Travels and art / by Jeannine Cook

In the August edition of Arte, published in Spain, there is an interesting series of articles about travel's transformative power for artists, which ranges from David Roberts (Egypt) and Velaquez (Italy) to Klee (Tunis), Brassai (Paris)or David Hockney (California). Historically, artists have travelled to learn, to enquire, to expand their horizons or sometimes to flee. Think of Albrecht Durer, who so assiduously recorded his 1520-21 trips to the Netherlands in silverpoint journals. Remember Gauguin's trips to the South Seas, with extraordinary results in his art. But in more modern times, journeys have become easier and often swifter. Sometimes, that is all that suffices to allow an artist to make quantum leaps in his or her development. Other times, the results are not so felicitous.

It perhaps all reverts to that issue of a "sense of place". If you are somewhere new and trying to grapple with different conditions of light, topography, culture, colours..., it takes time to filter all that information into one's subconscious. The resultant art often shows up the learning curve, willy-nilly. In the Arte article entitled "Viajes Pintados" (Painted Journeys), the author, Raquel Gonzalez Escribano, posits that in the past, the slower tempo of journeys to other places allowed for a transformative depth and transcendence in work - paintings, architecture or sculpture - that is often absent today. She reminds us that Delacroix made one major trip in his life, through Spain to North Africa in 1832, and that time spent painting and drawing indelibly transformed his subsequent work. Indeed, Delacroix' journey influenced artists who followed him, and consequently changed the way we all view the world to some degree.

Ms. Gonzalez makes a persuasive case for all of us artists slowing down when we travel, allowing ourselves time to absorb and understand new horizons. Then, one hopes, we will be able to produce work of depth and quality. Returning to a place one enjoys and grows to know makes sense, in this context, even if it is travelling from one's home base. (Think of the summer art colonies in the North East for New York artists, for instance, which flourished from about 1900 onwards.) Plus ca change, plus ca reste la meme chose... Despite all our technology and speeded-up world, artists today still function mentally in the same way as in previous times. We still need to develop that sense of place.