c.c. When did you first see it?
g.d. Sometime in the late 60’s, probably in Watkins bookshop in Cecil Court15. I was always down there looking at books on megalithic stones circles and the pyramids, you know, geometries that held the meaning of the universe, hippy stuff like that.
c.c. Was that from being down in the West Country, Stonehenge, Avebury?
g.d. No, more from being in the centre of town at the Slade16, where I first met Keith Critchlow17 who was teaching there and at the A.A.18 He had a hand in setting up the “Research into Lost Knowledge Organization”, concerned with earth mysteries, esoteric poetry and lots of Islamic geometry. It wasn’t hippy stuff at all, it was very academic you had to do serious reading.
c.c. Such as?
g.d. The bible was “The Mathematics of the Cosmic Mind”.19 But it all led to a crisis in my life.
c.c. What happened, you cracked up?
g.d. No, no, in my work. In 1971 at the Hayward gallery in London there was a fantastic show called “Tantra” that had been put together by Phillip Rawson 20, who I later got to know. It was one of those amazing shows that had everything and more of the stuff that I had been looking at. It was so right for its time although it was heavily criticised by some Indians who thought that the omnipresent erotic element portrayed Indian culture in a bad light. No, the crisis was because I saw for the first time that I was just taking and using Indian imagery without understanding what it was for, what it meant. Even though I empathized with the dawings on an instinctive level, I realized that to just appropriate the stuff was phoney and I made this concious decision to drop all the Indian influences and look at the culture that I came from. So I focused on geometry that legitimately could be thought of as from my culture.
c.c. Such as?
g.d. So I choose western perspective conventions and watercolour as being the subject and materials in which to work.
c.c. But perspective is a 15th century Italian invention, it can’t be thought of as yours.
g.d. Compared to the esoteric oriental stuff it can. I did a series of what I thought would be English pictures. Just as with the rectangle book where I, as it were, listed all of the different rectangles rather than choose one, so I juxtaposed different western perspective systems in the same picture, pointing up that they were all equally valid ways of representing reality.
c.c. Like a lexicon of space.
g.d. I just drew simple things like chairs and tables, the staple elements of 17th century perspective primers, chequered floors, staircases 21 . There are several of carpets, where the carpet is divided up into four parts. They have the same pattern but it looks very different drawn in different conventions.
c.c. And these were done using watercolour?
g.d. On expensive handmade paper, a complete change from the previous lowkey approach. I’d been rather shocked when I saw the Tantra show, I realized how superficial I’d been, imitating primitive Indian working methods when I was working in the centre of London within walking distance of virtually any materials that I could imagine.
c.c. Did the people at the Slade prompt this criticism of your work?
g.d. No. One of my tutors was the painter Keith Vaughan, who didn’t really relate to what I was doing. He’d either be up and bitchy or down and dismissive. I wasn’t surprised when I heard that he’d killed himself a few years later. No, it was Critchlow. I was very impressed with his detective approach, he would work things out, back to their roots, to the source. He was incredibly dismissive of anything superficial, no sense of humour whatsoever, which is odd because his method of teaching seemed based on Sufi 22 ideas. The difference I realized later was that he was a commentator, an explainer: he always strove for the comprehensive overview, why and how; whereas I was trying to be creative, I didn’t care about understanding, I wanted to be it.
15 Off Charing Cross Rd. London W.1
16 The Slade School of Fine Art. Part of University College London.
17 Now head of the School of Visual Islamic Traditional Arts. London.
18 Architectural Association, London.
19 Gordon I. Plummer Theosophical Publishing House U.S.A. 1966
20 Artist and teacher 1924 – 1995. See obituary in the Guardian newspaper by Peter de Francia 16 Nov 95
21 For example see: Jean Dubreuill La Perspective Practique. Paris 1663
22 For basic explanation see ‘What is Sufism’ by Martin Lings. Geo. Unwin & Allen 1975