Chamber | A New Exhibition by Nick Malone
e1 Gallery | Gregory Desjardins
In Malone's new paintings the elements of fire and air are represented clearly, but those of water and earth are not. The hot elements are clear while the cool elements are ambiguous. What could be seen as earth might rather been seen as water; what could be seen as water might rather be seen as earth. Thus the paintings seem to place the viewer upon a coast, between land and sea, perhaps symbolising the division between life and death.
The possible symbolism is reinforced by the represenation of fire and water, which is also not without ambiguity, appearing to be either before or after a storm and at either the beginning or the end of the day. What could be seen as a gathering storm at sunset might rather be seen as a storm dispersing with the dawn.
But it would be more accurate to say that Malone uses night and day, land and sea, as metaphors of human existence in the way poets do. Likewise the cycle of the seasons in his work becomes a metaphor of the life cycle. ('That time of year thou mayest in me behold' and 'April is the cruelist month') And the titles of the paintings reinforce the metaphorical interpretation, since they are taken largley from archiological sites, that is, places that have suffered a kind of death. Thus the titles seem to indicate the motive for the metaphors.
Malone compares the technique of the painting with archaeology. The finished surface of the painting has been excavated, so to speak, by patiently scraping away what the painter himself has deposited. But we do not thereby simply return to an earlier state of work, since the marks of the digging remain visiable. Nevertheless, the technique imitates the uncovering of the past that is characteristic of archaeological excavation.
Furthermore, both the material of the painting (which is sand-like and watery) and the tools used for working it (by brush and scraping) are reminiscent of archaeological excavation. Archaeology is also the subject of most of the work in the exhibition. For example, three of the works on paper are entitled, 'Jericho', the title referring to the excavations recently conducted in the place of that name. Not only are such places old, but also they are part of sacred history. The archaeology of the sacred is the theme of many of the works exhibited here. Such works do not try to show these places as they were then; rather they show the present and the present attempt to recover the past.
A title is given to a painting only after it is finished because, as Malone explains, 'working on a painting itself is a process of exploration' in which the unexpected emerges. The titles depend on the assosciations of form and colour evoked by the finished work, such as the colour of fire or weather or blood or bone as these are remembered by a nothern European sensibility as opposed, say, to an Italian one.
But this north European has also lived in northern Greece and in Wiconsin, and the combination of the warm southern landscape and the frozen Wisconsin one is filtered or mediated through a sensibility used to English light and landscape. These experiences of living abroad deepened his appreciation of the metamorphosis of ice from the polar north melting into water on its way to the equatorial south, where it evaporates into cloud and becomes rain which then turns into ice again.
The cycle in one way resembles the cycle of the seasons and in another way the cycle of human life, both of which make their appearance in the paintings. The seasons move between the hot and the cold, the wet and the dry; whereas life is a succession of generations, at the root of which is seed. Yet what we are shown in many of the paintings is the propagation of the species having ceased in certain places, and the succession of the generations having come to an end.
The photographs in the exhibition provide a foil to the other works. They deal with the present instead of the past. The black and white photographs in particular draw attention to the restrained palette of the paintings and the works on paper, which are predominantly black and white.
By being unambiguous as to place and time of day, the photographs also make apparent the artist's general concern with form and illumination, with figure and ground. For example, the crane-like ruin in one of the 'Jericho' works bears comparision with the idle crane in a London scrapyard in one of the black and white photographs. Both are illuminated in such a way as to make them appear as silhouettes.