"Paintings tell stories like zombies walk the Earth."

Marlene Dumas

artist statement

in my work as elsewhere in life, i guess i always look for some measure of ambivalence. i get very suspicious when anything is made to look like it’s one thing only, because hardly anything, or hardly anyone for that matter, is ever one thing only. & in the face of the world’s inanities, this is a point i feel i must insist on. most things, & most people, have contradictory facets to them, & i’ve always had the ambition for my work to reflect that.

but what do you paint, as a figurative painter, if you want to avoid your painting looking like it was definitely about this, or about that? that is always a challenge for me, & one i endeavor to overcome in a number of ways, such as by blurring elements or by removing contextual information around a subject, by focusing on fragmentation, reflection, & contre-jour lighting, by choosing unusual, obscure, hard-to-pinpoint & frequently changing subjects, or else by favoring mysterious, strange & contemplative moods. i realize that this attitude of diffidence, as well as some of the strategies i employ in its service, place me squarely in the long shadow of gerhard richter’s oeuvre, & i have no problem with that.

i am naturally circumspect & skeptical, & so necessarily i evolve slowly. i grew up believing deep down that to exist in this world was a scandalously arrogant imposition on others & thus a cardinal disgrace, a condition that over the years i have come to call the shame of having a face. thanks to a modicum of self-assurance that i have nonetheless managed to wrest from the emotional wreckage of my younger years, the grip of this terrible embarrassment has in recent times been loosened somewhat, & i find myself able to take greater risks (in a manner of speaking—i’m painting pictures, not crossing the mediterranean in a dinghy).

& so i have recently—after a four-year break from art to study philosophy—found myself painting mainly female figures. i’m fashionably aware of the objections one might have to men painting images of women, so the risk of embarrassment made this a natural choice for me. of course i still made sure that these were real women with real stories to tell, not idealized puppets (though i did paint one barbie doll, but only because she looked so very human), in the end however i had to concede that something in these paintings—though they were well received—was still amiss, awry. maybe i had presumed too great a familiarity with these ladies, maybe i had exaggerated the innocent intimacy that i could legitimately claim to share with them, maybe like some starry-eyed small-town hipster i had forgotten that there is always a price to pay for wilfully ignoring the dark side of things. & so, for about a year, more or less during all of twenty-eighteen, i left the women alone & focused on the uncanny instead—the uncanny appearing as something indeed very familiar but that in its familiarity likewise reveals itself as disturbingly alien & dark (as freud explained quite well).

but in the end i couldn’t leave the question of my relation to the female unresolved, & that is what i’m now working on. the series which i recently started (i’m waiting to organize an exhibition before i release images of these paintings) does more justice, i find, to the ambivalent nature of my relation to women, & generally to the ambivalent nature of how i relate to others in this world.

(april twenty-nineteen)



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