Even Chaos Must Coexist With Order

Interview with Haydn Dickenson by Beata Piechocka

Artist: Haydn Dickenson
Country and nationality: UK/English
Born: 1961, Hertfordshire
Education: high education in fine art and music fields
Main Theme: abstraction
Art Direction: contemporary artist
Main Art Subject: paintings on canvas, board
Inspired by: the Natural World, and by Humanity, Mysticism, Spirituality and Sensuality
Favourite artists: De Kooning, Philip Guston, Joan Mitchell, Francis Bacon, Klimt, Rodin
Exhibitions and Highlights: Haydn’s works are in private collections across the UK, Western and Eastern Europe, the USA, the Far and the Middle East

In my art, I prefer to delve beneath the surface and reflect submerged or hidden realms, rather than to imitate the glory of nature or of the immediately obvious.

I always painted, and I always drew

Beata Piechocka: You started painting when still a student. You even won an award at the age of 16, and then your creative path diverged towards music. Did your art teachers stifle your creativity? What happened?

Haydn Dickenson: From my youngest years, I always painted, and I always drew. As a withdrawn, often unhappy child, drawing was my solace. My father was a gifted amateur pianist who immersed himself in classical music, my mother a superb trained artist. Music and art suffused my young years and there was a degree of conflict between the two parental influences. It was not easy. At school my maverick approach to painting was already apparent, and my teachers did not like that!

BP: After years as a concert pianist you came full-circle and went back to painting. Did music become an insufficient means of expression for you?

HD: Never! I continue to play for my own pleasure – indeed I play now with more pleasure than I did   during my performing days! I am obsessed with the great pianists of the so-called ‘Golden Age’ and my playing has always been influenced by them. This was too extreme a style for today’s objective age – one reason why I retreated from the concert platform. Additionally, I became fascinated by New Music, having pieces written for me by outstanding living composers. I was honoured to premiere these pieces, but the public for such cutting-edge music was small, and not sufficient to sustain a career. However, I still teach piano, separate to my career in the visual arts.

BP: You interpret the world through abstraction. This can be seen in both your painting and the fact that you are a musician. There is probably no more abstract branch of art than music. Why does abstraction appeal to you the most?

HD: Abstraction allows me, amongst other things, to give vent to my fascination with dreams, spirituality and the subconscious. In my art, I prefer to delve beneath the surface and reflect submerged or hidden realms, rather than to imitate the glory of nature or of the immediately obvious. Nature – which profoundly moves me – imbues my work deeply, but emotionally and spiritually, rather than in a literal sense.

BP: Contemporary art in general -particularly abstraction – gives the artist the freedom to create in an unfettered style, free of rules. It seems to me however, that you are unusual in this regard, as your paintings seem  quite structured, as can be seen in the balanced and logically constructed composition of your work. Your background in classical music also puts you more in the line of gifted interpreters of clearly defined parameters than that of the rebel or maverick.  I wonder how consciously you use the rules of composition as the basis for artistic expression in your work?

HD: Composition is as important in Abstract Art as in more traditional forms. Even chaos must coexist with order. But I use no ‘rules’ in my work, compositional or otherwise, just as in my piano playing – not consciously anyway! Jorge Bolet told us that there are no absolutes in music – for me, the same applies to art! In any case, much of what we do, in all art forms, happens without our intervention.

 Music is rooted deep in my soul.

BP. To what degree does music influence your art?  Do you use the framework of artistic expression as you would use a music score? I notice musical references in your titles, from time to time – for instance, “Submerged Melodies”. Tell me about these references.

HD: Music is rooted deep in my soul. I have music running through my head at all times; not only classical, but jazz (which I adore), vintage rock and other genres.  John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Thelonius Monk, the Doors and others are as important to me as Bach and Chopin. Sometimes the melodies may be ‘submerged’, sometimes they flood to the surface. I consider the marks made by my brush to be music too; just as when I play the piano, I paint with sound.

BP. The Russian Artist Dasha Balashova has written about your art. Can you tell us something about your artistic encounter with Dasha?

HD: Dasha Balashova and I encountered each other’s work through art connections on Social Media, when I was just starting to paint seriously around fifteen years ago. At this time, Dasha was exceptionally encouraging and generous to me in her endorsement of my work. I have always found Dasha’s work spiritually powerful and also highly sensitive and delicate, and I will  thank her always  for her very kind and moving words.

