Other Ways of Seeing – The Subtle Art of John Maltby

John MaltbyI define my being by a deep-seated and necessary connection to my past; my ancient, and significantly, my English past. Much of my life I have been unable to walk alone, but have carried with me the most welcome and treasured burden of belonging; a belonging to this place, this land, this immutable continuation of history and tradition.

I tend to look upon myself as a child of the Fifties, and in many ways I feel defined by that. But it’s a poor definition; it fails to describe the essential the core; it falls short of a true understanding of who I feel I really am. For that I need to look back further through time; back to when the foundations of my true belonging were established. As I walk this place, seemingly clothed in modernity, I feel nonetheless written through with a lasting tradition. And that core of tradition is the true defining lode-stone of my existence. It enriches and nourishes my awareness, and my sense of being. It informs my eye and ear. It interprets my experience and enables ways of seeing.

A year ago I bought a beguiling ceramic sculpture by the English artist John Maltby. The piece was to be a gift for my wife. Entitled Bird Man Fish, it seemed at first sight to be imbued with experience; it spoke eloquently to me of an ancient and innate British history. But this was no faux archaic piece; no historical pastiche. What was so illuminating for me was the genuine expression of unity and equality in the relationship between Bird, Man and Fish; and not least the balance Maltby had achieved between them and their position in the broader scheme of things. This was contemporary sculpture addressing questions of fundamental balance and harmony; a place where man is not being seen as dominant, but plays his part in an equal balance; a trinity of mutual importance; a form of spiritual symbiosis.

Maltby, uniquely in my experience, understands that a certain digression from “reality” has to take place if his message is to be understood by a wider audience. His work seems like an unconscious reaction to our contemporary situation, but one guided by a well of centuries of experience in his English soul. His sculptures appear cloaked in a vision of timelessness, innate and ancient, concerned with fable, history and tradition. And though the accusation could be cast, this is no obsession with our English past, but more a concern with, and articulation of, our contemporary situation.

John Maltby’s ceramic sculptures have long since captivated and moved me. But not until acquiring Bird Man Fish did I start to understand the reason why. In the past I have used my own writing to articulate my own contemporary experiences, but informed by a vision that is fed by centuries of our history. And so I felt strangely compelled to try and express in words the intrinsic reliance and dependence upon each other I sensed so strongly when first seeing the piece. Through the telling of the sacrifice of a life, and its rebirth in a stricken soul through the giving of food, I hoped to achieve just that balance, that perpetual and vital sense (so often lacking, sadly) of a necessary need we all have for each other.

The resulting short story opened my eyes still further; opened them to John Maltby’s other ways of seeing.

NB: To read the story select the Short Stories link from the Other Writing menu option (top right of the page).