Reflections On No Man Is An Island

I always look at a map before I travel. When I look my mind is free to roam and to imagine. I am simultaneously lost and placed within a two dimensional coordinate. My wandering eye follows the patterns and contours mentally and emotionally transporting my imagination from place to place in this flat, lazy, aspirational, adventure. Exotic place names rouse my attention, sights and sounds wander through my mind but the experience empty; a blank canvas filled only by personal projections, waiting to be filled by the reality that awaits.

Thinking about the Arctic sea ice and our forthcoming show, and trying to find a way to bring it all together. Aerial images of broken ice floating on a deep blue sea. The sounds of home, London, noise, traffic, trains, the melting pot. The shape of the land formed by ice, carving our geography over time. The environmental inter-dependency of two disparate places, both islands in their own way, each exists in its own respective bubble but what happens in one quietly effects the other.

Whilst contemplating this I happened upon the poem No Man Is An Island written by John Donne in 1624:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

I wanted to start with a painting. It’s been three years since the last time I worked on canvas. This time it feels like a meditation, an introduction to this journey, as a visual representation of the Arctic map I pored over four weeks ago, linking London to the Arctic sea ice through the projected outline of an OS map of Greater London. I wanted to find a way of visually representing ice using oil paint in a two-dimensional, simplistic but striking image. Building up thin layers of paint to experiment with translucent washes and the effects produced culminated with a return to rich oil colour using a Prussian Blue and exposing only hints of the previous washes beneath the white. It’s intended as the first of a series of three also to include a representation of all the London boroughs and the third of all the UK counties broken up across the canvas.

For the show I’m planning to exhibit it mounted horizontally on a plinth. The reading of No man Is An Island will loop from beneath. Mounting a painting flat on a plinth rather than on a wall means it can be situated in a central space of the gallery, existing in its own right as an island, around which the audience can move, and as an aerial view, gaze down upon.