jellyface

A COMPOST OF CURIOSITIES
(or; It Seemed Profound at the Time) hello! theme by cissysaurus
01
19

"And yet I am happy. Yes, happy. I swear, I swear I am happy. I have realized that the only happiness in this world is to observe, to spy, to watch, to scrutinize oneself and others, to be nothing but a big, slightly vitreous, somewhat bloodshot, unblinking eye. I swear that this is happiness."

- Vladimir Nabokov

01
12

On making my charcoal drawings

Although I was getting tired of doing charcoal drawings, I think I’m going to return to them. I became dissatisfied when they started evolving into finished pieces in and of themselves instead of their initial role as preparatory drawings for paintings. The simple illusionistic rendering of faces in charcoal (however grotesque) has been done to death; it’s very ‘art school’. They also became too flashy; they could potentially be read as mere receptacles of skill. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, really; I simply want my work to be more than that. I wish to make something which is more interesting. Control and precision with materials is an important concern, but it should not be the only or even primary concern. In an attempt to make work that was more original or interesting I tried combining charcoal with other media – primarily pastel, with some acrylic as well, which I haven’t seen done before. These, however, due to both the nature of chalk pastels and my own inbuilt artistic tendencies made them look too ‘illustrational’ for my liking. For these reasons they irked me and I stopped pursuing them.

I also think I stayed with them too long because I was lacking in confidence with painting in oils. Now that I am painting again, however, I think it might be useful to return to making them. I have yet to find a better way of fleshing out ideas; if I make a mark I am not happy with it is the work of a moment to erase it and try again. It allows me to work intuitively and quickly – the opposite of drawing, for example, with a pencil.

Also, my manner of working can be rather torturous. I am a harsh critic of my own work and this can make painting feel like wrestling with an often stronger opponent. I long to break through and have work flow from me like water. While I do have my moments, they will only become more frequent with persistent, continual and dogged practice. I think that making a large number of these drawings might help break down the dam.

Looking at a recent charcoal drawing done in preparation for a painting, I am particularly pleased with it because it is basic and rough. It was done quickly (in 20 minutes) and has none of the show off-y stylisation or careful, precise rendering of the one I did before it. (Whether or not I like these aspects depends entirely on my mood; I don’t think one is intrinsically better than the other. Also, it’s nice to experiment, to push myself in new directions, and wait to come to a judgement of it until later.)

I’m feeling excited to make them now. I think it might be interesting to make an exhibition of them in the debut space.

01
03
Jeremy August Haik, A Man of Fine Feeling.

Jeremy August Haik, A Man of Fine Feeling.

12
29
Hercai.

Hercai.

12
23
Aaron Smith.

Aaron Smith.

12
16

Damien Meade

“The human being is this night, this empty nothing, that contains everything in it’s simplicity- an unending wealth of presentations, images, none of which occurs to him or is present.” G.W.F Hegel, Gesammelte Werke (Realphilosophie manuscript of 1805–06).

Talcum by Damien Meade is a portrait which distorts the classic presentation of the human figure. It is, he tells us, a painting of a sculptural model,1 a three-dimensional object cast into the role of a two-dimensional illusion, artifice within artifice. Talcum is a tease; her face turned to the side, cast in shadow, only a rouged cheek and the silhouette of a heavily made-up eye discernible; wittily, a sculpture we cannot walk around. The work is dually purposed; Meade draws us in only to push us away. The artist refrains from depicting the figure in its entirety but instead provides a bait, allowing the viewer to garner only some understanding of Talcum through this single painted perspective. The viewer is invited to bring her own thoughts to bear when standing in front of the work; Meade does not complete it for us. This is a painting which is aware it is being observed; the coquettish painted figure aware of it too.

