Jim Mooney PUNCTUATE : An unsettled practice
Jim Mooney PUNCTUATE : An unsettled practice
PUNCTUATE : An unsettled practice ‘Colours bring to bear a certain exhortation (un appel des couleurs) in their mutual interpellations, following a syntax that is not propositional or grammatical (In the sense of a grammar of colours), nor even strictly optical, but, in its pure chromatism, properly aesthetic.’ Éric Alliez, The Brain-Eye1 Formative Influence
Undoubtedly for me, a foundational and enduring influence on my practice is my indoctrination as a Catholic, an indoctrination that extended to me becoming an altar boy and being trained to serve and give responses to the Tridentine or traditional Latin mass. This mass was celebrated as the first mass of each day early in the morning and inculcated a fascination with and a determination to decipher the gnomic nature of the words I uttered but little understood. This initiation undoubtedly stimulated a latent interest in languages (particularly Romance languages) that was to be activated many years later when I studied in Rome and then lived in Venezuela. I’m also aware of two other enduring beneficial legacies (there were many less favourable ones!): one is a tendency to organize and ‘stage’ everything in threes, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, this is partly why Jacques Lacan holds such a powerful recognition and resonant appeal
for me; the other is a deep loathing of orthodoxies and a consequent inclination toward the heterodox. Bound up in this cultural Catholicism is an inescapable drift toward visual excess or a demonstrative symbolic, excessive, garrulous Baroque visuality. In short: a maximalist tendency. However, sitting alongside this tendency is the virtually equal lure of the stripped back, austere, concentrated quiet reverberation of minimalism. The symbolic value attributed to the various colours of the vestments, e.g., purple chasuble for advent, lent and funeral masses, red for confirmation, green for everyday, also imprinted an understanding of the impact of colour as affective differentiation of value. Nowadays, I have little wish to reinforce the assignment of clichéd symbolism to individual colours, especially as within the frame of painting any one colour inheres upon and modifies all others. Nevertheless, I do consider Alizarin Crimson and its derivative alloys, for obvious reasons, as the very lifeblood of painting.
Photographic practice radically reduced the time spent on the mechanics of production.
Returning To Painting Returning to painting as the major focus of my practice following many years exploring other media, principally photographic installation, ushered in multiple challenges. Not least of all was the challenge of ‘Where to begin?’ Equally, the return to painting coincided with a shift in life from living in central London to a very rural, fairly remote, coastal location in the Far North of Scotland. This introduced another question ‘Do I attempt to explicitly respond or not to this new place, and if so, how to respond to a place that now conditioned many aspects of how I live my life?’
Although this radical shift in location had an enormously important transformational impact on my life, nevertheless, I was rather slow to realize that the idea of ‘responding to place’ in an explicit way held little interest and that location would impact on the practice in a metonymic way if at all. It is the proximity of the sea that holds most sway. It is always within sight and sound of my home and studio. I smell and taste the sea in the air and when I swim. All senses are activated by the weight of its presence. It presents a surface in constant motion. Light glimmers and bounces from that surface - fractured and reflective - lacerating the eye. The endlessly shimmering and shifting surface is the most visible aspect of a depth structure and in this way metonymically echoes the structuring processes of my painting. I swim most days and am both enlivened and, at times, overwhelmed by the fear of what lurks beneath. Sensations of irrepressible joy, coupled with moments of dread and danger, are the gifts of the sea.
It might be worth outlining some of the reasons why the practice deviated from painting for such a prolonged period. Firstly, painting is extremely demanding of time, it ceaselessly devours time and is rarely sated. Working full time as a tutor between two London universities, Middlesex University and the Royal College of Art, over a twentyyear span left insufficient time for the pursuit of my own painterly practice. Consequently, I explored other media, partly for pragmatic reasons but also in order to strategically invoke the indexical dimension of photography. 5
As much as sea swimming energises and vivifies, there is also the abiding thought that one day you might not leave. To enter the sea, is to enter a space of extreme sensation, you become aware of the extension and limitations of the whole body and its senses. It is a space of profound ‘jouissance’. The Damascene poet, Nizar Qabbani recognizes the erotic and poetic thrall of the sea, when he titles his collection of Erotic and Other Poetry: ‘On Entering the Sea’.2
impetus for the work. This, I guess, is largely unimportant for the viewer, although I might be mistaken in this assumption. Once the work is underway, the generative impetus has done its work and might well fall away. However, theory provides me with a necessary underpinning of the work. And, should the work develop well, then the concerns of theory transmute into practice. Of course, this is not an instantaneous transmutation or transformation. There is a toing and froing a ‘fort/da’ relationship that is established and the oscillations of the movement between theory into practice and practice into theory produces rhythms and caesura reminiscent of the drives. We move from presence to absence, from the invisible cloaked in visibility, to the erotic pulses that conform to Isabelle Graw’s notion of painting as ‘quasi-subject’ capable of ‘vitalistic projection’ 3. This chimes with my own view of painting and echoes Deleuze’s radical, empirical philosophy of multiplicity and vitalism (reflecting an interest in Nietzsche and D H Lawrence) where he proposes immanence as A LIFE. Crucially, this life is a subject-less individuation that is embedded in the flows and intensities of the particularity of events, what Deleuze, following Duns Scotus, names Haecceity, or the thingness of things.
