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Brian Morton

author, broadcaster, commentator and critic

Biographers still divide their subjects into ‘life and work’ as if life and work were separate realms. Strictly speaking, what they mean by this is life and works, whereby the products of a life can be considered apart from the process of creation, as distinct things, readily assembled as opus numbers, catalogues raisonnAces, bibliographies, all linked together by the logic of ‘development’ prefaced by ‘influence’, bookended by ‘decline’. In the not so very distant past, biographers would concentrate on the work in order not to stray into the private realm of the ‘private’ life. Emotional trauma, sexual preference, divorces, mental breakdown, addictions were fastidiously excluded. Modern biographers have gone in the other direction, packing their narratives with so much personal detail that the work seems to emerge either incidentally or according to some crude psychoanalytic conversion: such-and-such a childhood episode yields such-and-such a thematic obsession, such-and-such an appetite determines such-and-such a stylistic trait.

Paz Caplin’s work does not fit into this very Anglo-Saxon – or one might say ‘European’ as opposed to ‘continental’ – logic. He is concerned primarily with work rather than with fetishized works. Not in the self-regarding sense that he considers ‘process’ (that weasel word) to be superior to finished craft. Nor in the bland use of terms like ‘eclecticism’, ‘synaesthesia’ or ‘uncategorisable’, which usually camouflage an inability to close with an imagination that does not run on tram-lines. Nor is he a hyphenate artist who happens to be adept in more than one field, in this case making art, musical composition and playing the ‘cello, or who at times, attempts to bring the three together into an audio-visual whole.

Caplin’s work is strikingly ego-less. In sharp contrast to a virtual consensus that improvisation in music inevitably involves some species of self-revelation, or self-expression, he neither trumpets – should that be ‘cellos? – his presence, nor does he hide behind a creative mystique that perversely only heightens interest in the creative personality, a cheap trick that far from countering the contemporary obsession with artistic celebrity actually draws from it.

It is no surprise that Caplin’s most fruitful associations have been with continental – and most strikingly with Iberian artists. His work shares not only that openness to experience and sensation that is supposed to be characteristic of those who live under sunnier skies, it is also refreshingly resistant to the categories that descend on most cultural criticism like sclerosis. He creates sound. He also makes images. He has produced text works. Each has its own logic, but the underlying logic is the spirit of an artist who does not perceive them as divisible, or as convertible into cash, but who simply lives a core aspect of his life through them. We are not required or expect to find Caplin in the work, but we cannot quite exclude him either, for the essence of this particular artist’s art is that it is continuous and indivisible. We might acquire a part of it, but only in the knowledge that whether it hangs on walls, stands in our ‘personal’ space, or resonates round it (and it might do all three) we are only in partial possession of a process that is lifelong, evolutionary and in some special sense living.

Caplin is not remote from ordinary things. He does not see his art as belonging to a privileged realm. He is political, personally generous, and flawed without that self-dramatising quality that seems to regard flaws as somehow a guarantee of artistic authenticity. He is, in short, a very rare kind of artist, one who stands bravely outside the critical and commercial nexus (they are now essentially the same thing) in order to continue his exploration of the world we are briefly bequeathed and which most of us occupy only shallowly during our short stay. His work is an invitation to see, hear and feel more intensely. Its value lies less in the amount of time we might spend in front of it, admiring, than in the permission it gives us to go off and experience the world for ourselves, with our senses heightened. It does not offer ‘redemption’ or ‘transcendence’ but a recognition that these honoured terms are too grand for life-as-lived, which requires a more humble and more participatory part in the wonderful dialogue that is art and music.

If these words say nothing about specific texts, about Caplin’s influences and development, about his place in the great schema of modern art, then that is precisely the point. If the absence troubles you, then you haven’t been reading, but waiting for the text to provide a key to understanding. There is no key, because there is no lock. This is an open door to a more open world, and he makes you welcome to enter it, and somehow stirred to be there.

Brian Morton. (2008)

second column