Becoming John Berger


I’ve always believed that drawings should be in constant circulation, around the globe, like what Max Raphael said about thoughts:

If we use the globe to put our historical knowledge in order, we begin right in the East, in China, from where our thoughts move on to India and Persia, and from there to Egypt on the one hand and to Greece (by way of Asia Minor), Italy and France on the other. Here the ocean checks the flight of our thoughts, a new world begins on the other side, the western hemisphere: America, the west coast of which is, like our starting-point, washed by the Pacific Ocean. Picking up Japan, we complete our circle, with its end placed right beside its beginning. To be sure, I have used an analogy to anticipate my conclusion.

Drawings must also be in circulation, because they have the power to contribute to the quality of our being, and therefore our becoming. Now which story to tell you first? Where to begin, or rather how? Both stories are true, there is nothing fictional in what I’m about to reveal to you. Either way I’ll proceed with the first story and present to you, how my becoming came into being.

Spring, mid-afternoon 2016 (in Syria the civil war was and still is happening) and I was sat intimately beside an apple orchard, writing. Both my arms were gently pressed against an old wooden table not suitable for outside use but the weather was beautiful, calm and full of heat (caressing my face) so I couldn’t refuse the outside invitation without the table. And more essential than that I had the sight of apple trees in bloom close to me, to which I had to stop and look again in-between writing to truly appreciate what was in front of me.

From such a sight, what more inspiration could an artist possibly need today? Each branch with its petals twirled into white-pink, blending with the green of its leaves into a blue-white foamy sky. Light was continuously moving in and out, making everything shine and glitter. There was no illusion in what I was seeing. Each bloom represented a new life. Spring is a wedding, a celebration of unity. At the centre of this celebration, is in the unity of being reborn into a world with flesh again. An apple tree in bloom is heaven.

I kept thinking about the people of Syria, mostly the children who have had to experience ruthless and irresponsible decisions made by so-called adults, because they refuse to accept defeat, freedom. And then, because I know the scent of an apple tree in flower so well (you can’t bring scent to mind) I once again walked into the space of the apple tree, and began to smell. You see, it was the apple tree that taught me what the sensation of death feels like, how through the act of smelling a flower such an experience can tell us, that to die actually is a pleasant experience.

Today the death toll of those killed in the Syrian War has reached almost 500,000 people whilst displacing 10 million since the war began.

Each time I smelt this profound scent, I was experiencing their death with them, and was closer to their reality. I want to send this eternal sensation to you Syria as a gift, hope. What was I writing near the apple orchard…? I was writing about you Yves, your paintings. Those paintings, that lean silently against the wooden walls of a peasant’s hay barn, your studio. I was writing about how your paintings reveal the nature of the human spirit (how we like to play hide and seek) and how you have achieved to represent the place in which the dead ‘live in a timeless moment’ and so much more.

The painting ‘unnamed’ has a figure of a woman holding in her arms, a baby (newly born). When I first saw this image, its impression upon me was firstly one of emotion, profoundly I felt for the first time what it really meant to hold new life in your arms. But I wasn’t looking at this painting properly from the ‘other side,’ the spiritual world that surrounds us. I took the image to mean something about here in reality, on Earth, for example when a man and woman lose their baby through a miscarriage. Whatever the cause of death, I assumed the baby in the painting to have passed over to the other side. And so, when I looked at the painting again, I realised that it represented both. That a new spirit had just been born, that is yet to receive a body of flesh. Yves, as an artist is a great reminder of moments in life which must never be absent from our minds. He brings the connection between the reality of biological and spiritual life, which is essential if we are to accept like that of an apple tree in bloom, the cycle of life, how what we do here continues elsewhere on the other side, there is no end.’

You see, when I was writing about your work Yves before I wrote my first sentence, I was already with you and your father in the mountains (French Alps) against that blue sky. Imagining your life as an artist amongst the peasants, and like your father too, to which has never stopped resisting the tyranny of today’s Profiteer’s.

