My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.
It’s a long story, so let’s start at the beginning—right here at the Douglas Hyde Gallery in Dublin, where I was invited a few months ago to work on a project for Gallery 2.
I was immediately drawn to the adjacent room to the right, as you face the end wall: a hold-all, a preparation and storage area separated by a door that sits flush within the wall, like an inset. It is present yet not present, unobtrusive.
The storage space is full, as you can imagine. It has within it all the tools necessary for the installation team, who help the artists that exhibit here, all the equipment that makes their ideas come alive. The room holds crates, boxes, tools, tapes, glasses, dishes, an iron, an espresso machine, and many other items useful for setting up the work, and eventually for celebrating the successful completion of a process that can take months to come into being.
I learned that Gallery 2 was itself repurposed from a former and much larger storage and preparation area. It seemed like the obvious thing to transport that which mostly lies in a darkened room into the brightness of the exhibition space, to move it from its current position of reduced visibility to center stage.
And so, the heroes of this story are the things that sit silently in the storage area, waiting to be active. They are the helpmeets, that make what first appears in our imagination become realities, that give body to our ideas. Not having agency by themselves they need the human hand to become active.
“Look at me,’ said Miss Havisham, ‘You are not afraid of a woman who has never seen the sun since you were born?’”
I returned to a process that has been part of my practice for a long time: using photography as a starting point with which to develop the work. This involves cycling through several mediums, to finally culminate on the surface of the canvas or aluminum panel as a painting.
The photograph’s descriptive quality is simplified by reducing it to a drawing, using only black — or in this case, dark gray— lines to lessen one’s recognition of the objects depicted. In this way, the photograph undergoes a first instance of transformation. These drawings, made from the photographic material, are then translated onto canvas or aluminum. What I end up with is a kind of skeleton, an interior structure, onto which the painting process builds the body of the work.
It is a fairly simple and straightforward procedure, which ultimately leads to a work that moves away from the initial image, abstracting and transforming it but keeping the connection to the source material alive.
Great Expectations — the title of the painting in this exhibition— gives body and hence life to the objects of the hidden room. It removes them from their confinement and vests them with new robes. These are not robes made by machines, in factories, but by the human hand. Translation always leads to transformation, and transformation always contains a kernel of interpretation, which is a deeply human impulse, and one that is tied to an individual point of view.
“…life is made of so many partings welded together.”
The relationship between the two spaces lying adjacent to each other echoes so poignantly with what has been preoccupying me for so many years, ever since I became cognizant of myself as a self. It poses the question: where does that self reside, and how indeed is it put together?
We look at the world through our eyes, the direction of this action is thus from the inside out. The brain, our vital organs, and the various systems governing our biological processes are all located within our body. So, the reality of an interior life is actual, on a purely biological level, and it mostly takes place without our conscious contribution.
If we are to imagine the subconscious as a place that holds profound information about our past, about the genesis not only of us as a species, but also as the individuals that we all are, where would this subconscious be located? And how does such an intensely interior organism relate to the outside world? As a bridge between the two locations; between inner and outer? All of my work is a meditation on this very subject and the big question in a sense is not who or what we are, but where do we reside, where is our locus?
The world, that reality that lies outside ourselves, is a continuous place. It remains in existence for those who have life and eyes to witness it. Photography is an affirmation of that fact. It captures more or less what we all agree upon, what is there for all to see, a shared space, a public space with certain properties that are known to everyone, whether this knowledge is obtained through scientific discovery, usage over time, or both.
“No varnish can hide the grain of the wood; and that the more varnish you put on, the more the grain will express itself.”
Around age 17, I started taking photographs of the world around me with an old Olympus camera. I had it on me at all times, and used it like a visual notebook, capturing what presented itself to me. I was drawn to liminal spaces, places, and scenes that appeared charged with a presence, that either pointed to events that had just taken place or else were about to happen. So, I looked for anything that wasn’t necessarily outstanding, special, or dramatic. It was the everyday, the quotidian, the unremarkable, that drew my gaze. It was the things which the world mirrored back at me quietly, those that did not say anything specific, nor attempt to make a statement.
There is a glow, an emanation embedded in the world and in the things that live in its matrix. What struck me as I watched these images in my snapshots accumulate, was the appearance of something other, something that became apparent through the documentation of things and scenes that were perhaps easy to overlook. It was the act of looking itself that came into focus, unfolding an awareness of who or what was looking. A sense of what it means to have consciousness was steeped in these photographs.