The material of the original physical object is not divulged to us; we cannot make it out. Is this important? Indeed, one might not necessarily guess that this figure existed as a model first; it is foremost a painting and appears as such. Although mimetically rendered with convincing delineations of form and shadows, these are still, purposefully, slightly off. Parts of the anatomy do not make sense; tonal modelling confused or under-worked. The red reflection depicted on the top right of the head appears to have no source, contrasted with the dark red of the cheek and the purple eye: these colours appear intrinsic rather than cast from the light. This is not a photographic representation; the brushwork is still painterly; stylised, though subtly. The head appears to be marginally off-balance, pulled out of shape from the top right. Unlike a mass produced commercial figurine total harmony of form is not quite achieved, though the result is slight. This has a destabilising effect; our reading of her is frustrated, mislead.

The figure takes the dimensions of a person in life. The only real clue of Talcum’s origins lies in where the sloping of her shoulders end; a line is drawn, a shadowy reflection cast, and her objecthood revealed. This is not not made obvious; the negative space below the figure echoes that above the head, the space to the left and right of her similarly balanced to create a pleasing frame, echoing yet undermining the viewers assumptions both of painting people and the role a painting should take as dictated to us by history.

1National Museums Liverpool: Walker Art Gallery Editors, John Moores Painting Prize 2012 (Liverpool: National Museums Liverpool Press, 2012), p.25

12
12

Milena Dragicevic

An artist of particular interest to me is Milena Dragicevic, whose paintings of abstracted portraits that hit you in the face are endlessly fascinating.

Canadian Serb-born1 artist Milena Dragicevic began her Supplicants series in 2006,2 which she currently pursues alongside her more abstract works. Each piece starts with a simple format which is rigorously adhered to – a face in the middle of a small canvas. Each supplicant begins as a photograph which Dragicevic takes herself, of a family member, friend or acquaintance.3 Always either 61 x 56.5 cm or 61 x 51 cm in size,4 Dragicevic alters these photographs with stark and surreal interventions, where on the canvas they become something else entirely. Facial features are replaced by geometric shapes and coloured disarmingly, her subjects’ physiognomy altered in unlikely ways. She oscillates between figuration and abstraction, subject and object, the defined and the indeterminate, her works audaciously refusing to settle down into simply one or the other.

Each of the works in this series is titled ‘Supplicant’, followed by either a positive or negative number. If a convention is followed in their numbering it is not apparent; the figures ascribed clearly do not correspond to chronology. A supplicant is a term applied to earnest petitioners, particularly University of Oxford students who have qualified for their degree but not yet been admitted to graduate.5 It can also refer to a beadsman, ‘a man of prayer’, an almsman or pensioner who would pray for someone, often a benefactor in exchange for food or money. It is an archaic term, with ecclesiastical undertones, suggestive of a world very different from modern day London, a resurrection of a lost past. It defies a simple interpretation. What are these Supplicants asking for? The title implies the viewer holds some kind of power over them. Or is it Dragicevic herself who is humbly entreating us?

Her titling mirrors her paintings – at once a code of abstraction yet with one foot still grounded in reality. In choosing her titles Dragicevic replicates the ambiguity of her Supplicants in language. The title has the function of mutating the work, both providing a window into yet further transmuting the physical image. Indeed, language takes a significant role in Dragicevic’s work, informing and shaping it. Born in the Republic of Serbia but raised in Canada, she grew up speaking two languages.6 Speaking English by day and Serbian by night, these conflicts and inconsistencies act as a catalyst for the ambiguity in her work. ‘The Serbian language is very graphic, therefore quite visible – my work is visible in the sense that at times I think it can hit you in the face.’

* * *

The light, soft brown of unbleached linen, a spectrum of gentle blues and a modicum of green – all colours closely associated with nature – form the basis of Supplicant 888, covering all but one small area of the canvas. These pleasant, soothing colours are broken by a gash of red. The eye is drawn to this stark interruption, and it is only upon inspecting this that the viewer comes to realize the subject of the painting: a woman’s head with strange lips, placed at an odd angle; not simply a seemingly arbitrary collection of amorphous colours and shapes. This understanding immediately shifts the image into something dark and unsettling, benign constructions and hues transfigure into an experience of the uncanny.

