Painting to the Limits of Landscapes
Kenneth Alfred is in process of refining his passion for prints by plunging back, deeper and deeper into painting. ‘Before print-making there was always painting. I do not approach engraving any other was but as a painter. In my adolescence my teacher made known to me the watercolours of Winslow Homer. English landscape-painters too, such as Constable, have accounted for a great deal in my development, and I cannot deny my fascination with the final works on paper by Turner.’
What interests Kenneth Alfred as a painter, in his recent works, is his own comings-and-goings, his returns and then takings-off, distancing himself and then diving back into landscapes yet again. Studying certain golden acres by Ruisdael, under their at-once clear and yet ominous Flemish skies, this artist enjoys imagining that something might be about to happen from within those ominous clouds. What if someone should put a bucket under such paintings, anticipating rain; would the grey clouds then pour down tinted waters?
The artist returned to his ambiguously emotional and yet entertaining love-affair with landscapes in Germany, during 2000-2002, turning out hundreds of small gouache and water-colour sketches. This was in Saint Peter-Ording, a rather special locality where sky and earth meld, a rather indefinite sort of place where, just as in certain paintings, baroque angels may well be imagined to be fluttering about.
‘What interests me in such cases is to describe a zone where there is no longer anything whatever. I approach the sea and never get there, an impression redolent of certain beaches in France. The horizon delineates a space but, the more I advance toward it, the more unlikely it becomes that I shall ever reach it. At such moments, as I walk, I can no longer distinguish any difference whatever between sky and sea, the two utterly indistinguishable, creating inside me a strange impression indeed, that of no longer knowing who I myself have become.’
Such landscapes of a ‘no man’s land’, those empty spaces, are great stimulants to the creative imagination, inspiring each drop of paint to blur the deepest blue with the sharpest of horizons, however vague the resultant impression turns out to be. And so the hundreds of sketch pads have become paintings on canvas, to be accepted as such, as difficult as it is in our time to wend our way through the traces left by our beloved predecessors from previous generations, and to attempt again and again to define our very own selves, very much in the present.
‘My uncertainty was so acute that for a long time I didn’t want to show my paintings to anyone. Now I begin to see my path ahead more clearly. In fact, I think I have found my language and can now bask in it.’
It is easy to imagine Kenneth Alfred’s joy and relief in finding that his visual language is much the same as that utilised in his prints. His new self-imposed format and even more so his rigorously limited boundaries resemble those of the classical sonnet that poets invented, delighted to discover that within rigid constraints all freedoms become possible.
‘In each case, I have to follow my discovery through to its conclusion, in a sense to the point of exhaustion. When I have thoroughly resolved one subject in this manner, and to my satisfaction, then and only then can I pass on to another subject. Within this self-imposed rigidity, I am set free to confront other problems within this same working language of mine, and follow them through to completion.’
The works of this painter/engraver have led him into a ‘series’ of queries, a desire to follow a path that permits attempting everything conceivable within the confines of this one new sense of format, a species of adventure that consists of juggling various points of view. By embarking on several paintings at once, little by little a whole is achieved. A kind of ‘family’ is thereby founded, ‘rather like a novel whose various chapters form a story described in fragments, each alone and together contributing to its one entity or, who knows, an unexpected other entity. Each attempt relates a particle of the reality it describes, a reality impossible to be revealed in any other way. This is a bit like a concert of symphonic music, where the spectator waits to see what is going to happen. The musicians tune up. Discordant tones disappear. Next, a terrible silence, almost fatal. The conductor appears, raises his baton, and there you have it: his musicians play in harmony.’ Kenneth Alfred here evokes a work by Deacon, ‘What Can Make Me Feel This Way?’ It is emotion that interests him. ‘Caravaggio’s Deposition from the Cross troubles us even if we are not believers. Indefinable emotions come to us also while listening to Bach.’
Extract of text by Laurence Boitel Un Parfum de Dessin
Exhibition catalogue, Ateliers 2, Villeneuve d’Ascq, 2006
Translated from French by Leslie Schenk