School of Harm … Maenadic Studies *
Regarding artists, Plato saw in them no invention, unless inspired and out of their senses. Inspiration, incidentally bestowed - in the Plato’s own time – by a divine troop of discipline-specific Muses; figurative personifications and exclusive franchisers of creative genius.
Lamentably, for visual artists, while Greek Muses readily enraptured poets, musicians, tragedians, dancers, and comedic actors, they, for whatever reason, spurned visual artists.
Plato stipulated insensibility as essential prerequisite of divine inspiration. I like to fancy the philosopher imagining such obligatory insentience along Apollonian lines. Envisioning, perchance, vital inspirational swoons unspooling in what one might think of as neoclassical style. Spontaneous divination, attending on cerebral abstention – serially eventuating within a colonnaded rotunda, awash with even, Arcadian, light.
A space, symmetrically picketed by genre specific effigies and furnished with tastefully appointed fainting lounges. The sum of its aesthetic and psychological portions designed to encourage accommodative inward-turning and mortal downscaling of oversized sacred energies. Discarnate consummation, germinating and birthing physical creation. Creation, of course, minus somatic exertion or emotional histrionics, of the kind I entertain a happy appetite for.
I speak to the sorts of squalid, orgiastic, convulsions often typified by more barbaric states of possession and creative birth. Ludicrously savage states of captivation, like the Dionysian-flavoured frenzy-and-transport attached to popular notions of middle-period modern artists. As in the caricaturish artist- manqués (and their creative paroxysms) one chances upon in New Yorker cartoons and Mad Magazine parodies.
Is any caricature more perennially hardy - or as ubiquitous - than stereotypical depictions of bohemian picture-painters? We’ve all seen, and been drolly amused by, these laughable, easel-orbiting dervishes, lost in a private, careering pas de deux, with whatever ‘god-mad’ inspiration topped their contemporary-painting dance-card of the cultural-moment. Most of us are familiar with this apparitional, beret-and-smock-wearing artist. A parodic character, far removed from any sort of steady, Apollonian, inner-thrummings.
Conversely, what we have here, is a spirit-drunk puck, unthinkingly engaged in a no-holds-barred, and potentially self-destructive, tango with real and imagined elemental forces, dressed up as demigods. In ungainly and mortal struggle with an immortal tag-team of Maenadic suitors or, perhaps, adversaries. An artist, wholly lost to the world, to himself, to any possibility of impulse-buffering domesticity … in fact, publicly averse to all governing restraint. An artist - to paraphrase Maslow - who is - merely animal - an animal transcending.
So, what might this essay’s mythopoetic carry-on have to do with the purportedly allegorical paintings on show? These newest works continue on an elliptically sui generis path of preposterousness, provocation and impiety – contending with typically dead-earnest (and, to my mind, dead-end) aesthetic concerns and conceptual ‘issues’, currently obsessing the outward-turning, gray-matter-alphas of the art world.
My paintings perpetually cycle and recycle monotonic, introspective, matters of matter-of-factly misanthropic studio-life. Studio environs complete with its exaggerated, and shopworn studio emblems, such as: painting palettes, easels, brushes, smocks, berets, cruel shoes and paint smears. Outfitting my anatomically correct figures – in various states of studio dress and undress. Loosing the paintings’ players at each other, to indulge in socially incorrect intergender tussles.
Think of the pictures as mytho-poetic Punch and Judy shows, featuring relatively tiny artists beset by bigger-than-life, multi-chrome, Bacchae.
The paintings’ shallow perspectival settings and preposterous lighting-conceits backdrop the depicted figure’s stylized terpsichorean mayhem - think WWF, think contact-improv, think Jules Feiffer’s cartoon ‘dances to spring’, think the anachronistic stylizations of Nijinsky or Martha Graham. All, of course, contrived and stagey – but convincing, nonetheless, with a curiously plausible internal logic. The painting’s players; either unaware or unashamed of the broad melodramatic artifice they play out.
While the paintings feature, in most cases, spatially believable, planar-floors. And, at times, the sort of low-rent moiré-patterned wood grain walls found in trailer-homes and budget motels, such ur-quotidian detail serves, perversely, as shabby-chic foil to the painting’s even more tawdry optical (atmospherically metaphysical) contrivances. More often than not, consisting of spectral incursions by non-naturalistic light and color – democratically alluding to visionary states, lustrous natural phenomenon, or Las Vegas’ neon-borealis.
What does all of this add up to, you might ask. Well, nothing, that is, to do with any real, or explicit, fixed meaning. The paintings’ agenda is simply retinal and cerebral delight – of an unfixable (open ended narrative) category. While alluding to and borrowing (magpie like) from all sorts of affiliate association. The paintings, in their final testimony, substantiate and attest only to the hoary outlaw-biker credo – sworn to fun, loyal to none.
* my essay (unpublished) for the exhibition of the same name @ Suite Gallery, Wellington