AMONG the large paintings in Mark Cazalet’s current exhibition in west London is a board covered with what seem to be haphazard dabs and squiggles of colour; but, on closer inspection, it is clear that every brush stroke is unique in its length, width, shape, tone, depth, and shade of colour.
“Colour which, like music, is a matter of vibration, reaches what is most general and therefore most indefinable in nature, its inner power,” Gauguin observed; and Cazalet (Arts, 21 January 2017), with his rich visual memory of the diverse colours accumulated from his painting residencies abroad in the Holy Land, India, Egypt, France, and the United States, has echoed this in “Resonances” and allowed meditation to guide his hand, and masterly use of colour — and indeed non-colour — to endeavour to express oneness with God in Nature, but within the classical bounds of art.
He says that he uses colour like an ingredient in a dish. Balance is all important : yellow is beautiful, but if you put too much in, you spoil the whole thing.
Many of the exhibition works are huge — 80cm × 200cm — made of different-coloured strokes upon strokes, mostly executed in oil pastel on khadi paper, a thick uneven textured paper handmade from wood pulp and cotton rags in India, which he buys in a shop near West Dean College, where he is a senior lecturer.
Some of the subjects are from the Bible. One of the largest is Simeon, which after contemplation, suggests the evening, the Nunc Dimittis, and giving thanks for the day and life the Lord has given. The colours are deep, vertical rust brown streaks indicating struggle and sadness, but rich as for a life fulfilled, suggesting a farm labourer walking home over the harvested fields and rough paths, with glimpses of dusk-blue sky and pink, heralding a fine day to follow and hope to come.
Advent Haze 1, 2, and 3 are composed of three planet-like circles 55cm in diameter, with different soft colours brushed in narrow lines over and across others. Advent Haze 1 seems clearer and sharper, with turquoise and apricot predominating, while Advent Haze 2 becomes mistier, as though clouds are covering it; but then Advent Haze 3 emerges in darker, stronger blue and red, as though doubts about the holy birth have been dispelled.
© Mark CazaletAdvent Haze 2, 2018, by Mark Cazalet
To celebrate life itself and following a chosen path away from the norm we are offered a delightful After Lunch with Gauguin, where you can almost see the scene in Tahiti, taste the fish cooked en plein air, and local wine followed by the siesta, in colours so vividly portrayed by Gauguin himself.
Also very pleasing and cheerful are eight small Mosaic Diptychs 35.5 × 46cm, oil on masonite, bursting with bright, beautiful colours; and six perspective studies in red on blue, blue on red, in various sizes, using the square hard Conté and chalks on paper. There are also six slightly larger versions of Summer in oil pastel on paper with shapes of bright birds, branches, and trees. Other larger pieces are also colourful and bright and happy. Cazalet says he wants people to feel happy and that their spirits are lifted when looking at them.
Cazalet spent time both as artist-in-residence and artist at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation in Connecticut, a retreat founded by the two artists to allow painters to stay there for several months just painting, while all their material needs are catered for. Anni’s Pond Night is a tribute to Anni, with harmonious light- and dark-brown landscape and muted shapes. He also depicts several scenes of the woods near Bethany, a village near the Foundation, at night, in the day, and under snow, in gentle green, blue, and purple pastels, reminiscent of grisaille. One doesn’t notice the absence of figures and buildings, because we seem to be one with the trees and landscape he paints, and resonate with their life force.
© Mark Cazalet
Night Watch 2, 2018, by Mark Cazalet
To experience the art of Cazalet is often to be moved from one dimension to another; for he seems to lead us from the verdant brightness of a convent garden into the concentrated holy darkness of its chapel with the eight small sections of oil on wood called Dazzling Darkness. Taken from Henry Vaughan’s poem “Night”, Cazalet interprets visually Vaughan’s theme of how Nicodemus came to meet Jesus at night in the woods, and in the darkness sees the Light of Christ more clearly than in the bright day when one is distracted and wearied by world activities and duties. We see a light panel and a dark one next to each other, but, although they may seem the same, they emit a different vibration.
Moon Wood, Dusk, and Late Glow, smaller circles of oil pastel on paper, also suggest woods at night with their deep darker shapes.
Cazalet finds great peace and growth in spiritual awareness in woodlands: he regularly spends time in Suffolk, where he shares a cottage with his brother, Roger, and draws and sketches in the woods near by. He is also inspired by Martin Heidegger, who wrote of walking through the woods without knowing where one is going and suddenly finding a clearing where the sun filters in. One walks on again until there may be another clearing. This is the process of the creative mind: always moving with moments of clarity and depth which are not constant and come and go.
This also seems to be the path of the seeker for truth.
“Mark Cazalet: Resonances 2012-18” is at the Serena Morton Gallery, 343 Ladbroke Grove, London W10, until 31 March. Phone 07716 558732.