DAVID GODBOLD:Nightfall – amplissium terrarum tractum , Golden thread Gallery, Belfast, 3 Feb – 10 March 2018

An unexpected move to use Latin  as a title of an exhibition these days… the words are written in neon tubes above the painting titled  Three little words, (2010, neon, acrylic on canvas, 80 x 115 cm, sorry my mobile camera erased those words))  


Alice Maher just has done it too, calling her exhibition at South Gallery Thurles,Tipperary (opens March 28, 2018) Vox Matter. Is it a new take on  art  shedding  its chains to particular time, period, style?  Similar  ahistorical move exhibits the  current web page  by Woodland Trust displaying   this ” fictional forest”.  On the surface level – they all introduce an idea of continuous existence, of simultaneous existence.

Those parallel marks, contrast light,  and repetitive modelling, all appear in the current Godbold’s exhibition. For example: Just don’t give up (2010, ink and pencil on paper, 54 x 75 cm) is drawn with  red ink and pencil – as a simulacrum of red chalk favoured by the European painters of  Gothic and Renaissance, including Raphael and Leonardo.


The appearance sets a doubt about authenticity –  a viewer may be forgiven to think that it is an old work of art or a Godbold’s copy of one.  The confident parallel marks  betray  that neither is correct. The marks are fluent, vivacious and energetic – not hesitant copies.   Moreover,   the same composition  appears in an acrylic  painting  in a larger size, displayed   on a diagonally opposite  wall.

My past burried in a shallow grave, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 80 x 115 cm

Viewers would need  to walk the whole length of the gallery to become aware/certain of the similarity.   Godbold deliberate use of a display  as a tool to  construct a meaning, allows similarity becoming surprising, and issues a  call  to  the viewer to go back and look again.  Doing so forges a story, or several stories.  One story offers a “death of the new”, the new formulated by Modernism as partaking in the inner life of the artist – not observable.  Godbold dual use of the same model sincerely admits  that he collects images, like a 19th C botanist would flowers and seeds.  The aesthetic  categories tied to the New are tied to the old, through a remake.  Remakes are appropriate in films and theatres – rarely in paintings, notwithstanding the fascinating Picasso’s work with   Las Meninas by Velasquez.  Godbold limits appearance of one model to two – in this exhibition. As if he wanted to say look and look again once.  Significantly – this is what his art is rooted in.  I recall William Blake’s thought: “…the windows of our perception are cleansed when we are drawn in  or out by stories”.

One such story is charmingly chaste in these two  related paintings.

Its title gives a clue to a common existence, known experience: Every evening I plan to enjoy the sunrise, and each morning I fail to get up (2009. acrylic on canvas, 175 x 250 cm)

Its daylight sibling lives under an absurd title 100,000.000 Angels singing, (2008)  Both accessed on http://www.kerlingallery.com.

Observant  comparison rewards the viewer with tiny changes in what is visible, e.g. the smoke from the chimney is clearer in the daylight variation, which lost a little of tree trunk on the left.  Those are substories to the story of sameness and difference dependent on light.  Plato chose a Demiurg to deal with those two (in Timaeus).  Godbold makes the score for each of us to play with,  to invent our story.  He significantly departs from the distrust that forged Kandinsky’s  On the spiritual in Art, 1911.  And he shares the confidence  that his art also provides the kind of experience valuable in its own right and not obtainable from any other activity.

His round-about selection of models, as something already visible as art, forges with his responses a kind of a silent fugue.  Admirably – he respects each  model with humility, which was not his chosen mode early in his practice.  He used  to  scar, eliminate, visually assault parts of the appropriated  images with large gestural marks, that abandonned  hope of avoiding vulgarity. In this current exhibition is one drawing where numbers prevail over two  humans ( Adam and Eve)  standing in the middle of that “universe” – diminished and doubtful.

An  appropriation of compositions  and accentuation of the narrative detail,  both are in combatant mood vis a vis early and heroic Modernism.

Selected  motives/ forms/compositions  he may have seen  in galleries, museums, churches, books and on internet, forge a  depart from 20th C obsession with originality ( the myth analysed by  Rosalind Krauss) and from  “not breaking the flat plane” ( Clement Greenberg).  Can I assume that he selects what moves him?  Clive Bell is often cited as defender of  “art’s quality that provokes our aesthetic emotions…….when I speak of significant form, I mean a combination  of lines and colours (counting white and black as colours) that moves me aesthetically”  (The Aesthetic Hypothesis”).

