When we approach art made recently, we bring with us a broad range of responses. Contemporary media has a bewilderingly wide range of forms of delivery, but all of them could be described as dependent on narrative. That is, setting a chain of events (not least, pace Modernism, the process of making) in some sort of (presumed) causal logic.

The search for narrative underpins all cultures and we would appear to be at a new peak for narrative forms. Even my phone presents conversations/ threads of calls or texts as the developing story of a relationship. Nothing we do is autonomous,  all is contingent.

What we have here then, is a series of traditionally made oil paintings; they have a visual similarity. Each ‘Still Life’ painting is paired with a potential narrative; that contemporary subject, the search for identity. The pairings are deliberate, apparently. Each set of painted texts is both an illusion and a physical fact, each is true, and each is demonstrably false. Each painted text also concerns the illusory past of a fiction: one Joseph Whitemark, artist. Each past is different: Red Joe, Joseph Whitemark the traditional painter and Art College teacher etc. 

The visual response to form is largely, but not entirely, subjective and the unreliable narrator has an equally long pedigree. Some of these narratives will be more convincing than others – the question to ask is why?

Part of the Whitemark series:

Still Life One

Perhaps in the small details

examined in the light.

A section,

a part of the whole that tells,

and points to a larger story.

Someone, a servant,

plump, smiling and curved like a cornucopia,

will sweep up this bowl, colander perhaps,

with one hand as she strides by.

The other hand balancing on her hip

a basket; dirty laundry would fit.

The soiling of the sheets, perhaps

provided by the main action

from which this is but a smaller part.

And yet, the strong light from above.

A star, standing alone,

centre stage.

A nod of the head accepting our applause

As, microphone in hand he, or is it she?

No, notice the black, the white, the heavy chiaroscuro.

This is a man before us.

As, like a male star in a perfect black dress suit

lit by a single spot

the man takes the microphone in his right hand and…

And yet, that darkness and a single source of light

makes it an interrogation?

Tell us, colander full of anxious and vibrating forms,

Tell us what you know, tell us all you know and tell us now.

Questions are being asked here

At least that much is clear,

Isn’t it?

Part of the Whitemark Series

Still Life Two
(Frequency and Resonance: 123—45)

We are not at a border,

Stop or go as per written rules.

Boundaries move, no line on a map

it can be a duck and a bird.

The white worn net

thrown up and out from the old boat.

A worked, frayed texture against

a clean new sky.

Or, in the Raphael cartoon, the Miraculous Draught of Fishes,

One boat is full, fins and tails spill untidily over an edge.

On the second boat, two men stand with backs bent

an attractive line formed as they pull in their net.

The net was, of course, part

of the standard gladiatorial kit,

the retiarius, whose function was

to trip or catch your opponent.

The curl and throw of a net,

a form layered deep inside us, somewhere.

Is this a journey backwards

a repetition we can only just remember?

Or, In a Rowlandson print, the bulge of an unrolled stocking.

Of disease gnawing away, in an image by Gilray.

The forlorn shirt of the baby falling from his drunken mother

as Hogarth attacks the Dutch, again.

Or now, bright white shirts drying on a line in the wind

a cuff dancing away from a frantic sleeve.

The flowing feathers on the tail of a long haired dog

running after a ball; the throwing rope flicking behind.

So, what supports this supposition?

What lifts up these forms?

What lines them up for thought?

How do these folds stand up?

Are these vertical smears

the decayed, debased flutings

from an Ionic column (Greek)?

The shift from Athens to Rome.

Later from the Osepedale del Innocenti

in a wet, grey, cold Florentine square

to the crisp carvings (Roman)

of a Palladian church front, white and thankful.

In the soft and people-free, picturesque fantasies

of an English and capable landscape,

pay your entrance fee and look between

columns framing an invented past.

A repetition we remember, a reassurance as perhaps

the five note rhythm moving from West Africa

with the enslaved, to become salsa, or soul or rock and roll.

An intercolumniation deep in our memory?

Bo Diddley’s a gunslinger

in that familiar five note beat.

As white paint infers, creates or summons up,

refers we might say, to a groove.

We have all travelled and all gone far away.

We have come from there and got to here

and brought a beat or two, a set of patterns

A journey back and forth, to and fro

and back.

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