The following short statement is John Robinson introduction to the two installations for the MFA final exhibition.
Transfigure originates from the subtle changes of light that occur at Dawn and Dusk, in which visual awareness is heightened and a there is a sense of transformation. This work explores the qualities of both natural and artificial light in an attempt to locate itself between contemporary Light Art and the genres of Plein Air and Abstract Painting.
Recent work has moved from an exploration of landscape painting to the use of materials that mimic physical phenomenon; lights, smoke, water and found objects. The resulting room sized installations suggest a sense of place, atmosphere and memory that play upon historical-cultural associations with landscape. I am interested in the immersive potential of colour and light to create an experience that James Turrell described as, ‘’seeing yourself see’’
He wrote the above text to accompany two rooms, dark room with artificial light behind the plastic sheet and daylight room with a large plastic sheet enveloping a simple wooden frame.
Consequently the light, natural or artificial, forms the tenor of both installations, that subtly negotiate the visual force of painted surface, modeled plastic material and construction in space, while not privileging painting, sculpture or architecture. It is similar to a chamber music trio, each instrument earnestly holding its sound with effortless regard for the other two.
The red and blue tint result from oil paint rubbed onto the plastic, thinly, like a smoke. Placed with joyful freedom the painterly element both evokes and denies abstract paintings, it obeys no composition in a frame, it prefers to descend into the appearance of accidental stain (the blue on the right).
Attention seeking folds hold a secret link to landscape as they evoke peaks and valleys, and to the power of detail to narrate.
The transformatory “modelling” of the plastic plays with its transparency, opacity and translucency to the point of negating each in turn, almost.
The furious inventiveness reminds me of medieval woodcarving, for example the magnificent Veit Stoss in the basilica of Virgin Mary in Cracow.
Here the illusion of soft cloth exquisitely replaces the truth of the material. Stoss also favours exaggerating optical correctness. Unnatural angles plow the surface in a high relief with exuberance of high skill and confidence. Every part of the surface is held in tension between what it is made off and what it appears as.
The artificial control of the visualised material into the visible material is akin an Italian opera score for coloratura soprano (say Rossini), meandering around the key detail.
Stoss works the cloth into a mass of a ground that both holds the figure upright and seems to be moving away in both direction.
Similar. Yet, Robinson did not consciously applied that link.
Why do I do that? For two reasons: to distill the visual force of a detail as worked out by some notable artist (I could have used 16th C Gruenewald, or so called Beautiful Madonnas that appeared just before and after 1400) and to advance the notion of transparency of the aesthetic function. A visual idea may contain various meanings, and is capable of adapting to different styles. It facilitates visible relationship between art of different periods.
Identifying a link to medieval sculpture is a locus for Robinson installation becoming a sculpture with volume, mass, balance and surface. The realm of surface wiggles out of that locus harvesting the light’s play with translucency and tonality, and shadows. That in turn is the locus where the installation is a painting. Both sculpture and painting are akin whispers about desire to hold and contain the light – when the light is all dominant and free of obligation.
Or is it something more imaginative? The light holds the real in recognition of the real space, distances, scale…the rest pulsates between tactile and visual with an authority guaranteed by the imagination alone. It offers a hypnotic gentle pleasure of narrative being born in my mind. It is akin Turrell’s “seeing yourself see”, quoted by Robinson in his statement above.
The narrative visual detail became significant also in paintings of Pre-Raphaelites. A long sentence from the Tate Modern catalogue (2012) is self-explanatory:
The emphasis on complex and unresolved narrative, on social commentary, on aspects of gender, sexuality and desire, and on race, empire and travel; the dialogue with photography and mechanical image-making; the questioning of conventional values, accepted concepts and canons of beauty; the relationship of current art-making to the art of the past; and issues of appropriation and synthesis: all these are preoccupations in the art and culture of our own turbulent times that were vividly explored by the Pre-Raphaelites, the Victorian avant-garde, at the moment of the inception of modern society.
Stoss, Turrell, Pre-Raphaelites, Robinson – all prompt durational viewing, rewarding pauses and probes of how a slow perception alters a meaning. In that sense art is both observable object and environment for it. I think of it as of spiritual value floating through the obstacles of sensuality and logic.