Godbold chose those lines and contours that were already proved to deliver that impact on him. Does that make  him a copyist at times? To some degree? Not in the slightest.

I wonder if comparing a source to his image will provide a solution.  Below is Baptism of Christ, a 5th C mosaic in the Arian  Baptistery in Ravenna (image courtesy Mary Ann Sullivan, 2006)

Godbold’s ink and laser print  Semi-Submerged Saviour, 1998 (25.5 x 18.5cm)  keeps the proportions and detail seen in Ravenna(or online)  including  the impersonation of river Jordan on the left.

A  copyist would include all – whereas  Godbold’s leaves out the liturgical, most significant,  St John the Baptist, and more than a  half of the mythological bystander – river Jordan. The absences transform the meaning.

Yet, he keeps as much of the original style as the chosen technique guarantees.  Consequently – style is something he is analysing, disputing, debating, re-thinking – but still applying.

Mayer Shapiro usefully defined the style  as  not attached to a particular historical period, which flies against some of the basic tools of art history, but as something shared by a group, which presupposes co-existence: “Style is, above all, a system of forms with a quality and meaningful expression through which the personality of the artist and the overall outlook of a group are visible. It is also a vehicle of expression within the group, communicating and fixing certain values of religious, social, and moral life through the emotional suggestiveness of forms.” 

Those two points hold a promise  of an answer: Personality of the artist  and the overall outlook of a  group….  His personality reminds me Albert Camus  musing about The Myth of Sisyphus  – on the will to live with dignity and authenticity. Those two qualities are grounded, in his case,  in seeing, in observing, in  what he makes visible.    Obviously he cannot belong to a group working in the 5th C  in Ravenna . Instead – he can share an overall outlook of a group of  artists  living during his life time. Art Povera and Conceptual Art contribute material and  idea.

In 1969, Sol LeWitt publish “Sentences for Conceptual Art” in the little magazine O-9 (New York), edited by Vito Acconci and Bernadette Mayer.

Here are the first five sentences:

1. Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach.
2. Rational judgements repeat rational judgements.
3. Irrational judgements lead to new experience.
4. Formal art is essentially rational.
5. Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically.

Will any of Judd’s conditions appear in  the  red drawing?

Just don’t give up (2010) 

and in the  acrylic painting on canvas titled My past burried in a shallow grave (2010) ?


Instantly, on reading the titles  – the realization that the same  idea and visual composition of it  appear as addressing future (in the drawing) and past (in the painting)  provide that leap that logic cannot reach.   There is no rational, logical reason for leaving out John the Baptist from Baptism of Christ.   The print looks like an image of shivering teenager as if under the command of an older man, half out of the frame on the left.   And the  drawn landscape  insists on hiding  Godbold’s initials which appear visible in the painting in two tine circles.  The “shallow grave” is under the tree on the left lower  darkest passage, and is marked with tiny initials:  DG. The ground there is indecisive: a grave or a flowing water? Both  works of art adhere to Bell’s Modernist rule on “significant form”. Both, the drawing and painting admit fidelity to another  concept:  to an idea,  of reaching  “beyond ” appropriation or resurrection of verbal  hierarchy over execution.  In that sense Godbold  protects visual thought as sufficient to make a drawing or painting.  Leonardo’s trust in what he named “a mute poetry”  and Italo Calvino call that visual thoughts must be protected, both  stand  at the birth of a-historical freedom to reject original contexts. Significantly – his trust in story telling  is a critique of Modernism. In support I recall a neglected thought of Clement Greenberg: “Modernism criticizes from the inside, through the procedures themselves of that which is being criticised”

Godbold works in an “0bsolete form”  – using current means, he goes beyond abstraction and inner model. Does he share anything with conceptual art? Does he share Donald Judd’s dim view of painting?

The main thing wrong with painting is that it is a rectangular plane placed flat against the wall. A rectangle is a shape itself; it is obviously the whole shape; it determines and limits the arrangement of whatever is on or inside of it.

 In defiance, Godbold  does this: numerous rectangles, framed and placed in a way recalling the Salon or  commercial galleries in Paris…  I sense that the Judd’s  view of conceptual art  both attracts and challenges Godbold – to provide something that protects freedom to be irrational. Not only that – it must satisfy something in his imaginations.


The seventeen metre wall  was painted in red, in situ, by Colin Darke, following projection of Godbold’s drawings of a landscape.  On it are 114 framed  drawings or paintings whose stylistic pedigree  includes medieval and renaissance citations.

