Bach to Braque
Artist Andrew Gathercole explores how Georges Braque sought to create a new language in painting through a visual interrogation of the laws of music
Is the title of this large oil a red herring? For Braque was known to introduce sign writing and/or actual printed material to invigorate dull passages of paintwork. But the sheer number of paintings of exploded guitars, violins and accordions that Braque hacked to bits, like a demented anatomy student trying to find the soul, by cutting open the brain, suggest his intentions were a little more serious. An amateur musician, he collected instruments which became vital to his search for a more manual and tactile space. He sought to throw off the worn-out illusions of Impressionism with their tricks and vanishing points and above all their sentimental anecdotes.
And might he have heard Bach being played on the organ in the Basilica de la Sacre Coeur, the white church on the hill of Montmartre and there glimpsed the possibility of a new language that soars beyond the mere illustration to an accountable system, more couched in sacred geometry, another dimension, with an arcane law that rewards the diligent student? Are these the first scumblings of quantum physics?
He had to limit his palette to the ochre and umber, earthen tints that focus the mind on tone, like the twelve-tone cycles of Bach's disciplined exercises in manual dexterity. He rejects the multiple choice of sensual colour, researched using collages of faux-bois - marbled paper, torn newsprint, a pencil - and then just blew up his findings. "In art, progress lies not in an extension, but in a knowledge of limitations", Braque wrote.