A woman’s head floats within the picture plane, shoulders and body absent, unanchored too from distinct delineations of form. She balances impossibly on an insubstantial, coiled tube which extends and takes the place of her mouth, losing form as it trails off the canvas. Her face is flattened, her headgear uncertain; Dragicevic’s articulations subsume an insufficiency of mimetic modelling, a lack of sculptural structure. The viewer is denied the satisfaction and comfort which accompany the observation of illusionistic renderings of familiar shapes; shapes which might allow the viewer to make sense of them without effort, to unconsciously relate and substitute them with bodies observed in life. Attention is drawn to what would normally be accepted without thought. Dragicevic meets the viewer halfway, and through these methods both enables and undermines the perception of Supplicant 888 as someone or something real. These means of modelling and the absence of a body combine to create a feeling of anti-gravity. She seems undead, weightless; floating through space or sinking, unconscious, in the sea. Her skin is arranged in unnatural blues and the background is flat, unpainted, devoid of any suggestion of space to ground either her our ourselves. Unanchored, she surely must go somewhere, but no movement is depicted. Dragicevic hints at a space found in dreams, or memories or reflections of some other place, unknowable to us.

Although the subject’s form is flattened, turned, cropped, and altered by unnatural intervention, it is still somehow clear that Dragicevic’s subject is female. This is important and plays a significant role in how the painting is read. One of the most striking things about this portrait is the odd angle at which the head is placed. She is depicted in three-quarter view, turned to the left, but her head is facing downwards; the edge delineating her profile nearly in parallel with the horizontal line of the canvas. In paintings of people this is a position seldom seen. This placement, combined with the figure’s strange, gaping mouth, is suggestive of the act of fellatio.

Supplicant 888’s mouth is the focus of the painting; the viewer’s eye is drawn to the deep red that seems unnatural amongst an expanse of blue, emphasized further by the black hole within, the point of highest contrast. Her lips – though they are not lips – are the only truly abstract element of the painting. Tubular and organic, these phallic shapes are reminiscent of the small intestine and similarly of horsetail, an ancient Japanese pond plant with hollow, tubular stems and bulbous joins. This form winds and coils from behind her head, where it disappears; shifting from sky blue to red where it takes the place of her lips, and back to blue again upon its exit. This suggests purpose, even an uncanny intelligence. As this form coils up and winds rhythmically towards her face once more, it shifts, subtly yet jarringly behind her squared chin. Dragicevic plays with space within the picture plane, the arrangement unable to settle, perspective shifting back and forth in perpetuity.

The manner in which the figure is warped speaks of oppression. Power is exerted; an injustice has been done; the lips being the obvious mutilation, but with further allusions too. The end of her nose is cut off and the strange modelling of blues that make up her skin seem like bruises, particularly the deep indigo circle on her forehead. The single purple shade on the hollow of her cheek is similarly bruise-like; it is also suggestive of lipstick smeared, evocative though not defined. The figure’s headpiece is modelled oddly, and some of it is missing. It is reminiscent of the cloth headdress of a washerwoman, containing and covering the hair, a subject commonly historically depicted by artists such as Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin and Camille Pissarro. This adds to the feeling of servitude, or of being here against her will.

She is distanced, separated from us, her face without emotion but with the permeation of helplessness. The winding of the tubular forms that take the place of her mouth is echoed in the shape of the winding of her headdress; we notice that she has no ear, the headdress seeming to grow from the space the ear should be. The viewer also sees that it is at her cropped nose that the winding tubes begin – can she hear? Can she breathe? Her eyes are open – though we can only see one – and she does not meet our gaze. Her pupil is an uncanny white. Maybe this is a feature of her peculiar physiognomy, or perhaps in her eye there is a reflection of something we cannot see. She is locked, real yet unreal, dead and undead – whatever her reality, we cannot help her.

Although Dragicevic’s composition is psychologically complex, Supplicant 888 is not a ‘portrait’ in the traditional sense of the word as it evolved in the Romantic era; it is not a characterization of the model, aiming at revealing her identity or some aspect of her personal psychology. The painted figure is not a true reflection of the original sitter. She too is not a mutant; she is not herself frightening; she is not morphing beyond control or recognition. She is, rather, a surrogate for something else. She is not an individual but a substitute which points to a different world, ultimately unknowable, one that exists both in the past and in the future. In depicting the specific, Dragicevic points to the universal. Rarely in life is anything what it seems.

