Hadiiqat Il Bambaan – The Teargas Garden
A Sudanese friend came across Khartoum to the studio. Written on a painting of a Madonna suckling a bathtub of baby submarines I have written in in Arabic “Mother of Submarines” (“Im il Ghowasaat”). He asks me if I know what “ghowasaat” refers to in Sudanese slang – “We call informers for the government security police the submarines”. I like this tethering of the painting to place and politics. It gave me some faith that the paintings hadn’t got caught in the screeching, feedback loop between painter and painted.
These paintings have been made in Sudan. They hang, un-stretched, in the studio – heavy as campaign flags; the globules of paint thick as epaulette brocade. Then there are tender glazed passages. The paintings’ energy oscillates between classical lyricism and neo-expressionist gestures. These are paintings that attempt to reconcile the neurosis of historical signification with the desire/fantasy for self-expression. The striped canvas comes from the tent maker, unprimed and receptive to bleeding. 90% of my time is spent on paint tensions and weight. On how best to render a code of resistances in colour and tone. And the other 10%?…..
The paintings get to the stage when they are independent enough to become impenetrable to me; the feeling of going back into the studio after the night before – I recognize them but I do not know them. It is an estrangement that exerts a tender pull.
We had found a house surrounded by an overgrown garden. At dusk thousands of birds swirled in the air as they came to roost in the tall mature trees that protected the garden. High up above them, African Kites, Black Shite Hawks would circle the thermals looking for prey. We would sleep our three-month-old daughter under the trees until we saw one of these birds of prey swooping over her cot. It reminded me of a painting by Rembrandt of an eagle carrying off the baby Ganymede. In the painting the baby is urinating out of fear. There is a pencil study for the painting in which the child is excreting in terror. The soaring wings and the gravity of human waste; a combination of the aspiration of existence with the muddy sinews of reality.
When the paintings are successful, they oscillate on that border between tender fragility and nascent hope. The garden thrived in the relatively balmy heat of winter – new flowers bloomed to paint. I would take the big canvases out into the garden to paint the plants from life. It was a time of protest in Sudan, daily violence from the state security services. Painting in the garden, kids playing, black smoke rising through the trees from burning tires. The young voices of the revolutionaries were beautiful in the way they simplified hope with its trinity of demands – Freedom, Justice and Peace. Simple truths were replacing complex repressions. Then the security services started the attack, stray teargas cannisters (“Bambaan” in Sudanese) landed in the garden. In the still air of evening the white mist settled into a thin haze around the paintings.