This art is  not a case, or variant  of copying, so disliked by early Modernists(Futurists).  I have seen paintings done by copyists trained at Viennese academy  before WW2 – and having   access to a regular planimetric samples of old art to copy in oil on canvas. The  commercial rule was: change the size.  Current research claims that copying improves creativity.  (https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-copying-peoples-art-boost-creativity?)

Some people will disagree.  I visited  an Academy in Leningrad in 1962, and  in a private discussion, the students tearfully  complained about being forced to copy museum pieces, day after a day,  year after year… no freedom their western counterparts enjoyed.   The same year  Nikita Khrushchev published  an article in Pravda newspaper,  calling  the sculpture by Ernst  Neizvestny, exhibited in the Menagerie in Moscow,  degenerate.  It was a stump of ancient tree  carved partly as a face and hand of a violinist … a fragment of a body as if growing out of the tree trunk.   The sculptor  also experienced  – as a student in Riga- endless copying…..it did not diminish his creativity for ever. Neizvestny became a target  because he moved away from  prescribed socialist realism, which was rooted in obedience to  the aesthetic canon dictated by  the censor of Russian writers such as Anna Akhmatova and Mikhail Zoshchenko. Zhdanov  formulated what became known as the Zhdanov Doctrine :”The only conflict that is possible in Soviet culture is the conflict between good and best“. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrei_Zhdanov).  Irony is, that Zhdanov is not conversant with the  folk tradition of carved sculptures in stone and wood in situ, a practice  widely spread in forests where the Slavs live.  Perhaps best documented is the sculptor  Matthias Braun (18thC)  who carved biblical stories from rocks in situ at Kuks.   Khruschev would label it “degenerate”.

A measure is something Godbold both masters and ignores in turn, works on the thin line of difference between found art and  new.   This strategy  has active enemies: the fear of “not being original” as defined by Modernism … and the representation  as interpretation of intensified recovery.  Like a good researcher – he does commit to  one common value: hand made drawings and paintings,  dependendent on a tight co-ordination of eye, hand and memory.

His construct of  meaning becomes more obvious when comparison is made  with  another “translation” of older art into modern idiom.  Voynich Botanical Studies, by Miljohn Ruperto and Ulrich Heltoft, ongoing since 2013, are a good example.

 Nature Gone Astray at Edouard Malingue Gallery, Shanghai, 2018

The gallery statements gives the background information, which my readers may not have, hence I copy and paste it here.

The “Voynich manuscript” has been called a Holy Grail in cryptography. Discovered in 1912 by the American book dealer Wilfrid Voynich in the basement of a Jesuit library near Rome, the 230 page manuscript, completed in the 15th century, portrays a diverse array of astonishing fauna and flora, celestial objects, mysterious figures, as well as a huge quantity of script as of yet undeciphered. Based on the wildly imaginative illustrations of plants and vegetation in the Voynich manuscript, Miljohn Ruperto – a Californian artist of Philippine origin – together with the Danish artist Ulrik Heltoft, have made textural photographic works by creating 3D models then making negatives from these and finally printing them in traditional gelatin silver format. Entitled the Voynich Botanical Studies, the series has been ongoing since 2013. Both in the “Voynich Manuscript” and Voynich Botanical Studies there is an absurd attitude of humans creating nature. If the former provided the concept, then the latter has “rewritten” natural history by means of highly mimetic visual archives with the aid of modern technology. The mysterious plants in strange forms in the black background seem almost tangible with their crazy and beautiful leaves, branches and flower buds. Our love and curiosity for Nature are always accompanied by the desire to control it; such is the fundamental reason why natural history will “be led astray”.

Accessed online on Voynich Botanical Studies, comparison of original and Ulrich Heltoft’s response.

(Image shared from https://goo.gl/images/HzPWza)

Love, curiosity, desire to control it, the inner  connection with earlier culture – all appear in  Godbold’s  practice.   The use of  Latin  for contemporary art feels pretentious, showing off classical education.  The  words appear in  a modern medium – neon. A wry smile – confronting the ubiquitous neons  in blockbusters of international art exhibitions.  Sorry – my  mobile camera  got just a white cloud, which is a  visual lie.  Moreover – the neon is placed above   an  acrylic painting   Three Little words (2010, 80 x 115cm)



Three little words, 2010 , acrylic on canvas, 80 x 115cm , accessed on http://www.kerlingallery.com

Is the title of the exhibition, carefully chosen by Godbold, directing attention to that  thin line of difference?