The strange juxtaposition of forms, colours and intervention is comical too. Her interventions are odd, something we perhaps have not seen before, and there is something funny about them at the same time as there is something sad. Dragicevic dances on the line between the sublime and the ridiculous, her use of colour and physical alterations expertly chosen and executed.

This work is not, as it were, romantically painted; Dragicevic has not let the paint run away with her. It is expertly done; the maker is egoless, absent. There are no visible brush marks; the work is cold. It is delicate and careful without being fussy, exacting but not overworked or fastidious. This has the effect of making the painting seem at once primal yet also refined and civilised. ‘In a sense we are all still cavemen only now we have access to hair conditioner.’

Supplicant 888 speaks of violence, oppression and sadness. Yet we are blocked from empathizing with her. We cannot meet her gaze and look into her face, and through an imagined exchange of thoughts and emotions come to some kind of catharsis. In her borrowing from both figurative and abstract languages, Dragicevic offers up identity as an inward-facing puzzle, untranslatable.

1Phaidon Editors, Vitamin P2: New Perspectives in Painting (Phaidon Press Ltd: London, 2011), pp.68-69

2Ciaran McKenna, ‘Milena Dragicevic: A marriage of sublime and ridiculous’, Don’t Panic Magazine (2008) <http://www.dontpaniconline.com/magazine/arts/milena-dragicevic> [accessed 15 November 2012]

3Previous note

4Phaidon Editors, ‘Inside the Mind of Milena Dragicevic’, Phaidon Online Article (2011) <http://uk.phaidon.com/agenda/art/articles/2011/november/14/inside-the-mind-of-milena-dragicevic/> [accessed 15 November 2012]

5Catherine Soanes ed., The Compact Oxford English Dictionary of Current English (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 1156

6Ciaran McKenna, ‘Milena Dragicevic: A marriage of sublime and ridiculous’, Don’t Panic Magazine (2008) <http://www.dontpaniconline.com/magazine/arts/milena-dragicevic> [accessed 15 November 2012]

12
08

Painting is difficult. Coming to some kind of complete or at least well-rounded understanding of another artist’s work is, perhaps, even harder, maybe impossible. How can one objectively verbally analyse an object which is not primarily linguistic?

Painting does not function as telepathy, or mechanical transmission. Of course it does not; yet it is easy (if somewhat naive) to assume a painting can be read as easily as a the label on a box of cereal, or at least perhaps a newspaper – it offers itself up to the eye – I can clearly see all the forms, colours, delineations and modelling that make up an image – there are no words I do not understand.

Yet, equally, painting is not communication. The artist had something in mind, something she wanted to express, but I have no assurance that I know what it was. An impossibly vast number of things helped create the work that I will never know about, every tiny aspect of the artist’s life and influences, a life a world apart from mine and one I will never begin to understand. That ‘art is subjective’ is one of visual culture’s most repeated clichés.

Surely, however, something can be said about this or that particular painting; a colossal institution of commentary has evolved alongside the institution of painting to explain, control and stabilize the art market. How is this to be achieved? By looking at the artist’s person, her childhood, schooling and personal psychology? Her gender? The historical and cultural circumstances of the artwork’s production? Providing a visual analysis of the work?

Though a final, definitive and objective exploration of a particular painting can never be achieved, though communication in painting functions primarily as hope, this absolutely does not mean that there is cannot be anything interesting to say.

12
05
Another kiss.
Sara Sisun.

Another kiss.

Sara Sisun.

12
05
The Kiss
2002, 78 x 98&#160;cm

"On the surface we are all profound and noble, but inside we are cruel and simple".
Odd Nerdrum, Themes, 2007.

The Kiss

2002, 78 x 98 cm

"On the surface we are all profound and noble, but inside we are cruel and simple".

Odd Nerdrum, Themes, 2007.