These paintings deal with exile


These paintings deal with exile, anger and yet the absence of brutalisation of my work.

Amidst the passion and addictive struggles of my development as a painter lies the formative days of exile in Barcelona. Exile seems appropriate on describing displacement colliding with sensuality, heat, intoxication and turbulence of those days. Under the full and unrelenting glare of the sun, the excessive, destructive passion boiled under every surface, every ideal, every motive. We would turn on each other and then drink to each others’ health. Under those powerful days this micro climate tore at the creative process, where it “burnt like a sting/ the high cloud wincing/ wrinkling the unravelling zephyrs/ that split silken horizons/ where man lies drowning.” (Poems vol.6 SHS).


This transformative experience didn’t correct my values as a painter, it entrenched them. It compelled me to justify why I painted. Whereas I’d rejected that painting was only a convenient sedentary backwater, I hadn’t proved that I could jettison ‘wayward stagnation’ or being dependant on bigger painting beasts than me. I had to do more than cultivate a studied rebellion.

So it made sense to me to try and get underneath the radar and make relevant issues mine without the fanfare of commercialism, fashionable ideas and refinement – I’d found a narrative of my own. Yet Painters in the 80’s were still stigmatised as formally redundant and anachronistic, cultural refugees compared with conceptual ‘intelligence’, that to me was a herd gathered before us to join in unholy matrimony to celebrity status and self-preoccupation.

However, it took me some time to figure this out, and long days of failure still lay ahead. But the spine of my painting experiences were frequently drawn from time spent watching, sketching and painting in the old town in Barcelona. It gave new impetus to “...leave the footprints of day/ to sink in water’s edge/ where stars dance/ in shaping winds that work the plough of oceans..” (Poems vol.2 SHS). I came to the conclusion that life in Barcelona had been a time of flux and transitory half status, born out of not trusting cosy disobedience, but by grasping the flame-throwing liberation or get burnt by it.

This fight to convey brutalisation but insulate oneself was a curse and demanded, what seemed, inhuman effort. But fighting my way out of a proverbial corner (yet I got into 2 actual fights) didn’t hijack or corrupt my work, but no surprise that most of us didn’t fit. The South Africans and Nicaraguans were the most exiled amongst us, yet though in different forms we’d all had to turn our backs on our lives back home. I do apologise if you think this sounds ‘bohemian’ or Hemmingway heroics - mostly it was ‘pissed-off’ rather than ‘seize the day’.

I did return from Barcelona and lived in cold dark London, a time of “muddied rage”(Poems vol.6 SHS), where I salvaged the “ancient tribe of my disillusionment” (Poems vol.9 SHS). Whilst fascinated by rebirths and self-purgation of some people, I absorbed “ ..terraced Barcelona..” (Poems.vol9 SHS) and rejected any “Colourless skies riddled with shrinking time/ like the sheen of high rise clouds/..chasing light/ like a shadow../to throw beyond the jagged furrows”.(Poems vol9 SHS).

I remain passionate about painting and its vibrancy. Or not? You decide.


© 2020 Stephen Hornsby-Smith

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