The artist named this display Nightfall …

Nightfall – limits visibility, thus making the ” de terrarum tractum”  unmeasurable, irrational,  conceptual, imagined, uncertain,  not observable,possibly  not existing.

Things Happen (nightfall version), 2011, acrylic on canvas 140x200cm. accessed on http://www.kerlingallery.com


Godbold places drawing and painting into that remove  from the ample tracks of the Earth. Tracks which  his “sources” (previous artists)   might have observed. And then, mutating the size  he takes ownership  of what others observed,  of their wisdom or follies – and translates it, into the same medium!  The blue hues dominate the nightfall – the tonality is reminiscent of Dutch 18th C , but the high horizon signifies Italian landscape  from Baldovinetti onwards. It shares motives, not light,  that  Claude Lorraine mixed  in his: romantic ruins, large single trees.


amplissium terrarum tractum …start with an ablative of the  substantivum – I read it as designating a place anywhere.



Amplissium pictoris opus non colossus sed historia  appears written in 16th C  about Raphael: Vast part of painter’s work is but a story.  This connects well to my earlier awareness that and how  Godbold tells stories – stories of his being with other art.

If so, it matters what the story is of.  Godbold suggests landscape – terrarum tractum – parts of landscape.    A kind o subjective visual translation. And he is diligent doing that.  Madly so. But allows figural drawing.

The folded and bended  flying drapery of St Christopher is reminiscent of  Albrecht Duerer around 1500.


The exhibition  embraces multitude of motifs, sources, places, time… in harmony with that claim.  Like an incomplete visual dictionary –  Amplissimum as the genitive of the  superlative of  “amplus” means widest,  most spacious, largest , according to external circumference  and capaciousness within. Hence it is never complete, finished, closed. The openness, of course is a necessary condition of art.

The kernel of the word amplissium   directs the mind from the heights  of the universe down …   to the second word in the title, the Earth: terra –  and its genitive terrarum.   Not to all of it just to a one  tract  at time – a quest rather than achievement. Moving from “land” in the first gallery, to time in the second space.  There the same composition gets painted once as a night and  once in a daylight chromatics.


This is already too long ….  Godbold placed a conundrum without making a radical distinction between his art and that he uses as a model.  Yes, he changes the scale, the colours, the meaning, the context, material appearance –  something appears, though, as samaness. I need Buber’s philosophy to assist here:

“The basic formulation of Buber’s philosophy (the philosophy of dialogue) is contained in I and Thou (Ich und Du in German) where he makes a radical distinction between two basic attitudes of which men are capable, described as I-Thou  and I-It.

  • I-Thou designates a relation between subject and subject, a relation of reciprocity and mutuality
  • I-It is the relation between subject and object, involving some form of utilization or control, the object being wholly passive.

Godbold must have some reciprocity with the maker of Ravenna mosaics, to start with and then controlled which part to select.

“The I in the two situation also differs : in the I-Thou it appears only within the context of the relationship and cannot be viewed independently, whereas in the I-it situation the I is an observer and only partly involved. The I-Thou situation cannot be sustained indefinitely and every Thou will at times become an It…..  In a healthy man there is a dialectical interaction between the two situations : every I-it contains the potential of becoming I-Thou, the situation in which man’s true personality emerges within the context of his world.”

I sense that the interaction of the two kinds of I  forges the ground for Godbold’s aesthetics, that embraces the essential ambiguity  of human condition: the ebb and flow, irrational  exchange between free will and determination. It has been perceived as granting an artist a special status:

  1. Creating art is a privileged mode of assuming and realising the paradox  of being a mortal human being, conscious of the past and thinking of the future.  It blurs the boundary between the theoretical and biographical, personal and general.
  2.  The artist’s activity is also deeply significant in terms of its power of articulating a coherent world.  Their achievements are worthy of admiration because they involve the creation of virtual worlds.  To re-create a virtual world that can do justice to the complexity of the real world is an almost “miraculous” fact, as Merleau-Ponty says of Cézanne.  It is also doomed to fail – because an artist can never say all that may be revealed.

This leads  Albert Camus to conclude that creative activity, like all free activities, is in the end only another attempt at dealing with the absurdity of human life ( The Stranger, 1942, 130).  Art is the best instrument  we have to cope with it.

Godbold shares with a group of contemporaries fondness for citation, quotation, appropriation, his subject is the selection, combination, and matching of fragments from other art. Significance of his achievement is that it looks both old and new.  Not Janus like, rather like a well understood irony.















































About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
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