"The first study for the man who wishes to be a poet is his own self knowledge, entire; he seeks his soul, he inspects it, he tempts it, apprehends it…The poet makes himself a 'voyant' through a long, immense and reasoned deranging of all his senses. All the forms of love, of suffering, of madness; he tries to find himself, he exhausts in himself all the poisons, to keep only their quintessence. Unutterable torture in which he needs all his faith, all his superhuman strength, in which he becomes among all men the great invalid, the great criminal, the great accursed one - and the supreme Savant| - For he arrives at the 'unknown'".
For all art, according to the psychoanalyst Hanna Segal, stems from a desire for reparation. A follower of Melanie Klein, Segal locates this desire in the guilt experienced in early infancy at the destructive urges felt towards the mother, who is suddenly discovered not simply to be nurturing 'breast', but to be separate and fallible. The impetus to create art represents an attempt to return to a lost Utopian domain. Art is an exploration ,a journey embarked on to restore the destroyed fragments of the psyche to an integrated whole. It is an attempt to return home.
Constant's own challenging childhood reads like something from Albert Camus 'L'Etranger', and unsurprisingly leads to concerns with the existential loneliness and essential alienation of the artist. Born in that mythologised city, Casablanca, of a Moroccan Jewish mother and a French father, he was, during a number of his formative years, left with his brother in a French orphanage. His artistic life since seems to have been a search for a safe haven to express feelings of abandonment and loss. Training first as an actor, which enabled him to explore different personae and aspects of the self, he came to realise that it was through painting that he could best articulate his obsessions.
More recently, Constant has turned away from his early figuration to the symbols of the arcane mystical traditions found within both his Arab and Jewish heritage, such as the ancient Hebraic Kabala. Mathematics has always been a strong part of Arab heritage and numbers, in the form of esoteric numerology - the art and science of understanding spiritual significance and orderly progression within the universe - began to find their way into his work. The 'Triple Enceinte', is a glowing abstract painting of a square encompassing other squares. The blocks of colour move from a cool blue, through orange to a deep ox-blood red. This ancient, pre-Christian symbol is linked to the metaphysics of a sacred space and symbolises the spiritual gradations between the temporal world and the sacred centre of the temple. It represents the Holy of Holies, or perhaps that central space within the self that is neither good nor bad, but simply essence.
Unity and totality are also represented by the Pythagorean Tetraktys, which divides the world through a series of numbers, which together are equal to 10. These form a symbolic pyramid with the creator at the apex; working down through air, water to earth at the base. The Tetraktys is thus a numerical symbol of the divine and all that is harmonious and is used by Constant both as an image within a single canvas, as in his painting of ten granite-like blocks The Tetraktys, as a way or arranging interconnected works to emphasis the unity of creation. In his dark painting, Passage, the blocks have been reduced to three rectangular forms, one on top of the other, and might be read as the vertebrae of a spinal column or even stepping stones - both in their own ways pathways or representative of the building locks for internal growth and progression.
Journeys and paths signifying the soul's journey return again and again through Constant's work, like the melody of a song. On his studio wall at London Fields, when I visited, was a large painting of a labyrinth, the ultimate image of life's overall pattern, depicting its numerous false byways and wrong turns. Paintings of church shaped windows, of boats and vessels all speak of starting points and journeys into altered states of consciousness.
Transformation is an essential psychological ingredient. Both the Tarot and alchemy are repetitive themes i his odyssey of self-creation, echoing the Jungian preoccupation with the "alchemy of the unconscious". Thus in a painting like 'Search', a droplet of light hangs from a pale inverted triangle amid the surrounding dark space - a tiny nugget of enlightenment, of philosophers' gold.
Devoid of any formal training as n artist, Constant has developed his own highly original paint surfaces. The colours have recently become darker, more tenebrous like the shadows of the underworld. The deep blues, greys and blacks often interrupted by the crimson of a red heart - in all its raw and painful nakedness - are intense and claustrophobic, like the dark religious imagery within a cathedral.
Recent experiments with pigments mixed with wax allow for a subtle interplay of colour, texture and form. The sealed dense surfaces appear timeless as if they might, in fact, always have existed.
A recent exhibition entitled 'A Pilgrim's Journey' further exemplified Constant's feeling that man is simply a stranger in his surroundings, passing through in his search for the ideal city or to return to the Kleinian model - the mother and home. That life is a constant struggle for spiritual survival is made clear by titles such as the Myth of Sisyphus. Yet as the paintings 'Path of destiny' and 'House of Ideals' suggest, we have little option but to continue the quest. In Circle, a dark squat shape sits next to a yellow circle. Light and dark. Yin and Yang. The implication that emanates from this work is that we are not flotsam and jetsam on the sea of our lives, but have the free will to choose our destinies. We can choose the dark, or through the creative reparation of art we can turn towards the light.
Sue Hubbard, 1996