Body-related patterns and designs

Four artists – Evan Penny, Regan Morris, John Massey and the late Robert Flack – centre their work on body-related patterns and designs. They also share a common discourse on the body, which is the oft-cited Lacanian assertion that skin divides exterior consciousness and interior psyche. Morris, for instance, paints decorative textile patterns over a dense, grey surface resembling aged human skin or even that of an elephant. Penny etches linear, black abstract designs which are actually microscopic details of his own skin, into a yellowish, beeswax ground. Massey’s photo-based prints, Versailles (1985) and Compound Eye (1988-89), place figurative tattoos on an arm and an eye respectively. Flack’s fifteen photo-collages, forming the Empowerment Series (1990-91) overlay funky, psychedelic, and vaguely Eastern patterns over sensual male nudes.

These three artists confront the relationship with ego and body, and in doing so, critique, as body theorists often did in the eighties, Freud’s interpretation of these as two separate domains. By contrast, Louise Noguchi’s, Barr Gilmore’s and Jeanne Thib’s comparatively recent work injects new interpretations into the now overly familiar body discourse.

Opposing Foucault’s reading of the corporeal as a history killer, Thib shows the body as an “archive” in her five-panel linocut, Glyph (1994), and her installation, Blueprint (1995), through her placement of decorative imagery – floral, spiral, ornithological patterns – from eclectic historic sources over body parts such as a disembodied leg. Given the body’s life expectancy and its random determination, Thib’s argument for the body as a secure historic document, while pleasingly contentious in its attempt to contest a well-established argument, fails to convince for practical reasons.

Barr Gilmore’s piece, Closer eXamination (1996), relates fabric, textiles and design to the body to highlight the way the crafting of images acts as a mediator of individualistic artistic “vision.” To do this, Gilmore takes the image of a large-scale eye which appears pixelated but is actually made up of buttons placed along lines of string, like an abacus. If the viewer plays the piece, strumming it like a guitar, the multi-coloured buttons flip over and form the eye. A fascinating, complex and interactive interface is constructed between viewer, artist and object, where it is the audience not the artist who determines artistic vision, which is, until a viewer intervenes, cloaked by the material that fabricates the image.

Original Reference: Articles about Oil Painting