Kate Romano in conversation with artist Philip Maltman
I’ve been talking to Philip Maltman for ten minutes and the conversation is leaping from John Constable to John Cage, James Joyce to Gustav Mahler. He pauses; ‘is this a bit of a jumble?’ he asks. I reassure him that I’m very happy for his tangled creativity to unravel in whatever way feels right.
The ‘messiness’ (as Maltman describes it) is both process and product. There are several of Philip Maltman’s flower paintings hanging in the Granary as part of our current exhibition, curated by Alan Kluckow. Bold, rich and abstract, these are not still life images but vivid improvisations of flowers in their natural habitats. ‘White Rose’ is a floral explosion of paint that bursts from the canvas. His ‘Flowers of the Mountain’ pictures depict lone, resilient flora, remote and hidden. ‘I paint them in a figurative way’ explains Maltman ‘and then I go into it with my hands and mess it all up… destroy it… and then I come back in with brushes. I’m looking to release something in there…something will come out of it if I move bits around and merge them together. It's like the landscape; always changing with the weather, time of day and year.’
For over 40 years, Philip Maltman has been producing landscape paintings with an abstract twist, using grids, texts and diagrammatic markings. Childhood rambles on the South Ayrshire beaches (Turnberry, Maidens, Culzean and Croy) and an ever-present view of Ailsa Craig rising out of the Firth of Clyde were impressed upon his mind. ‘I carried the image of Ailsa Craig with me since I left Scotland as a child and despite visits in the late sixties and early seventies it’s the only object which, on returning, seems to grow with the years whereas all the man-made features seem to diminish. I could see Ailsa Craig as something I wanted to address alongside James Joyce’s Ulysses…the mountain, the flower…it all became connected in my mind.’
‘I was a Flower of the mountain’ is a quote from Molly Bloom's closing soliloquy in Ulysses. The words form the inspiration behind Maltman’s 145 paintings in the Flower of the Mountain series. Maltman read Ulysses when he was young, marvelling at the knotty, flitting, revolutionary novel which pushes ways of storytelling to the limits. He read Joyce’s poems too; delicate musical fragments with a fragile, sincere beauty. ‘Joyce has its own journey and its own music. I write his words on my canvas, then I paint them out, then use them again on the surface of the painting in a descriptive way’.
These inscriptions scratch and scurry across the surface of the paintings. They are erratic and sprawling, suggestive of something both graphic and meaningful. Cy Twombly is a great inspiration; 20 of the 150 paintings that make up Maltman’s ‘Field of England’ series owe a huge debt to Twombly’s ‘Wilder Shores of Love’ (1985). ‘I couldn’t leave it alone’ admits Maltman,‘I had to use it’. It is so close in its gestures, colours, design and expression that Maltman directly credits Twombly on the canvas. Maltman’s shares Twomby’s ecstatic response to poetry, literature and other art forms, his energy, momentum and sense of abandon. ‘The world is chock-a-block with stuff going on’ says Maltman. ‘There are radio waves, wifi, wind, dust…I feel that a painting can’t be static and has to be pulled around until one finds a new object and the object, as Robert Motherwell said, is the paint; painting grows out of the act of painting itself’.
Maltman paints fast whilst listening to music; Mahler, Bach, Cage ‘on an old ipod shuffle’. This rapid flow is important, and Maltman’s vocabulary when he describes his work is full of active descriptions (the paint washes, dances, drips, participates…) Our discussion of movement in painting leads us to Constable, ‘a radical before his time’ says Maltman, referencing Constable’s brooding, poetic late works. He shows me a passage in James Hamilton’s biography of Constable where Hamilton compares Constable’s painting to a dance, executed with great speed and vivacity, sway and rhythm. ‘That’s it really’ says Maltman. ‘The whole thing of painting is that it is a performance done in private. You dance across a painting and then it stops …and the next day you dance again’.
Philip Maltman’s paintings are exhibited at Stapleford Granary (curated by Alan Kluckow) until 1 May 2023