Friday, March 04, 2016
Robin Baring is the husband of Ann Baring, one of the outstanding writers, Jungian analysts, and wisdom teachers of our time. The following is a tribute to her husband, printed on her website, written by one of Robin's admirers. I am reprinting this entire article here because it so completely captures my own feelings on this subject––the role of the "hidden artist" in our society, not one who creates to impress the mainstream nor in expectation of fame or wealth, but because he/she is devoted to her own inner vision, which she offers to the world as a gift, not as a commercial product to enhance her "career."
MAGES FOR THE SOUL
A tribute to the artist Robin Baring
By JOHN LANE
At all times there have been the contemplatives; the Desert Fathers, the Celtic saints; in Japan, Ryokan; in America, Thomas Merton; in India, Bede Griffiths and countless others in all ages and countries, anonymous and devoted. Today, that devotion can still be found not only amongst nuns and monks but amongst a few artists - poets, painters and writers of all kinds. Naturally, the noisiest, the circus performers - the Picassos and Warhols - succeed in attracting the most attention, but there are others, the forgotten ones, the ones who dedicate their lives in pursuit of a visionary quest, who offer us the greatest inspiration.
Of these I'd like to celebrate but one: Robin Baring. This painter is in fact barely known, largely on account of his indifference to the business of exhibiting and, I should add, his disregard of any interest in positioning himself for the purposes of career in the very decadent court of "Modern Art". As a man he could never be described as a natural marketeer nor one, like Mr. Saatchi, with a genius for public relations. In contemporary terms he is virtually invisible. Nonetheless, there is nothing quiet about his "stand-off": in fact, there is great activism about Robin Baring, dedicated as he is to a commitment that "his" kind of imagery and its underlying philosophy might one day contribute its own healing to the aridities of our mechanistic culture.
ROBIN BARING was born in 1931 and painted from the earliest age. He trained first as a farmer, then served in the Royal Navy, then worked for Christie's the auctioneers, before deciding at the age of twenty-five that what he really wanted to do was to paint. He therefore took the next necessary step by enrolling at the Central School of Art in London where he studied for three years under the now well-known painters Keith Vaughan, Mervyn Peake, Merlyn Evans and Cecil Collins. The latter soon became and remains a powerful influence, "From the start I felt I was on a similar wavelength with Cecil, a wavelength about the inner world, the world of transcendent realities."
Here we touch on a major heresy: in our culture the artist of consequence must be an innovator, must be at the cutting edge, must be breaking new ground, must be original. To paint in another's style is, quite simply, unacceptable. Baring feels that the idea of novelty in relation to the arts needs to be re-examined. New flavours, however tasty, are not necessarily a sign of excellence and may even be a substitute for real vision.
In justification he points to the duration of cave painting (a mere 20,000 years), the duration of Russian icon painting (not as long but undeniably lengthy) and the carving of the sculpture of the Hindu gods and goddesses (still being carved today after many centuries). "One thinks of the thousands of times that Christ was painted by generations of artists, yet none of them was told that this was invalid because it had already been done." He also points to the timeless nature of traditional images in which the concept of progress has no validity. No, the symbols and archetypes of the inner world, the world of visionary insight, are by their nature both permanent and timeless. They can and should be re-expressed in a contemporary idiom but must never be distorted or trivialized by the twin distractions of fashion and ego. "Although interesting work is currently being created, especially perhaps among the younger sculptors, an undue proportion of contemporary art is obsessed with psycho-pathology and much more with superficialities. In this sense much of what we see is another form of pollution, this time of the mind."
To put it that way can make Baring sound a trifle doctrinaire and preachy. Yet he is a well-mannered and deeply courteous man. Many of his paintings are closer to magic. They are poetry and illumination in one. His is a vision of the numinous inner world that lies at the heart of both art and religion.
For some thirty years he has been exploring that world through the mysterious, poetic and richly suggestive vocabulary of symbols out of which his work has been composed; he has been painting mountain caps, flaming suns, horses in flight, angels, chalices and landscapes that are as old as Eden and even older. These are slowly meditated works (he produces only three or four canvasses a year), icons of contemplation that are both strangely healing and at the same time never comfortable. Yes, they are often closely related to the images that Cecil Collins used. "I don't believe that Archetypal imagery can ever be owned by an individual since the Archetype belongs to all, the Collective," says Baring, but at the same time they possess their own naked energy; they come from deep places, in the psyche. "As a whole," he confessed, "I do not analyse the images from the point of view of iconography. I let them come. I let them open like flowers. I like to see them as possessing their own life: mysterious and evocative images that work on the soul of the viewer."
If this is so, one can understand Robin Baring's extraordinary claim that it could be artists like Rembrandt, van Gogh, Duccio or even the Symbolists of the late nineteenth century who kept alive images of the Dream in a time of increasing rationalism, that could help to "save" our endangered culture. In other words, those artists in whom the faculty of oracular consciousness has penetrated the numinous forces beyond the personal self, could act as pathfinders and guardians of the soul of our society. It is they who have retained the divinity at the root of life and sung, in a beautiful phrase of Federico Garcia Lorca, "the deep song". For as the sick animal searches out the healing herb, we too may one day have the wisdom to search out the healing energies necessary for our survival.
John Lane is a painter and the Art Editor of Resurgence.
Resurgence No. 205 March/April 2001