I am much indebted to Edward Said's illuminating study 'On Late Style' published posthumously in 2006 by Bloomsbury.
Late Style is by its very nature work by an artist produced towards the end of a creative life. However, there are certain characteristics that are peculiar to Late Style and which I have found useful to consider in that refusal of the mature artist to admit to any waning of that desire to be in the studio.
One assumes the artist to be fully conscious, full of memory and totally aware of the present, even so Late Style is not a resolution of earlier ideas and things attempted. It is more an exploration of mature subjectivity which is by now stripped of hubris and pomposity, unashamed of fallibility and of modest assurance. It is though a particular prerogative of Late Style to render both disenchantment and pleasure without having the necessity to resolve the contradictions between these two states of mind. The mature artist is in a position to allow him/herself these two disparate and faintly inappropriate emotions. Inappropriate in the sense that disenchantment could be considered as a morose rejection of all things, an expressive view much taken by the artist when growing to maturity; equally pleasure is hardly appropriate, being too redolent of ice-cream and not necessarily serious. For the older artist disenchantment is a frequent companion and part of a hard-won critical edge and pleasures are to be savoured with confidence. The tension exerted by these two opposites is maintained by the mature artist as an underlying challenge. Cezanne reflects on that mature ability to recognise the particular brilliance of light filtered through the branches of a tree.
Late Style may well be that ability to render disenchantment with a moral order which lacks a determining spiritual dimension as exposed through the felicity of visual language skills. Look at Titian's 'Flaying of Marsyas' of 1576. The trembling hand of the aged artist is wholly equated with the content and intention of the painting. Or Goya's 'The Peasants Fighting With Clubs' of 1828. These peasants will drown in mud as they fight the eternal civil war. Goya's despair is at the continuing violence of the ignorant, the dual cannot be stopped. These were both painters at the end of long productive lives, symbolising eternal despairs which were given life through the pleasures of the brush. Late Style indeed.
This was originally part of a Paper given at the Transparent Boundaries Colloquium on Friday October 26th 2012 at University for the Creative Arts, Farnham.