In words (for IW)

... in which the painting is always in and about exile.

 

Bearing witness to a past it is constantly attempting to reconstruct, it sites itself in relation to where it no longer is. The painting was once in the landscape it depicted. It had to be there in order to reconfigure it, to carry that place away.

It is, perhaps, obvious to speak of this in relation to a genre of landscape painting, but what of that other mythology, of painting made in the studio? What type of space is this, and is it ever represented within the fabric of the painting composed within it. What is carried forward of the place?

The 'Studio Paintings' of Ian Whittlesea, where the address of an artist is painstakingly inscribed onto the canvas, mark this space by its absence. The painting is not descriptive of the space, but sets up a parallel relation to it. It constructs a new space in the name of the old. In this way, the site of contemplation, where we look at the new work, draws space to it, and if it can be said to describe a space at all, it is in the present tense, at some remove from the space which engendered the concept.

We might argue, then, that it is hardly about the space of the heroic painter, but enters into an ironic relation with such a space. Where we see the painting will always mark the difference. But it does so on several levels. It is about not resembling, where resemblance may be construed on several levels, the least of which is physical appearance. For resemblance is also constituted out of processes in time; the time of making and the time of seeing, the time of the first and the last encounter with the object. For even an apparently stable object such as the painting will always appear differently with each renewed encounter, when it is never the way we remembered it.

Not that we weren't looking carefully in the first place. It is just that we have been elsewhere in the interim. We have been elsewhere and now we negotiate something which is always, by definition, of elsewhere. As if the painting was always obliged to witness in the anticipation of an exile.

(...)

(He has hidden his own name, a fair name...*

...in which Joyce, always writing of where he could not bear to stay. But for him there was no other place, no present. Only motion away from and towards at once. Looking carefully, but without eyes. Looking over time. At the end of both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, Joyce inscribes the cities in which he lived during the years of composition. A signature, in other words, signing off the ironic witnessing.)

(...)

There is always a signature. Not in so many words, but as if. Even as he refuses to sign the work, there is a space in Whittlesea's paintings for the possibility of one, or a sign of the inadequacy of one. Buried under the surface, inside the painting. It cannot not sign itself, but it can do it even in other words. That is, the words in Whittlesea's paintings become much more than text, to the extent that to read them is to misread their intent. We might understand them as objects that reiterate the labour of artifice, becoming something quite other than a readable text. This is neither appropriation nor quotation in any given sense. It is a re-siting and a re-signing, but there is an abstraction towards a pure sign.

Rather, what is inscribed into Whittlesea's paintings are the utterances and movements of the artist himself, even as he restrains his mark, even as he tries to exclude all references to a personalised mark. His own words.

(...)

In words; in which ...


*James Joyce, Ulysses, London: Bodley Head, 1937, p. 198


 

Andrew Renton