BP.I know you don’t like it when someone tries to find an explanation for your abstraction, as I just did in the question about “Submerged Melodies”! Unfortunately, this cannot be avoided. The human brain craves to interpret what it sees in a way that we can understand – we cannot completely divorce abstraction from concrete ideas. It has even been stated that true or pure abstraction does not exist, because everything has its origin in reality. I am interested in your thoughts on this!

HD: What is reality? When we look at an abstract painting, the object of our gaze is reality itself – the artist’s heart laid bare on the physical canvas. In contemplating nature, our minds and souls can drift into subconscious realms – are these real or are they imagined? In the same way, we can see abstraction in the infinite patterns of nature, notwithstanding that nature exhibits a divine order.  When I paint shapes, or ‘take a line for a walk’ as Paul Klee liked to do, the viewer may see echoes of finite, concrete objects or beings; but when I make that line, I am most content when  it exists for a reason no more or less great than the sheer joy of its creation, unfettered by concrete references. Patrick Heron coined the epithet ‘pure visual beauty’; this, I feel, is close to the way I want things to be in my painting.

BP: Our research shows that your art has a largely male following, at almost 90% of the total audience. Would you agree that men are, in general, more drawn to abstraction than women? Is it just your style, perhaps, that appeals to males? Do you consider that a specifically male or female style can exist in painting?

HD: I am surprised to hear that my following is largely male. I do not agree that men are more attracted to abstract art than women. A specifically male or female style in painting? This is immaterial to me! In a Jungian sense,  both the animus and the anima exist in all of us, transcending the personal psyche.

BP: What exactly does art bring to your life? Is it a means of expressing emotions or a concept, or is it an interpretation of the world of today?

HD: The former, and certainly not the latter. My art can at times be almost unbearably personal.

 I’m going back behind the surface to something hidden

BP: It has been said about your work that your paintings look as if they took 5 minutes to create, that there is no evidence of effort or struggle! You know well that I do not agree with this opinion and would like to hear your reply to such an ‘accusation’. Is it really true that you paint artwork in 5 minutes? How much work does the artist really put into creating abstraction?

HD: Unfortunately all creators of abstract art have to be prepared to face this kind of ‘criticism’. Too often we are confronted with statements such as “my four-year-old could have painted that” or worse still, “I could have painted that”! Picasso famously said that it took him four years to learn to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to learn how to paint like a child. Do not confuse simplicity of utterance with the statements of a simpleton; such triviality of mind is to be lamented in our supposedly evolved age.  It is a fact that not one of my paintings took ‘five minutes’ to create but indeed  I must say that, had it been so and that the painting was a good one, I would rejoice at the achievement of creating a communicative piece of work as a ‘moment’ – as a thought transferred into wild, urgent gesture, as a snapshot of burning creation.  It would be preferable that, if people don’t like the painting, they say so, rather than demeaning themselves with a facile analysis. In most of my paintings there is a huge element of ‘struggle’ which adds to the impact of the final piece as much as the (very rare) instances where the creativity is so channelled that the painting’s birth is fast and inevitable. When you contemplate a piece of art with a view to buying it, it seems to me bizarre that you might factor its gestation period into your perception of its intrinsic artistic value, bearing in mind that it will, potentially, grace your walls for a lifetime. Surely, the deciding factor is, do you like the painting or not?

BP: Staying with that same theme, do you think that a real work of art can be created in 5 minutes and whether the value of a work can be measured by the amount of work put into it? For many art consumers, the amount of work seems to be important, for others not. How do you, the artist see it?

HD: The infinitely touching, masterly erotic sketches by Klimt and Rodin may indeed , in some cases, have been created in five minutes or less; but they are so much more than mere ‘speed-sketches’ (an awful term). The speed is part of the miracle.

BP: It seems to me that your works are characterized by several styles. I perceive elements of both lyrical and geometric abstraction, and sometimes these intertwine. For example, the picture: “A Place To Be” would qualify more for geometric abstraction and “Submerged Melodies” is very lyrical. Are these styles dependent on your mood/concept, or do they reflect stages of artistic development and change with you? Is it perhaps a matter of loose experimentation?

HD: I find both these aspects of my style lyrical. Lyricism can be found in minimalist shapes and intersecting lines just as it can in dreamlike planes of colour. In music the same applies to Schoenberg or Hindemith as it does to Schumann or Schubert. We need to look beyound surface things. I do not consider that either aspect, as mentioned above, takes precedence in my work; some days my path draws me to mists and miasmas, some days to apparent clarity. I stress the word ‘apparent’!

