what I see. I am able to 'remember' not only each object but the way they appear subject to the peculiar lighting conditions in play.

It depicts a scene — a collection of objects — I have seen countless times in various configurations and under numerous lighting conditions, but perhaps rarely paid attention to.

So there is a strong sense of familiarity without there being an equally precise sense of actual location.

What this painting, and others like it, seem to do is bring to the front of my conscious awareness a visual experience that I have experienced but not appreciated. It directs my attention towards, for example, the coloured puddles each reflecting a different part of the space above. There is a delight in remembering these that comes from seeing them as puddles and patches of paint at the same time.

Since my attention is on the painting, and not the scene it depicts (as it would be in actuality), I give consideration to what I might otherwise overlook. My immediate conscious awareness is populated by both a vividly present arrangement of marks and something more remote in my memory. It makes me conscious of my own mind.

(With thanks to Philip Nicol for permission to reproduce the painting)