When we approach art made recently, we bring with us a broad range of responses. Contemporary media may have a bewilderingly wide range of forms of delivery, but all of them could be described as dependent on narrative. That is, setting a chain of events in some sort of (presumed) causal logic.
The search for narrative has always underpinned human culture, and we would appear to be at a new peak for narrative forms. Even my new phone presents conversations/ threads of calls or texts as the developing story of a relationship. It is not enough to present art/ paintings as an individual artists’ personal response to stimuli. Nothing we do is autonomous, it is all contingent and linked.
What we have here then, is a series of traditionally made oil paintings, as images they have a strong visual similarity. Each ‘Still Life’ painting will be paired with a different potential narrative in that contemporary subject; the search for identity. Each set of painted texts is both an illusion and a physical fact, each is true, and each is demonstrably false. Each painted text concerns the illusory past of one Joseph Whitemark: artist. Each past is different: Red Joe, Joseph Whitemark the traditional painter and Art College teacher etc.
The visual response to form is necessarily subjective, and the unreliable narrator has an equally long pedigree. This not a spot the ball competition to find the ‘right’ pairing; there is no such thing. But, for each viewer, with their broad range of responses some of these narratives will be more convincing than others- the question to ask is why?
Part of the Whitemark series:
Still Life One
Perhaps in the small details taken out
and examined in the light.
A section, a part of a whole that tells,
that points up the larger narrative.
Someone, a servant girl plump and smiling
and curved like a cornucopia,
will sweep up this bowl, colander perhaps,
with one hand as she strides by.
The other hand balancing on her hip
a basket, dirty laundry would fit.
The soiling of the sheets, perhaps
Provided by the main action of the work
From which this is but a small section.
And yet, the strong light from above.
A star, a famous personage standing alone
A slight nod of the head accepting our applause
As, microphone in hand he, or is it she?
No, the black, the white, the heavy chiaroscuro.
This is a male figure before us.
As our male star in perfect black evening dress
Lit by a single spot
Takes the microphone in his right hand and…
And yet, all that darkness and a single light
Is surely an interrogation?
Tell us, colander full of anxious vibrating forms,
Tell us what you know, tell us all you know and tell us now.
Questions have been asked here
At least that much is clear,
Part of the Whitemark Series
Still Life Two
(Frequency and Resonance: 123—45)
We are not at a border,
Stop or go according to written rules.
Boundaries are fluid in this world.
It can be a duck and a bird.
The white worn net
Thrown out from the old boat
A used frayed texture against
A clean new sky.
Or, In the Raphael cartoon, the Miraculous Draught of Fishes,
One boat is full, fins and tails spilling untidily over an edge
On the second boat, two men stand with their backs bent
An attractive line formed as they pull in a net.
A net of course, was part
of the standard gladiatorial kit,
the retiarius, whose function was
to trip or catch your opponent.
The curl and throw of a net,
A form deep in our memory.
Is this a journey backwards
a repetition we can remember?
Or, In a Rowlandson print, the bulge of an unrolled stocking.
Of disease gnawing away, in an image by Gilray.
The forlorn shirt of the baby falling from his drunken mother
as Hogarth attacks the Dutch, again.
Or now, white shirts drying on a line in the wind
a cuff dancing away from a frantic sleeve.
The feathers on the tail of a long haired dog
Running after a ball; the throwing rope flicking behind.
So, what supports this supposition?
What lifts up these forms?
What displays them for our thoughts
How do these folds stand up?
Are these vertical smears
the decayed, debased flutings
from an Ionic column (Greek)?
The shift from Athens to Rome.
Later from the Osepedale del Innocenti
in a wet, grey, cold Florentine square
to the crisp carvings (Roman)
of a Palladian church front, white and thankful.
In the soft people-free, picturesque fantasies
of an English and capable landscape,
pay your entrance fee and look between
the columns that frame an imagined past.
A repetition we remember, a reassurance as perhaps
the five note rhythm that came from Africa
with the slaves, to become salsa, or soul or rock and roll.
An intercolumniation deep in our memory?
Bo Diddleys a gunslinger
in that familiar five note beat.
As white paint infers, creates, summons up
refers we might say, to a cultural groove.
We have all travelled and all gone far away
We have come from there and got to here
And brought with us a beat or two, a set of patterns
A journey back and forth, back and forth.