The STAG TALKS series grew out of the large LONDON CYCLE (more than fifty paintings) which I started immediately after a one-week stay in London in February of 1995. While there I saw, in galleries and in museums, a lot of different kinds of art from many periods. I then found myself loaded with inspiration that wanted to return in color and form in my own way.
In this cycle I managed, for the first time, to realize a metamorphosis between a free flow of color composition as a major impulse of painting and the fragments of figuration which are somewhat like rocks in a river, surrounded by free waters flowing over and engulfing them — interactions of the processes of pulverizing, dissolving, corroding. Yet this is not in order to destroy but to open potential of color and invention of freedom beyond forethought.
It has often been said to me that some of these paintings are reminiscent of prehistoric cave paintings. I remember when I was around the age of nine or ten, I walked into my classroom and, after a while, I saw on the wall a replica of the famous "Dying Bison" from the Altamira Cave in the Northern of Spain. At that time I did not know yet where it was from, but my imagination quite easily understood what it was. That impression never disappeared from of my mind.
Studying and drawing animals has always accompanied my work, but when I stayed in Paris many years later (1982–83) it took on more of a biological and philosophical concern that led me to reduce my work exclusively to painting archaic-type animals.
I was focused on trying to imagine an early period in evolution when man and animal communicated with each other. Don't get me wrong, this is not meant to be touching onto the mythical, it is questioning when in our history of evolution our roots still were so close that we could 'understand' each other by means of speaking a common language. Of course a painter can't create just by having this question. But I wasn't speaking about the painter here. The painter has to take care of very different things like questions of form and color and such. But because of those years and because I still live and work in the country, close to nature, the animal is still close to me and appears often in my work. The animal, our cosmic companion, (Das Tier, unser kosmischer Begleiter...) as some philosopher once said.
After one has been painting for a long period of time — for me it has been forty years now — one develops a very personal relationship with the force that makes you paint. It becomes very difficult, impossible perhaps, to speak about what was 'before' — about what the original inspirations were. There is always a 'before' but it becomes lost. If then one talks about one's work, in a way one always says things half wrong because nothing comes from nothing.
One always has one's favorite painters. And from time to time you might be fortunate to discover one more just as you go along. It feels like meeting a friend you've known for a long time. This happened to me when I became familiar with the work, life and philosophy of the Russian artist Ernst Neizvestny — thanks to John Berger — and, when I found the paintings of Arshile Gorky at the Gulbenkian Collection in Paris. I had not having known his name until then. Studying his work surely had some impact on the STAG TALKS, but more in a hidden way. Mostly, I 'digest' influences for many years until they reappear in my work. The same happened when I studied the late work of Jan Voss and Kirkeby.
Creating a new cycle is like creating a new form or a new tool. It is not that the particular cycle is finished after actually having finished it. For me, with each cycle, and even with each single good painting, a new way of seeing is born. So, to be precise, I had to say that the STAG TALKS series never will be finished completely. Beyond the rhythm between linear treatment and questions of fade-in fade-out of the figure, I found new personal neighborhoods and temperatures of colors that I have not been using in that way before. This was a new quality in my attitude, somewhat like a new sound in your musical scores or on your guitar; a worthwhile discovery.
I'm often asked, "Where do the titles of your work come from?" That's easily answered. If I use titles — and sometimes I don't — they come up already while I'm working on a piece. That's how it was with the "Stag Talks" painting. And this is how it has been with me for a long time. Sometimes titles dissolve and new titles come up. Or, some paintings have two titles until one of them fades away. "Stag Talks" originally were entitled "Nachrichten von Tieren und Menschen" (News from Animals and Men); a title I still like a lot. Language has always been close to seeing for me. For example, if I look intensely out of my writing window, the things I see seem to appear on one hand, visually, and on the other, I have a feeling for writing about them without losing the immediate contact or shape or taste of things. It is to me as if the word is asleep in the middle of things.
Jeff Beer, July 2001