A completed book will never compensate me for what I destroyed in writing it: namely that experience which if preserved throughout the years of my life might have helped me compose my last book, and which in fact was sufficient only to write the first.

So ends the 1964 preface Italo Calvino wrote for his first book, The Path to the Spider's Nest (1947). The paradox contained in this sentence resonates particularly with me today, the twenty-first anniversary of the death of the artist Philip Clairmont. I spent a greater part of the 1990s trying to reproduce a generous selection of his paintings, prints and drawings within the covers of a book ... to no avail. Ultimately I was thwarted by copyright issues, exacerbated by bureaucratic meddling which was itself rooted in the petty malice which so often inflects small (and larger) art scenes. To this day most of Philip's work remains unrepresented apart from its sheer physical existence, which is in many cases threatened by his deliberate use of fugitive pigments and supports afflicted with inherent vice. The book I did publish sometimes seems to me to have obscured the ouevre it was meant to represent in the same way that Calvino feels his novel of the Resistance destroyed his experience of fighting in the Resistance. Yet my memory of the ouevre remains strong and the catalogue of works I assembled, while incomplete and out of date, does exist as probably the most complete record of what he made during his brief career. Whether Philip's work as a whole will ever get the representation it deserves is most likely out of my hands now, though I would still do everything I could to achieve such a goal. His son, Orlando, is presently putting together a documentary about his father and has further plans for a proper archive and perhaps even a somewhere to house it and the works that remain in the family. I guess time will tell. As to the paradox that ... the minute it (experience) gives shape to a work of literature it withers and dies. The writer, after writing, finds that he is the poorest of men ... there's not much I or anyone else can do about that. Every book both contains and obscures the ghost of the book it might have been; every screen that we compose upon is covered with erasures; every page marked with words that are not the words we wanted to write. Whether or not this is also true of paintings I don't know; it may be. Anyway, enfin, in commemoration of this day, here's an image.


Vincent Ponka said...

A wonderful post!

Martin Edmond said...

... thanks, Vincent.