The passage of sunlight, casting into relief and tracing its daily path across the worn surfaces, the pavements and floors of ancient buildings has captured my attention for some years. In these works Rome’s Cosmatesque pavements, provide the impetus for further reflection on the nature of time and human experience, that has been the deeper subject of my work since returning to painting.
The precious marble cladding and columns of Rome's classical ruins were already over a thousand years old during the 12th and 13th centuries, when the Cosmati craftsmen produced these complex geometrical pavements in the city’s papal basilicas. Over centuries of human traffic, cycles of construction and reconstruction, development, decay, they have been worn, polished and scared by the feet of clerics and the faithful. The dreams and sorrows of high and low can be traced in their remains. In the interlinking of squares and circles human temporality is met by the eternal.
The paintings are all accurate representations of pavements in specific basilicas. They range in size from the vast papal basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, to the diminutive San Benedetto in Piscinula, little bigger that the gallery in which we stand. Though I have taken occasional liberties with other architectural elements in some of these buildings, I have sought to represent the special character of invitation with which each one enfolds the visitor.
At the still point of the turning world
There the dance is… And there is only the dance wrote T S Elliot
TS Elliot’s reflections on the patterning of human experience in time elaborated in the Four Quartets provide not just the titles, but also the contemplative under pinning of these paintings in my own experiences of life, loss, exploration, discovery and love.
While the serpentine guilloche and quincunx motifs of these pavements are saturated in theological and liturgical significance, they were also the product of decorative traditions going back through Islamic and Byzantine sources to classical antiquity. Here was an opportunity for me to return to the medium of ceramic tiles and to explore a more decorative interplay of text and pattern. Fragments of Elliot’s text, the trace of bud and leaf, the imprint of a discarded sundial now fired and glazed reflect the passing light in different ways. In laying out these patterns, crafting shaping and piecing them together I feel a closer to, but humbled by the breath-taking artistry of these long dead artisans whose lives and work now play their part in mine.
Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter. T S Elliot
Paintings and ceramic panels inspired by the Cosmatesque pavements of Rome by Peter Atkinson.