Then I stopped writing again, to look at the apple trees in bloom once more and then it came, the impulse to draw…

apppleorchard2

Here is how the second part of the story began, or should we see consider it to be part of the same story? It was July 2017 when I had discovered the book Seeing Through Drawing: A Celebration of John Berger edited and produced by John Christie. When I received a copy of the book, I arrived at page with a charcoal drawing by you Yves; with a face that looked like a mountain. And then I saw on the page next to your drawing, a list of solo-exhibitions: 2017 From the Orchard to the garden Ivory press Gallery, Madrid. I then went online to the Ivory press website to find out more, and found a description about your new exhibition:

The show features recent works on paper using three different techniques: monoprints of apple trees executed during Spring 2016, etchings of human figures worked on over the last few years, and pastel drawings of flowers executed in an Alpine botanical garden during the month of June 2016. By playing with this corpus of work, Berger discovered the ways in which the chosen themes intertwined with each other. Starting with the idea of keeping them separate, like different rooms in the same house, he worked for months on a layout that progressively took him far from his starting point. It was no longer a triptych that he was facing, but a journey on which he was embarking.’

Immediately I made the connection between what I had drawn that day of an apple orchard in Spring 2016, to the same time when Yves was in an apple orchard painting. Urgently, I wrote a letter to Yves and sent him my original drawing as a gift, saying that maybe we had accompanied each other on that same ‘journey’ during the spring of 2016, as we had entered ‘into orchard’.

A few weeks later I received an e-mail.

From:Yves Berger
Sent:09 September 2017 15:21
To:Patrick Phillips
Subject:from Yves

Dear Patrick

I’m sorry to reply so late… Thank you very much for your nice letter.

Of course, you can us a reproduction of my drawing in your book of essay’s!

I must tell you something very funny – and more than that:

when your drawing of the apple tree came and I had a glimpse at it before reading your letter, I was sure it was a drawing done by my father.

Only after reading your letter and seeing your handwriting on the drawing did I admit it wasn’t his, but yours. I tried the trick with other friends who know JB’s drawings very well and they were trapped too.

It’s pretty amazing how similar the rhythm of the lines, the « handwriting », and the use of the ink and wash, between his and yours (on this drawing anyway)

I’ve never encountered that so strongly…

For this reason I find it very special and will cherish it. Thank you!!

Maybe in fact all three of us, papa you and me, entered the orchard for the same journey… (as you say)

Take care!

Travail bien!

Till next

Yves

When I read Yves reply I was surprised. Because firstly, I had no idea after I had finished the drawing that day that it was too become a drawing completed by John, there was no conscious decision at the time within myself to say right, I’m going to draw an apple orchard like John Berger. If I had been thinking about making a drawing similar to the way John drew, then the image wouldn’t have existed, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve it. It came naturally, without force. The only thing I had in mind, which has been my desire for a long time now, was to try to achieve something of the same expression of gratitude (in essence) that John would complete daily within his activities.

It’s like dancing, as soon as you think about how to dance, or rather what move to complete, it looks and feels bad, there is no flow. As soon as you let go, and I suppose in a way stop caring (about making mistakes) about how your dancing appears to others, suddenly there is a flow, an energy being expressed. Again, in my mind, I was simply imagining myself being John Berger.

I made this drawing John because I wanted to be with you, I wanted to be you, and at the same time, I wanted to send you the same hospitality you have given me over the years with your books and your words, that have kept me sane (and so many others) from the tyranny of today’s global economic-order. I’m conscious now of what I had achieved that day because your son had kindly replied. And the question now is this: was it John or me that day who had made the drawing? Whilst I was ‘elsewhere’…

A genuine drawing is an expression become eternal.

After the death of John Berger in 2017, we all felt in some way that our gratitude to him wasn’t enough. His life’s entire work was dedicated to writing about the exploitation created by Profiteers, and in his own words the ‘colossal injustice’ that came with it. For a while, I felt the man of ethics, the man who thought daily for a genuine humane world in which to live was out of reach… and then I looked at my bookshelf, to find him still here, now with us. I could write much more about John, for example starting with the fact that at 90 he was still writing about the consequences of living in a Capitalist system. How grateful I am to him for his life’s dedication to Humanity and the impact of his work upon my life.

John, I love you.

You know I was thinking John, you said in Bento’s Sketchbook that ‘we who draw do so not only to make something observed visible to others, but also to accompany something invisible to its incalculable destination.’ Maybe John and Yves now that the drawing is in the village of Quincy we have made ourselves an ‘appointment’ to meet each other in an apple orchard, where and when? Who knows, you know one of my dreams has been to create a garden. Until then I’ll wait…until we meet again.

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