BP: Your most recent paintings include “Albatross” and “The Way The Waves Come In”. These two pieces differ in style from their predecessors. Similarly, “Conundrum”, in which collage features. Do you now forego geometric forms or colour fields in favour of varied texture, abrasions and indefinite coloured patches? Is this your new style?

HD: These two paintings may differ somewhat from their immediate predecessors. I try never to stand still, artistically. The idea of a production line where everything seems to be the same painting, repainted, is anathema to me. You will find however, that collage features heavily in much of my work over a period of years – this is nothing new. Conundrum playfully explores this layer of working, as does “Deviating Forms”, another recent piece. I love to use collage in this way, delighting in the extra possibilities it offers in building textures and depth – but it is no new departure.

BP: Regardless of the style, your works are often economical in terms of artistic means used, but expressive in outcome. Usually you use dark, seemingly ‘sketched’ outlines, simple colours and geometric forms. However, applying contrasts between these colours as well as between the colour spot and its outline introduces tension. Sometimes you also differentiate shapes by techniques such as scratching-back, which seems to introduce an element of anxiety. How have these means of expression evolved? Which of these means of expression do you use most often?

HD: Scratching-back, as a way of mark-making, appeals to me as it means I’m going back behind the surface to something hidden, even perhaps to the canvas itself, the pure ground. I have a favourite painting knife with a pointed blade, a very old one from pre-war Germany, that I love to use for this. It is a kind of talisman. What I would do if it ever broke, I do not know! I am no stranger to anxiety, but I would prefer to see the marks made by scratching as urgent creative gestures rather than as something negative. Which means do I use more often? None, deliberately!

Art should challenge the viewer.

BP: Your colours are usually a primary or basic colour palette. Usually, there are no more than two plus white in the image. However, in the Tone Fields series of paintings, you showed real colour madness (except for number 5)! I really like this series very much. The same with “Untorn” or “La Jouissance” What was the inspiration for these artworks?

HD: I am glad that you use the word ‘madness’! From Dryden we learn that “Great wits are to madness near allied, and thin partitions do their bounds divide.” Art should challenge the viewer, and if it is on the edge of madness like the great Fugue from Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata, so much the better.  There is an exultant, frenzied exuberance in the two paintings that you mention. My work embodies the Yang as well as the Yin, and perhaps it is the Yang of mad elation that you have identified here.

BP: When you create a painting, which takes priority – the painted subject or the means of expression used?

HD: The expressive path is always the path.

BP: Is the title created first and then you think about what you will paint or is it the other way round – a picture is created and then the title is born?

HD: The title is never created first. I prefer to start the journey, and then see where it leads me. Every painting is a voyage, sometimes taking several months to complete. My titles are often cryptic. Why would I wish to stultify the imagination of the viewer?

BP: You exhibit your paintings at the open-air exhibition on the Bayswater Road in London. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to visit the exhibition yet but in the pictures your paintings look impressive, especially the larger ones. Please tell us more about this exhibition.

HD: Artists have been exhibiting on the railings of Kensington Gardens since the very early 1960’s, making the Bayswater Exhibition one of the longest-standing open-air exhibitions in the world, open every single Sunday of the year. I am fortunate to be involved in the running of this important part of London’s cultural heritage.

BP: What are your three favourite paintings and why?

HD: “Through The Looking Glass” for its airy lightness, “The Way The Waves Come In” for its brooding mystery, “Mind Garden” for its Zen-like tranquillity.

Haydn enjoys the company of few rather than many.

BP: How would you like to encourage potential buyers of your paintings?

HD: By encouraging people to connect with the sheer joy inherent in appreciating colour, tone, line and texture. By shedding pre-conceptions.

BP: Privately, you are a fan of healthy cuisine and an excellent cook. You grow your own vegetables. Here we see many talents in one person! Surely, cooking is also an art form and requires creativity when creating – what do you think?

HD: Cooking can certainly be an art form! Balancing flavours, textures and nutrition in food, together of course with the strong visual element is not so different from painting or making music! Incidentally my daughter, also excellent at drawing and painting, is a chef by profession!

BP: Who else is Haydn Dickenson privately?

HD: Haydn is someone who enjoys the company of few rather than a multitude, who relishes country walks rather than the bustle of the city, who loves books, galleries, concerts, films, music, evenings cooking with friends and family, wine  and the company of his dog.

BP: What is the next step in your career path?

HD: I don’t  view things as isolated steps, rather as an onward journey. Let’s see where the path leads.

BP: On behalf of the all in the gallery, thank you for this interview and I wish you success in the future.

HD: Thank you, Beata. It is an honour to be represented by a gallery as fresh and innovative as yours.

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