Phase

My exhibition ‘Phase’ opens tomorrow night. Although frequently written in part or entirely by the artist, the ‘Press Release’ generally follows the convention of being written in the third person, the ‘third person’ helping to imbue description with an objective or authorative air. In the absence of another authority, and being unapologetically subjective, these notes make up the body of the Press release for ‘Phase’.

“Though in the genus of Print these new works are essentially drawings, print methods making drawings. I’m interested in qualities particular to the printmaking process, the way elements are layered for example, the emphasis on alignments, on mirroring, and multiplicity. Printmakers always seem to be up against limits. The sheet of paper, the printing press, the materials and processes used, while vehicles for expression, also seem to contain it. Boundaries provide definition but I also hope to find ways through or around them, to see beyond them, with sight sharpened by them at the same time.

Etching makes a bitten line that when printed sits up on the paper’s surface. The objective quality of this raised line helps distance it from the world of illusion and bring it closer to the material world. A group of five large etchings are called, ‘Abat-Voix’*. They are made in four adjoining sections, with dense fields of tightly packed lines juxtaposed against each other. Similar in format, surfaces – black (zinc plates) or silver (copper plates) – are differentiated by the specific characteristics of the metals and drawing tools used to make them. Made through a combination of autographic and mechanical process, the work requires a machine-like attention, but benefits from my not being a machine, or from my being only an imperfect one, a machine with feelings.

Smaller works, ‘Tests/Arrangement’, are made from test plates for the larger ones. Based on familiar tropes, off-settings, and doublings of various kinds, each work is made from combinations of repeated elements, unique iterations carrying the referent of other possibilities within them.

Working in the studio I listen to music. It’s part of the experience of drawing so I believe it makes its way in there. The exhibition title refers to a period of time, a particular phase, and also owes something to the composer Steve Reich. I’m interested in tensions between repeated acts and the changes occurring as time and repetitions coalesce. Reich’s ‘Phasing’ technique adjusts sequences of identical notes to move gradually out of time, out of phase, producing in the process an ever-shifting relationship between identical sets of repeating patterns. The linear surfaces of these printed works play against each other in a similar fashion, producing a kind of visual counterpoint.

A small group of lithographs are the first prints I’ve made in this medium. Entitled ‘Mirror’, the prints are based on a page from a notebook.  There is no drawing as such; simply the copying and repositioning of ostensibly blank elements.”

JG September 2012

* An ‘Abat-Voix’ is a device for reflecting sound, specifically the sounding board over a pulpit or rostrum.

Green on Red Gallery, Dublin

Opening 6–8 pm, October 11, 2012

Exhibition Oct 12 – Nov 17

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Work – Flow

Preparing for a show –‘Phase’, Green on Red gallery, October 11 – the approaching deadline seems to draw everything into its vortex. Work speeds up, energies are spent, thinking becomes strained under the pressure of conclusion. Though the pressure to finish can’t be denied, it’s really only a pretend ending. Perhaps nothing can be made sense of without an end, or at least the sense of an ending.

Gardens back onto the river that runs through the park. The wall of one has an imitation heron guarding over the garden’s ornamental pond. The real heron is only a few feet away. Unimpressed by his imitation, he stands, one legged, on a submerged rock, gently clawing the passing water. I haven’t seen him catch anything yet, but he must do because he has been fishing this stretch of river for months.

Running across the wet grass Frankie crosses the white borderline that separates the pitch from the surrounding area. On one side of the drawn line a set of carefully worked out rules hold sway, on the other side, chaos. Frankie crosses with impunity, without sense of the division he conquers.

Several small weirs control the flow of the river. The largest one is close to the concrete steps leading down from the pathway to the waters edge. If you look into the water just before the drop, the surface appears still, clear, and unmoving. Two feet later it is cascading over the side. The weir’s backwash traps debris in its wake, metal cans and small branches, and footballs turning perpetually, running backwards against the river’s flow.

Tonight

A framed etching by Dermuid Delargy, ‘The Imminence of Death’ (1988) hangs above our living room couch. The monochrome field is filled with scribbles and blobs, scratches and stains, and with remarkably fluent and confident lines. Several figures punctuate the scene, two stamping horses, a woman turning away, a man lying stricken on the ground. In the bottom right-hand corner another man, naked and with arms outstretched, is facing a charging bull. Though in peril the man’s posture is open – in bravado or fatalism – he is the hero of a moment transfixed.

Images stop time but we cannot. In ‘De brevitate Vitae’ the roman philosopher Seneca reminds us that time is precious. We imagine we have more time to come but we don’t really, there is only the present. We can alleviate anxieties about the brevity of life by remembering to live now. Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote that when greeting each other we should say: “Take your time!” Time should be possessed, not feared. Until recently I imagined Delargy’s hero was extending his arms in an acceptance of his fate, a gesture welcoming his own destruction. But now I think the figure’s gesture is one of defiance. In his out-stretched stance he is attempting to stretch out the present, pushing time sideways to his left and to his right, extending the moment that prefigures death forever.

In another image of resistance, from death as a kind of ecstatic dissolution, ‘The Drunken Boat’, returns, – “the sea has rolled me softly in her sigh” – to the dark pond. Rimbaud’s reverie culminates in exultation, “O Let my keel burst! Give me to the sea!”, but the desire for oblivion lasts for only an instant. The toy boat returns eventually to the boy, and to ordinary life, but carrying a cargo of extraordinary visions, of “Dawn rising like a nation of doves”, of, “Glaciers, silver suns, pearly tides, ember skies!”

The final verse, forlorn, as though worn out from the tumultuous voyage, contains a plea, “If I desire any of the waters of Europe, it’s the pond
 black and cold, in the odor of evening, where a child full of sorrow gets down on his knees 
to launch a paper boat as frail as a May butterfly.”

