-Image: Melissa Murray
The late British painter Francis Bacon once claimed, “I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them.” Always prone for dramatics, he goes on in the quote to equate the human to a snail leaving behind a residue of slime during that passage. Ostensibly then, what we see in a Bacon painting is some sort of bodily residue left behind. Bacon was always invested in residues: the residues of violence and love smeared across the canvass in expressionistic swipes, slashes, and caresses of color. And while his paintings evoke such ideas with their imagery, he neglects to fully address this idea of passing between. What we are presented with is the entry point of that passage. We see where the figure went in, but not where it came out. In this way, Francis cheated himself out of his own goal: to capture the passage.
-Image: Francis Bacon
Using ideas of passage as a central theme for the paintings in SUB, Melissa Murray plays out Bacon’s interests by reversing the dichotomy of the back and the front of the canvas. We see the exit points in these paintings. These are the residues left behind after the fabric filtered what went through it. Whereas Bacon painted the illusion of residue, these paintings are residue. But, the residue of what?
Speaking with someone in the gallery, he explained to me that Murray’s process involved painting on what is now the backside of these canvases. Pouring paint, letting it dry, and pouring more, Murray slowly coaxed these paintings into being. However, she never turned them over as she worked, and thus she had no idea what colors or patterns were being rendered. Working this way, she created an opportunity for the fabric to participate in the fabrication of the images completely independent of herself. She gave over a part of the creation to the inherent qualities of her materials and waited until the end to see what they produced.
Having been a painter for sometime, I know that in order for paint to push through the canvas like this, there must be a considerable amount of paint and force applied to the other side. Canvas is thick and often tightly woven, and the viscous nature of paint—even when diluted—makes it a poor candidate for percolation. Thus, while these paintings look soft and delicate, I assume that their backsides bare the scars of violence. I expect they are smattered with kaleidoscopic pools of color that have been beaten so as to bleed through the cloth.
But, I am not claiming that these paintings are violent in their own right, and certainly not in the way some of Bacon’s paintings are. Where the raw flesh exposed haunted Bacon’s canvases, Murray only gives us the ghosts. In my notes, I describe them as: echoes of shouts in a silent room. They are post-event, but they brag nothing about what has happened to them. In this way, they are not process-based works even though process is critical to their outcome. Like the weathered skin of an elderly person, they have stories to tell but don’t share them outright. And, like each wrinkle that creases the skin, although repeating patterns do emerge, they are distinct from each other.
Thus, these are the residues of a passage of time and serve as reminders that what one often sees is only a conclusion. The pooling of paint needs hours—if not days—to seep through the canvas and fade together. And through that fading, there is unpredictability compelled by the lack of control the processes of pouring and percolating invite. They remind us that there is always something more beneath the surface that elusively evades us, and due to that evasion, we can take nothing at face value alone.
SUB is currently up at Not Gallery located at 5303 Bolm Road, Bay 8 in Austin, Texas. The show closes on May 27th.
Posted 22nd May 2015 by Arnold, H.C.