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Bridging the Void.
Jonathan Austen

At the heart of the work of Geoff Sansbury there is a language that is both elusive and lyrical; it speaks in signs and symbols that substitute for the real. In his paintings we see a deployment of signs and symbols; they seem to deliberately avoid clear definition and lead us into an obscure territory of conflicting signposts. We are left alone with very few points of reference, perhaps the suggestion of architectonic space or human form substituted by mechanistic symbols; little else. In this metaphysical world we feel an overpowering sense of solitude.
"Our world",Jean Baudrillard tells us, has been launched into hyperspace in a kind of post-modern apocalypse "….leaving us satellites in aimless orbit around an empty centre. We breathe an ether of floating images that no longer bear a relation to any reality whatsoever.” That, according to Baudrillard, is simulation: the substitution of signs of the real for the real. In hyper reality signs no longer represent or refer to an external model. They stand for nothing but themselves and refer only to other signs. Sansbury describes this world of signs and in doing so takes us to the “empty centre” or to the edge of the void. Are we protected within the architectural space or are we trapped?
Stripped of the cushioning of our self-built worlds, he requires us to take a meditative stance and confront the nothingness. What is offered in terms of redemption? Are we redeemed from solitude by spiritual ‘announcements’ from outside our ‘room’ (in some works we surely get that feeling) or from some inner power?
In the work ‘Serenity’ the latter is clearly the case. The artist himself has said “This is one of my more successful works; it functions both as subject and object and describes that rare moment when there is a tangible coming together of the spiritual and physical.”
In the series of drawings subtitled ‘Terrifying Angels’ we see a clear clue as to the influence of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke on the artist. Extracts from the Sonnets to Orpheus are foot noted on the works. We should be careful to note that, as in Rilke, the angels referred to are not the angels of religion and that any visual ‘announcements’ made through the arched walls have no specific Christian reference. The artists’ visual language describes the inside and the outside; the visible and the invisible. The work of Geoff Sansbury often deliberately defies categories and for this reason poses difficulties for the critic. Where do we place him? He is neither an abstract or representational artist, nor is he a symbolist and in only some cases is he a conceptualist. He has been described separately as ‘New Lyricist ‘ (Times) and ‘bearing more affinity to the late works of Turner in his spatial treatment’ (Guardian). Whilst I can see lyricism in his drawings and agree with the allusion to Turner in his treatment of ‘Serenity’, I myself feel it unnecessary to fall into the trap of drawing artistic parallels.
In his work the human form becomes mechanical, the mechanical becomes human; each in its turn becomes a simulation. These simulations become new entities. These entities almost describe Rilkes’ ‘Deadly birds of the soul’ and within them we see a conflict, “the perpetual encampment of Apollonian against Dionysian forces” . These two descriptions of the dynamics of the human condition go a long way to inform us as to where Sansburys’ true affiliations rest.
For him idea is paramount.
He strives to show the elusive nature of Rilkes’ notions of beauty and the void. Rilke writes “Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are still just able to endure” . This a complex idea for an artist to seek to represent visually. Sansbury admits “it is probably an impossible task to hold those notions together and contain them in a single image. The affirmation of both the terrifying and the beautiful at the same time is a lifetime work. In ‘Serenity’ I feel I come nearest; the image floats into a state of becoming invisible. There is no fear or anger; just a calmness and sense of unity.” In ‘War’ two dynamic shapes that attack from and retreat to the extreme edges of the picture plane replace the floating form of ‘Serenity’. Between the shapes there is a defined barrier that is both a rift and a ‘log jam’ of accumulated marks. Here the architectural space is entirely closed off. In ‘Diptych’ there is an exit/entrance. In ‘Serenity’ we see the portal fusing and disappearing. He is telling us that the void is both inside and outside and that inevitably we must confront it and deal with its terrifying nature.
Both Rilke and Nietzsche have interpreted a possible salvation from the void. Each note that we seem to cover up the fact that it exists. We do this by using a concoction of religion, politics, human relationships and all forms of arbitrary occupations. For both the only true way to bridge the void is with a creative act that comes from within us; it cannot be achieved by outside assistance, be it physical or spiritual. Whilst for both Rilke and Nietzsche the pure act is musical and for Sansbury the lyricism is visual, the challenge to us all is the same.