Tim Neat: The Fall of Light

Publication: The Times.  
May 2016

Tim Neat: Wall Projects

The Fall of Light

Tim Neat has often been described as a polymath — understandable given the range of his media and achievements. He is a film-maker, poet, ceramist, printmaker, author, art historian, photographer and bee-keeper. Introducing this exhibition, in an atmospheric former ropeworks in Montrose, Neat explains his love of, and fascination with, humanity. At a stroke his remarkable oeuvre is somehow shed in a new light. His is a study of the human condition.

“Polymath” suggests someone accomplished in a range of disciplines, and while this may be true, it misses an essential aspect of Neat’s character; the accomplishments and media are secondary to the messages he wishes to convey. The media are investigatory, and not developed for their own sakes. They are used to allow different exploratory angles into his subject matter.

His written studies of Margaret MacDonald, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, blacksmiths, bards, seers, prophets, poets, as well as his photographs — mainly black and white taken over a period of 50 years — all seem to point in one direction: a desire to illuminate our relationships with each other, with the natural world and our own archetypal selves.

Here are important studies of the Scots travelling people, including the remarkable study of Martha MacKenzie of Fortingall, from 1976. Others show Neat’s great mentor, the writer John Berger, and their mutual friend, the actress Juliette Binoche. There is a moving tribute to another of Neat’s friends, the great poet and folklorist Hamish Henderson — the subject of Neat’s two-volume biography — which includes tender, moving images of Henderson in an Edinburgh care home, days before his death in 2002.

However, there is no doubt that the centrepiece of the show is a selection of Neat’s ink drawings, numbering about 200, most of which have been completed in the past few months. This is the remarkable late flowering of another aspect of this remarkably fecund, creative soul.

Describing his drawing, Neat says: “This process echoes Picasso’s famous statement: ‘I do not seek, I find.’ However, I do seek. And what I seek is akin to that which I seek in many of my poems. I have a wish to sharpen the knowledge, sensibility, imagination, political vision of mankind. I have a compulsion to serve — like an old officer of empire — and my tools are my art.”

Neat’s vision has become more ephemeral, metaphorical, symbolic with often jarring imagery. There is rage against war, injustice and technological slaughter and a great compassion for the afflicted and dispossessed. The images often appear dragged from the edge of consciousness at that point where the mind processes the quotidian atrocities that appear on our TV screens. Neat works his paper and ink with water, blood, wine, to create textures and tones of anguish; there is fluidity of idea and technique.

Amid the starkness and horror there is beauty and delicacy — some of the best works are of the female form, not brutalised or objectified, but celebrated.