NEIL CARROLL, The Year of Disillusionment, University Art Gallery, University of Ulster, Belfast, 19th September – 11th October, 2014




“The slicing of a large- scale painting into several stand-alone pieces, the dismembering and pulling apart, suggest an act of undoing. An attempt to invalidate or challenge its current form, to free it from formal constraints and any implied historical references.” This is one of the suggestions how to approach the exhibition in the hugely informative  essay by Marysia Wieckiewicz-Carroll, fairly informed by Deleuze,Rajchman and Eisenmann. The last source of theoretical grounding is a surprise – as it defines the visual as liable to lead to learn actions.  Unless we move to a confrontation of stable structure and “unseen” phenomena.

Without any confrontation, however,  – the unseen announces its presence, for ex. in the drawing based on observation.

Prague, 1835 by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851). accessed on

The row of vertical lines stands for houses, the curve on the horizon on the left is a hill no doubt…  I face a contra- argument usually posited as “reading into an image”, thus unreliable subjectivity governing the meaning of a work of art.  I have borrowed the concept of the visual force from Italo Calvino argument for visual thinking.  I shall focus on  one detail,  almost in the middle of the second panel from the left -it looks like a seated figure…


Taken as a whole, the dry hues and narrow tonality  of the seven panels are  reminiscent of narrative  tempo of renaissance fresco cycles like those in Brancacci Chapel (1425-28).


Masaccio, Expulsion, Brancacci Chapel, Sta Marua dell Carmine, Florence Image courtesy

On close reading an echo between details supports this distanced link. It is existential dilemma.   There is awareness  of loss, fate, and compulsion in Masaccio’s Adam and Eve.

Adam and Eve brancacci-chapel-in-santa


Similar visual sub-story  is present in Carroll’s painting, the female upper body and veiled head on the second panel from left allows itself to turn to stones, rocky landscape.

NeilCarroll part view


At the other end – a giant hand effortlessly holds the seemingly bandaged marching ridges  as if  to  protect a head with long black hair  thrown back by un-described despair. The profile of a breast assists seeing the body as it emerges from the intrusion of geometry and parallels.




My reading into  gives the visual forms a meaning  which may not be the meaning  intended by the painter.  I sense though an invitation issued to me to follow the rays leading into the depth that is itself illusionary.  Moreover, some of the parallel rays cast a shadow – doubling their power over the whispered  right angle of rational thought – grid and memories of Mondrian.

While they are a  screen between me and the illusion, at the same time, they call my attention to meaningful details or fragments, only to twist away into a flat abstraction. The body, I saw earlier, disappears into a wall. Such metamorphosis invites poetic play rather then ” chaotic and swirling mass”  mentioned in the artist’s statement, a very calm chaos in  comparison with the swirling mass of Stella paintings pealing off the wall.

Frank Stella, Shoubeegi,1976

Frank Stella, Shoubeegi, 1978; enamel and glitter on metal, 95 3/4 in. x 130 in. x 32 3/8 in. (243.21 cm x 330.2 cm x 82.23 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson and Museum purchase; © Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Source: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

The seven panels of The year of Disillusionment , stacked each on a metal frame,  oscillate between holding together – as one body of a painting- and being separated from each other by the narrow gaps.  A silent nod to some kind of expulsion.


The grey tones speak of nature – the forms silently become anthropomorphic.

The morphing of one thing into another while admitted through even basic poetic licence, appears as a witness to hesitation about the picture plane. Some forms are sitting as high on it as possible, others recede into unmeasurable depth. Such a demand to uncertainty as a value has been issued by the 20th C abstraction with confidence that refuses to be repeated now.  Hence, perhaps,the oscillation, closely wedded to the visual perception of patterns.

visual illusion

Our perception cannot see both the faces and the vase at the same time, it has to oscillate.

Similarly, I could perceive the panels as stretchers lined up at the wall, or as one painting with unpainted  vertical lines, gaps,   hiding some of the connecting images.


And then there are the rays.  I know them from medieval metaphor for Immaculate conception…

Merode rays


The rays are to persuade, to confirm, to encourage.  To become evidence.

The cerebral part of Carroll’s intention proposes  evidence of painting’s power to hold physically fragmented body of painting together. Many become one, one become many.  The greater magic, however, is in the power of a painted mark to morph, to play with appearances and meaning.   Even if it is a mark made by an ordinary household emulsion paint.  Actually, the humble material  makes this painting more magic.




About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
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