This work will be included in the forthcoming Michael Andrew catalogue raisonné, being prepared by James Hyman.
Painted in 1982, SAX AD 832 - Second Painting shows the village of Saxlingham Nethergate in East Anglia, which the previous year had become home to Michael Andrews. In his picture of the ancient village-- already documented in 832 and celebrating 1150 years of history when this view was painted, as is recognised in the title-- Andrews has managed to convey a stillness that approaches timelessness. This is the heart of a deeply traditional England, a corner of the country little scarred by history and progress. And yet... Andrews has deliberately introduced the more temporary structures associated with our age, the tarmac road, the phone box and telegraph lines. These appear to be the erasable and transient marks of our era, temporary when compared to the monumental antiquity of Saxlingham Nethergate, in a sense pre-empting the shimmering trees that are dwarfed by Uluru, or Ayers Rock, in the celebrated Rock of Ages Cleft for Me pictures that he would embark upon following his journey to Australia the year after painting SAX AD 832 - Second Painting.
Discussing his decision to move to Saxlingham Nethergate, Andrews explained that, 'I like the antiquity of it. I was terribly affected by the fact we are living in a 7th-century village (a favourite century of mine)' (Andrews, quoted in R. Cork, P. McCaughey & E.M. Weeks, The School of London and Their Friends: The Collection of Elaine and Melvin Merians, exh. cat., New Haven 2001, p. 36). History and landscape had long interested Andrews, as had the way in which time's passing told itself through the changes to the landscape. This had become an increasing preoccupation following his almost revelatory stays in Scotland, where he holidayed for the first time in 1975. At Drummond Castle, the home of a friend of his, he had been struck by the vast gardens, the way that a family's history had accumulated in the actual landscape itself. Likewise, he became fascinated by stalking, by carrying out the same routine that had been invented and that had evolved over centuries while passing through glens that themselves seemed ageless and ancient. In SAX AD 832 - Second Painting, the ancient village, barely visible through the trees yet nonetheless the clear thematic focus, has exerted itself onto the surrounding landscape, be it in the aged trees lining the road or in the more modern features. Andrews has looked at the landscape and pulled out of it some timeless quality. It is revealing that in his notes he had transcribed some words from John Buchan, themselves quoted in Janet Adam Smith's 1979 book, John Buchan and His World:
'Being equally sensitive to the spells of time and of space, to a tract of years and a tract of landscape, I tried to discover the historical moment which best interpreted the ethos of a particular countryside, and to devise the appropriate legend' (Buchan, quoted in W. Feaver & P. Moorhouse, Michael Andrews, exh. cat., London 2001, p. 35).
And commenting on the words that he had copied out, Andrews himself wrote, 'it's marvellously clear this quote. I sympathise. It is deduction: Buchan's historical moment, for me is induced or suggested by landscape and its ethos. The ethos is the history. It's the ethos I try to paint' (Andrews, quoted in ibid., p. 35). And it is the ethos that he captures in SAX AD 832 - Second Painting, some lurking character that exists both despite and through the simple continued presence of the village itself.
'Actually what I'm painting is historical landscape,' Andrews explained. 'That's to say landscape relating to the chain of events. It's time and landscape that interests me. The way it's been affected by the people living in it' (Andrews, quoted in ibid., p. 57). This telling comment reveals that Andrews' sense of history was based not on a simple interest in the past, but instead reflected a facet of existence itself. For Andrews' interests, belying the apparently tranquil and beguiling simplicity of his landscapes, were deeply rooted in the existential and the philosophical. History, to Andrews, revealed the passing of communities, and communities revealed the groupings of individuals, the various relationships and friendships and configurations that have arced through history in order to bring us to where we are and who we are. 'We are what has happened to us,' Andrews wrote (Andrews, quoted in ibid., p. 39). In this way, SAX AD 832 - Second Painting, despite appearing in many ways like a traditional landscape, reflects the same philosophical concerns that fuelled the Lights series, the School pictures of fish in aquariums and in rivers, Liner, and even his earlier works such as Good and Bad at Games or The Colony Room: 'Identity and community-- and identity in community; that's my prevailing occupation-- my prevailing idea' (Andrews, quoted in ibid., p. 28). While the human figure may be absent in SAX AD 832 - Second Painting, the implications of the existence, both past and present, of countless human figures are nonetheless recorded.
Where earlier works such as the Lights series had focussed on selfdom as it was embodied in a hot air balloon, with the pictures taking the form of views either from or of the balloon itself, in his later pictures, especially those that showed him stalking in Scotland, Andrews was placing himself well and truly in the landscape, and was placing the viewer well and truly in his landscape. So in SAX AD 832 - Second Painting, we are placed within the context of the artist's home village. There is no human figure visible in this landscape, although the telephone box passes as a light substitute, a strange and distorted visual echo of the lone characters in some of Caspar David Friedrich's celebrated views, there is the sense of human presence. It is implied: 'I think I'm probably very conscious of there being an onlooker there. In other words whenever there isn't somebody in my picture you can assume there's a visitor looking at whatever the picture depicts' (Andrews, quoted in ibid., p. 41).
Most crucially, we are vividly aware of the painter's own presence, of his own involvement with both the scene and with the work of art itself. This is made all the more clear in the varying textures with which Andrews has committed his vision to canvas. The initial appearance of an almost photographic rendering of the scene soon gives way to the realisation that the canvas itself has a wonderful variety of textures. Some areas are rendered with impastos of which his fellow so-called 'School of London' painters would be proud, yet in other parts the canvas is exposed, bushes are rendered with the briefest of squiggles, areas are sketchy... The strict figuration itself is an extension of Andrews' philosophy and owes itself in part to his long-held fascination with Zen Buddhism. His personality has to some degree been suppressed, or rather self-consciousness has evaporated, allowing him to show the scene as it is. Andrews' own mantra, he explained, was 'as it seems is how it is':
'Each picture is that statement and making that statement, making this definition of things that appear to me to be definite-- definite within the picture and where things are vague to be absolutely accurate about the degree of their vagueness-- is a way of making a comprehensive statement. In the process of doing this I realise how I am disposed towards the object and to whatever I'm thinking about, and, I suppose, to what lies beyond it, to the world beyond' (Andrews, quoted in School of London, exh. cat., Vienna 1999, p. 113).
Nowhere is this more clear than in the varying textures of SAX AD 832 - Second Painting. This picture subtly reveals the character of the artist, yet also invites us to abandon subjectivity in order to approach a more enlightened understanding of the world and of our place in it, of the fact that we are the creations in so many ways of the world around us and the people around us and those previous generations who themselves have made our world what it is-- and have made us who we are. This picture is both the result of and the focus for meditation, introducing a subtle yet poetic understanding of the world:
'Zen is active meditation (painting in my case) leading to sudden enlightenment which is unself-- or selfless-- consciousness which is realising things just as they are: interdependent. (For example hold your breath and keep holding it, and see how long you feel independent-- it's quite enlightening in itself.) You don't lose individuality or identity by dropping your idea of concept of yourself (your ego) or by acknowledging the fact of interdependence; on the contrary it becomes subtle and unrestricted. That's my understanding anyway' (Andrews, quoted in Feaver & Moorhouse, op.cit., 2001, p. 54).