I felt as if my eyes would start out of my head… and began to think this was a dream.
Having suffered from persistent and intense nightmares during the period of middle adolescence, I became intrigued by the culture of the occult. I hoped to find in its theories and rituals some answers to what was happening to me.
Together with a group of friends, we dabbled with the Ouija board. We fabricated a board ourselves and, touching the small glass at the center lightly with our fingers, we witnessed an inanimate object move about voluntarily and spell out answers to our questions. This experience, and many others of the kind, kindled my interest in spiritualist and mediumistic practices. Soon I found my way to the artists who were active in the late 19th through to the early 20th century, such as Kandinsky, Klee, Mondrian, Münter, Marc, Malevich — just to name a few of the most well-known — who all and to varying degrees were working out of and engaged with occult movements such as Theosophy, Anthroposophy, Spiritualism, Metaphysics as well as the myriad other movements that swept Europe during that period in history.
The notion of the occult must have been born to embody the other, to represent the forbidden practices that were located outside the boundaries of organized religion, and of course science. Modern Art’s radicality owes much if not everything to the spiritually experimental attitude of those early abstractionists, and the many other artists who carried that project forward into other art movements such as Symbolism, Dada, Surrealism, Futurism, Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, and so on. Art became a vessel for a new, divergent religion, which made itself felt in all areas of cultural activity.
“It was understood that nothing of a tender nature could possibly be confided to old Barley, by reason of his being totally unequal to the consideration of any subject more psychological than gout, rum, and purser’s stores.”
Notions surrounding consciousness have always been the motor for my work. By approaching the subject from slightly different angles within each group or series of paintings that are defined by a shared title, I try to shed light on our particular form of existence: that understanding that we are tied to a body but are simultaneously able to move in and out of non-physical locations and alternate realities through our dreams.
The latest iteration of such a series is titled Portrait of the Self (followed by a quote that refers to what this Self is up to. Its thoughts, emotions, actions, etc.) With this body of work, I probe into the possibility, as well as the absurdity, of portraying what it means to be human, to have an experience intimately connected to the particular way we are put together as sentient beings. It is indeed an act of translation.
During the painting process, I bind that which is vaporous and fleeting to the body of color, all the feelings, thoughts, emotions, desires, fears, doubts, and anxieties are gathered, and given shape within linear structures to take up center stage on the painted surface. There, they bounce off each other, merge and mix, or are separated by sprayed or painted lines that range from wispy to chunky.
Abstract concepts, such as thoughts, emotions, etc. are made concrete and tangible in an attempt to translate the experience of consolidating often divergent energies, which constantly curse through one’s body into an actual surface that is at once animated, sometimes on the verge of falling apart and yet held in place by a linear structure that is woven through the painted layers that make up the picture plane.
Such series of the last decade include: a dream of (a group titled followed by a reference to a particular aspect of a dream, or the sense or emotional color a dream might reveal); All That We Want, Gather, Have, Feel etc., to address our inner impulses; Reptilian Weave; Hold on to Yourself, a body of work made during the initial months of the COVID-19 lockdown; Amygdala after the almond-shaped structure that lies in the temporal lobe and is thought to be responsible for emotional processing.
Earlier works made in the 2000s were also bunched into groups of paintings. The Dresses of this period are a shed skin, the husks of selfhood we play with. The series LEX is a body of paintings that show the corners of windows that are blinded. They are small to mid-size works kept in a monochrome palette, claustrophobic yet compelling as they can be read as meditations on light and dark. They do not give a view onto anything, but keep the viewer looking inwards at a liminal interior space.
As such I see each body of work as a journey into a store room, a rummage through memory, hopes, fears, desires, and the accumulated pile-ups of our ideas and beliefs. With the return comes an act of translation.
‘You are part of my existence, part of myself. You have been in every line I have ever read… You have been in every prospect I have ever seen since – on the river, on the sails of the ships, on the marshes, in the clouds, in the light, in the darkness, in the wind, in the woods, in the sea, in the streets. You have been the embodiment of every graceful fancy that my mind has ever become acquainted with… you cannot choose but remain part of my character, part of the little good in me, part of the evil.’
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