Reflections on John Welson
An edited version of this piece was published in Revista Athena, ISSN 2184-0709 Revista Trimestral Edição no. 6 Novembreo de 2018, Surrealismo A Palavra Mágica Do Século XX By Floriano Martins
Whether we are enthralled by John Welson’s poetry, rendered spellbound as his paintings knock on the door of our unconscious, or find ourselves beguiled by his collages as they knowingly re-order our view of ‘what is’ and ‘what can be’, it is, I believe, possible to discern through the glass the shadows, traces and impulses which reveal his commitment to freedom and surrealism.
Firstly, it is for me impossible to begin to make sense of John’s worldview, his weltanschauung (amongst other languages he is fluent in German, you know!) without taking full account of his Welsh, Radnorshire or, better still, Celtic, roots. You cannot be brought up in the Radnorshire hills of Wales as John was, and not see – and here I mean really see – the figures from the Arthurian myths and legends and hear the echoes through the ages and mists of druidic bards…. (see John’s good friend Patrick Lepetit’s ‘The Esoteric Secrets of Surrealism’ for more on Surrealism’s Celtic connection). But before moving on we also need to acknowledge the organic nature of his work, surely influenced by his life working and walking in the hills of his beloved Radnorshire.
And it to this notion of the organic that I must return. Others have often commented on the violent, destructive character of John’s imagery – but this is surely only half the story. For John the violence in taking or pulling apart is but the necessary first stage of a great work of deconstruction, required to reconstruct and build anew, thus allowing the latent reality of everyday life, which bourgeois ideology masks, to emerge and come to the fore. It is in this organic way that the Marvellous is revealed to us. Again, he offers us a glimpse of what could be.
I write whilst listening to the music Sal Mosca and Warne Marsh who are celebrated in John’s ‘Water Throat’ collection. We cannot grasp the essence of John’s cosmos without hearing the rhythms and sheer spontaneous emotion of Jazz. John performs his Jazz with the cosmic dust of images and words….Feel the beat!
Amongst the surrealist pantheon John is unstinting in his admiration for the works of Matta and Gorky, but in his writing it is, I feel, to Benjamin Peret that we must turn for a comparison: And to me this calls to mind, Peret the revolutionary, Peret the exponent of Black Humour, Peret of the unfettered imagination, Peret ‘the most original and savage of our era’ (Octavio Paz).
I am proud to call John Welson my friend, comrade and collaborator. As I look from my window to the Radnorshire hills beyond, I inevitably see his words and images fall to the ground and nourish the soil, his soil…..
31 December 2017