Beauty

I’ve been reading – re-reading – , ‘Agnes Martin: Writings’. Published by Cantz, the texts follow one another, the English version, and then a translation into German. The book feels perfect, its size and weight, and the smooth, coated surface of the pale grey cover. There is a photograph of Agnes sitting in a rocking chair in front of a painted canvas, or perhaps it’s a large drawing, a framed drawing, it’s difficult to be sure. She is wearing a white smock and her hands are folded in her lap. Her upward gaze, directed towards the camera lens, looks pensive and slightly bemused, she is wondering perhaps, what am I doing here, why have I agreed to this charade? Beneath the black and white photograph is a single word ‘Writings’, and beneath that the German word, ‘Schriften’.

Her writing style can seem awkward at times, with odd turns of phrase and a halting rhythm. Headings include, “What is real”, and “What we do not see if we do not see”. She says things like, “… we are struggling from death into life” and you think, fuck yeah, that’s a nice turnaround!  In “The untroubled mind” she writes about painting, and a kind of mindlessness she aims for when working. Somewhere else she says, “I used to meditate until I learned to stop thinking – now nothing goes through my mind.” She writes about beauty, and how it remains impervious to destruction; “We say the rose is beautiful, and when the rose is destroyed then we have lost something, so that beauty has been lost. When the rose is destroyed we grieve, but really beauty is unattached”.

Thinking about Agnes Martin I have no inclination to look at her paintings, at least not on the Internet or in books. To see them is a joy but they’re not images, they don’t translate visually beyond their physical selves. I like thinking about them, I like that they exist. She writes about solitude, “… people who like to be alone, who walk alone will perhaps be serious workers in the art field”. It’s odd in some ways, her preoccupation with solitude; isn’t making art a kind of communion with others? Her preoccupation with being alone – “I paint with my back to the world” – with classicism, and with perfection, can seem strange in our time of artworks concerned with contingency and the provisional. She exhorts artists to give up the company of others, and even of pets! But that’s never going to wash around here.

Borders

Recording the dimensions of a print on paper there is usually an, ‘image size’ and a ‘sheet size’. The larger sheet contains both the printed image and the surrounding area – the border. This area, though empty, has a significant effect on how the image appears; it frames and defines it. An intermediary between the image and the world, the border is also a reducer, defining the image as separate from the world around it. In the ambient world we live in demarcations are rarely so precise.

In Jean Cocteau’s film ‘Orpheus’ a mirror marks the passage between two worlds. Jean Marais (playing Orpheus) steps through the mirror (it becomes liquid as he passes through) and enters a passage to the underworld. I have no sense of an underworld, or the afterlife it necessitates (How can there be anything after life?). Beside us though, and I sense it running along beside us on a parallel track, is darkness – nothingness – its only definition given by what it is not. The line between existence and oblivion is thin. Lying awake at night I imagine this border as a pervious membrane (the liquid mirror). I am feeling blindly along its surface, leaning lightly against the tenuous sheet to better feel the pulse of life, and then, irresistibly, I am percolating through.

There is a photograph by Jacques-Henri Lartigue of his friend Guitty playing on the tideline. The photograph is old (1905) but depicts a search for a moment that never wears out. Guitty is trying to estimate the turning point (in French, the point mort), the moment when the incoming water will come to a stop and begin to recede. She runs across the line of water, lifting her skirts, fooled again by the unpredictable waves.

Gap


At the centre of Lindau, a tiny island on lake Konstanz in southern Germany, two churches sit side by side in the market square. The largest pipe organ resides in the loft of St. Stephan’s, while the catholic church of Heilage Maria boasts the more lavishly baroque interior. Both have a Kantor and an assembly of singers providing music for their congregations. Visiting St Stephan’s to attend a talk by the Kantor I found myself instead in the middle of the sunday service. Quickly finding an empty pew, I began to follow the worshippers movements, sitting or standing, according to them. The pastor, a woman dressed in a black gown and white ruffed collar, gestured to the front row of seats. The kantor and his singers stood up and arranged themselves in a line at the head of the church. Disavowing the instrument that made the church famous, the kantor uncovered a small electric piano and unsheated a slew of pages. He introduced the music by speaking briefly at the lecturn, finsihing with three words in english, “Lean on me”. The nine women and a male bass baritone wore identical shades of deep carmine. Gazing towards us, the attentive congregation (and me), the singers began to sway. With wide eyes and sincere gesticulations, the first words of the lyric came;

Sometimes in our lives we all have pain, We all have sorrow

But if we are wise, We always know that there’s tomorrow”

German accents and Teutonic grooves (more jerky Kraftwerk than fluid Michael Jackson) combined to make this funky jingle strange. Mystery, by definition, remains allusive, but sometimes we might catch a glimpse of its location. The body language of the singers and the sentiments of the song were slightly out of sync, and this gap, between the singers and the song, was beautiful.

Mystery

When a recent and still excitable fine art graduate (a long time ago) I was speaking to an artist older and wiser than me. I was boring on about how some artwork meant this or that when the older and wiser artist interrupted my monologue to ask, “What about mystery? Is there no room in your analysis for mystery?” I was embarrassed by the question, he had revealed my failure to understand something very simple; that not everything can or should be explained. What we can’t explain (what we can’t understand) is important, and often, paradoxically, where meaning lies. Blaise Pascal, the 17th  century scientist and philosopher, believed that mystery – and he was a man dedicated to scientific enquiry – was of central importance in life. He believed that some things could never be adequatly explained but that didn’t mean they weren’t true. A devout Christain, he believed that seeking to explain the mysteries of faith was a kind of blasphemy. Mystery should be given it’s due.

… and of the mysteries of the heart he memorably wrote, “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing”.

Thanks RG