exhibition : the good, the bad and the ugly
exhibition : Jules, Victorine, La Fornarina, et le Psychologue
|extract of the text "TRENCHING THE HAGGIS" by Cheyney Thompson
published in Alun Williams' book, LEST, Manuella Éditions
TRENCHING THE HAGGIS
As if the faint murmur of a voice issued forth from this stain, these words having pressed themselves moist and hot on the page, bleeding out and coagulating. Not yet text, as there are no readers that are able to decipher the outstretched fingers of these pools of ink. Not yet a shape, as neither typographer nor cartographer has mapped the still expanding boundaries of the infinite shoreline of this undulating contour. A morphology seems to appear, a sequence, a type. Here are stains amongst stains, and still a murmur of an implacable voice. Let us hold off distinguishing between voice and stain for a little. The drying fluid bristles with some account of its now indiscernible movement. How to classify these different stains? A peripatetic vignette with soiled underpants, spilled paint, and perhaps a bloody fingerprint. If they are in fact some strange and disfigured speech act, what are they saying? Clearly this latter question is premature. Let us link their resemblance towards that of the vowel, insofar as they seem to be an opening into the plosives and fricatives of site. This filiation of fluid and substrate constitutes, by way of a generative grammar, a fiction-en-abyme.
Alun is not here, he is out for a walk, perhaps dusting for fingerprints. Right now there is not yet an Alun as we have not yet come to see how a proper name rises out of this now congealed trace of something. Something? What is the medium in which these stains appear? Again-vomit, blood, grease, sweat, paint-that these material descriptors are so easily pooled together already points to the uneasiness about how a name, a personage, could find itself mired in this filth. (While Mr.Williams is on his walk, I should say now that I think these paintings that we are circling around have next to nothing to do with Leonardo’s advice about staring at a stained wall or clouds in the hopes of catching a glimpse of some mythical creature or inspired composition. We will not be talking about the freedom that lies in the heart of the acculturated ‘true’ artist. A hard and cold but deeply felt structure has found its way into the working methods of Mr. Williams, this painter who steps out for walks.)
I want to move quickly, if this text is to contribute to the collection of stain-personae in this volume, it must effectively blot out these early pages of this book.
WHEN A STAIN IS NOT A STAIN...
“I want to really get hold of this link that I’ve discovered between an accidental paint-mark and a historical character and stimulate it, wake it up, catalyze it, help it, accompany it somewhere. Mostly I use the paint-mark as a form or figure placed on a background. Often I want to place it logically in the historical character’s context, painting it on the background of the character’s life, environment etc. At the same time, I often have the impression that I’m giving new life to this personality, and this allows me to let them discover the contemporary world, or to have them travel through time and space.” 1
HISTORY IS IRREDUCTIBLE, EXCEPT THAT...
The history of painting cannot be summarized as a practice of camouflage, especially as the latter is but one artifact among others that characterize the artist’s will to produce meaning through his or her treatment of imagery. Nevertheless, this tendency to conceal reality, or at least to give it another stature, enriches the possibilities of interpreting meaning. Far from the mystique of Zurbaran, or the deliberate implosion of the artistic practice of Gasiorowski, the work of Alun Williams plays with the limits of imagination. For what has been around fifteen years now 4, he has painted canvases of different dimensions, with motifs coming from all styles, periods and situations, but always with the shared attribute of hosting a mark or stain of variable color (red, blue, yellow, grey…). What might at first seem enigmatic, in fact follows a working logic that is as original as it is methodic.
“In my preoccupation with the ‘idea of portraiture’, I’ve always been very interested in the possibility of injecting or extracting meaning from a (usually abstract) form, made from paint. Then one day, I realized that laboring in the studio trying to create a powerful ‘form’ was a little stupid. Imagining that it’s possible to keep some authenticity and spontaneity, when in fact it is, of course, all about creating an illusion (like all painting) suddenly seemed contradictory and pretentious. So I decided that I needed to go looking for paint-marks that already exist, with their own authenticity, and perhaps a pre-existing meaning. I tried to proceed in the following manner: carry out research on a historical character (let’s call them the ‘portraitee’), in order to identify a place where this character had been particularly present, or where there was some kind of strong link with them. The simplest example would be a street named after the character (as in the case of rue Jules Verne in Paris), or else the place where the character had lived, worked etc. Then, very simply, I go to that place, to see if I can’t find some kind of mark or trace. At first I was really skeptical but straight away the results were astonishing. I always use paint-marks, accidental splashes or spillages that I find in those specific places. Very often, these paint-marks, found on the ground, on a wall etc. seem to suggest some kind of appropriate links with the character in question. That’s what really surprised me, even shocked me, and above all what encouraged me to pursue this further. After each discovery of an appropriate paint-mark, I have to take the information and fortify it the mark becomes emblematic of the character, and I reproduce it and repeat it in various works: essentially paintings and drawings, but also sometimes sculptures and photos.”
A PORTRAIT WITHOUT PORTRAYING...
The undertaking is a completely singular one, unique in its manner of approaching painting. First, in its relation to portraiture. The latter is no longer a face that has been reproduced, but a form extracted from reality, and which becomes the face of whomever it is intended to represent. Regardless of resemblance or distortion (such as that practiced by Picasso), here we must take the existence of a “neutral” form into consideration as a presence. In any event, a portrait however close to the model it might seem is nothing more than an illusion. And a stain is as much of an illusion as another. But it becomes a reality by the force of repetition that creates a kind of familiarity between the character and the artist, but above all between the character and the public. “I’ve been aware that the spectator rapidly accepts the notion that a particular mark is a form of representation of a particular character, in fact that the mark ‘becomes’ the character. I was very interested by the cycle of paintings made by the Australian painter, Sydney Nolan on the subject of the famous bandit, Ned Kelly. In these paintings, from 1946, Ned Kelly’s head is always represented by a black square, in reference to a kind of primitive helmet that Kelly wore, according to the legend. This semi-abstract representation is extremely mysterious; but if you ask an Australian today to draw Ned Kelly, the result will be a sketch of a black square on a body! It’s all in the mind, of course, and it’s very clear that belief provides great potency”. In his 1997 book, The Demon of Tautology, Clément Rosset went as far as writing that analogical repetition was often the best vector for grasping reality. “In the same way as metaphor makes out that it has lost contact with its object, in order to describe it better, imitation substitutes one object for another in order to get a better hold on the first. Saying something otherwise, showing one thing through another, this represents the prowess that metaphors achieve and it is here that the whole body of pseudo-tautologies fail.”