Maybe not the most obvious in the general arsenal of composition tools, but the way I work now, a lot of my pieces start with a piece of art. And more often than not that piece of art is one that I’ve seen in the Tate Modern. I LOVE that place. You can see & hear me burbling on about it in the video they made of me for the (doomed) Creative Journeys project. I find it an easy place to burble about.
To start with, there’s so much to see, and all sorts of different styles, ideas, textures, media – everything from a giant’s table and chairs – like something out of Alice in Wonderland post-Drink Me – to crazy Dadaist collages and the astoundingly emotional Seagram Murals of Mark Rothko.
The Rothko Room is my favourite place in London. The Seagram Murals have actually been travelling about the world for quite some time and golly gosh, I’ve missed them (I believe they’re back home now. Must go and visit them again). It’s like a haven of insecurity and instability, if that makes any sense at all. A safe room where the art on the walls seems more and more full of risk the more time you spend with it. It’s like being perfectly still but being surrounded by a great mass of tiny movements. One day I will write a piece for the Seagram Murals. I’m working up to it.
Two recent pieces I’ve written which have started at the Tate Modern are Deconstruct: Point, line, plane and Thickets. Deconstruct starts with Kandinsky. Not any particular Kandinsky, but more the Kandinskyness of Kandinsky. I went to the big exhibition of his work they had a couple of years ago and it sort of stuck with me. That piece comes out of colours and lines, to start with, but is ultimately more about his ideas, especially those in his book Point and Line to Plane. Thickets, on the other hand, started with a specific painting – a room-sized triptych by Cy Twombly – then developed out into more abstract ideas sparked by that painting, ideas about enclosure, security, safety, claustrophobia, connections. I don’t know that either piece would make an uninformed listener leap up and cry “By golly! Kandinsky!” or “It’s just Cy Twombly all over!” but for me the art is a critical point of the process which is how it ended up where it ended up.
Of course, the Tate itself is in London, which is nice and handy for me right now, but not necessarily for you. But don’t let that stop you! The Tate website has all sorts of things on it – go and have a wander round! There’s Tate Channel for interesting videos on artists and exhibitions, the TateShots blog for exploring various aspects of the collection and the Collection section offers a variety of ways to browse the Tate’s amazing (and huge) collection – and not just what’s physically on display at the moment. You can even explore Tate artworks in Google Street View!