In the Tangents

I have often used the phrase, “somewhere between what is hidden and what is seen” as a way to describe what pulls me in and inspires. So I was enchanted when a young Irish student visiting a show of my work in West County Cork turned to me and said, “I think I know what your art is about. You are painting the backside of everything.”

The following excerpt is from a course taught by Robert Tilley at the Aquinas Academy in Sydney, and also speaks to that backside view of things:

It would be foolish to think that one could capture beauty, distill a thing down, hive off its incidentals, until one were left with its pure essence; its beautiful quiddity.

Beauty is something more in the order of an orientation; an orientation away to that which is other to the thing itself. Contrary to what both alchemists and modern cosmetic manufacturers hope for, one cannot capture the essence of beauty into a pragmatic, empirical, product. Rather, in a sense, beauty is captured–if that’s the right word–in tangents, deflections, hints, intimations, whispers, and often in the most unlikely places, at the borders of things. We might say that this is because, tangents and so forth are themselves signs of deferral and thus, at times, transcendence.

It is art that when well done best captures this feel for the tangential.

(Thank you to my friend Alma Denton for sending Tilley’s writings to me.)

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