Love happened at last, And we entered God’s paradise, Sliding Under the skin of the water Like fish. We saw the precious pearls of the sea And were amazed. Love happened at last Without intimidation… with symmetry of wish. So I gave… and you gave And we were fair. It happened with marvelous ease Like writing with jasmine water, Like a spring flowing from the ground.
Theory as much as experience, (and this would be life experience alongside experience of art or other related practices) serves to provide a generative
Bodies Without Organs (BwO)
Deleuze and Guattari’s articulation of a Body without Organs conjugates richly with the energising potential of Queer Theory. They claim that to make a Body without Organs is to ‘experiment with oneself’. This resonates with many aspects of the interminable dance of Eros and Thanatos embedded in ‘jouissance’ but the BwO goes radically beyond this dyad, honouring the fractal intricacies of desire. My current work operates in two distinct registers, one is visually garrulous and ‘maximalist’, the other, ostensibly, more reductive and ‘minimalist’. This work is preconceived to be displayed in a manner that allows the ‘minimalist’ paintings, that feature a central dark oval form, to operate as visual punctuation, one register being interspersed with the other in a democratic and egalitarian way. The show’s title ‘PUNCTUATE: An unsettled practice’, encapsulates the apparent stylistic ‘schism’ that is evident and deliberate. The visual punctuation that determines this display also evinces an interest in Roland Barthes’
articulation of the punctum in relation to photography, now transposed to painting, and invokes the lachrymal dimension of the sting of poignancy. Equally, the punctured, deflated pneumatic forms found in Manzoni’s ‘Artist’s Breath’ and Ian Kiaer’s detumescent forms as well as in my own work, stir in us a curious pathos. Interestingly in human anatomy, the small point of the opening of the tear duct is known as the punctum. Although the work largely develops under its own experimental ‘modus operandi’, (Maurice Blanchot’s ‘the work doing the work’s work’) it is nevertheless indebted to key thinkers/theorists of painting, notably Giles Deleuze and Isabelle Graw. Deleuze’s postulation of a Body without Organs (BwO), drawing on Antonin Artaud’s script for radio, ‘To Have Done With The Judgement of God’, serves as a lucrative, endlessly confounding and provocative model for both practice and thought:
‘-By placing him again, for the last time, on the autopsy table to remake his anatomy. I say, to remake his anatomy. Man is sick because he is badly constructed. We must make up our minds to strip him bare in order to scrape off that animalcule that itches him mortally. god, and with god his organs. For you can tie me up if you wish, but there is nothing more useless than an organ. When you will have made him a body without organs, then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions and restored him to his true freedom.’ 4 7
Deleuze states: a Body without Organs is desire and enables desire and, paradoxically, is also non-desire! Equally, his proposition of a (non-transcendental) Plane of Immanence or Consistency (sometimes also referred to as the plane of composition) to my mind segues well with the unpainted canvas substrate as a non-striated or smooth plane upon which a Body without Organs might be produced: thus giving rise to new potentialities: new becomings… I am aware that to nominate the canvas as a plane of immanence might appear naïve to theorists of Deleuze and that it might be more appropriately named a plane of composition. Nevertheless, to think of it as a plane of immanence serves me well as a pragmatic spur that overrides strict convention. It is, most imperatively and essentially, an experimental space, where orthodoxies can be challenged and critically evaluated. Establishing a space where my own habits of thought, my conceptualisations and practical procedures, are susceptible to interruption, contestation and reconfiguration. Deleuze and Guattari consider the plane of immanence to be the absolute ground of philosophy, and, I would, by extension, propose it is also the absolute ground of painting.
askesis as providing an impetus to work on the self: a form of ethical refashioning. I am especially drawn to Queer Theory not as a theory about Queer people or identities (as important as this is), rather, I’m most engaged with the epistemological force of Queer Theory as a critical method for (un)thinking, (un)acting and (un)doing the stultifying imperatives of dominant discourses. These un-doings act as vital provocations for a re-thinking of procedural premises. In particular, it is Queer Theory’s capacity to unbind the binary and release unpredictable potential in all fields. We have notable examples in the geographer and filmmaker Doreen Massey, the professor of English literature Eve Kosofsky-Sedgwick, the philosophers Judith Butler & Johnny De Philo, sociologist Didier Eribon, theorists David Halperin and Leo Bersani, art critic Douglas Crimp, all of whom, alongside countless others, irreversibly transformed their academic disciplines; shifting the centre of gravity through the persuasive challenge of Queer Theory and its embrace of multiplicity and difference. Queer Theory also profoundly resonates with Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the Carnivalesque. Both seek to turn established hierarchies and orthodoxies upside down and revel in unleashing pleasure, power and justice. The carnivalesque has had a significant impact on both my thinking and the visual, libidinal and political energies that determine the work.
I’d like to touch here on the importance of Queer Theory, specifically Foucauldian 8
I belatedly recognise that throughout the many shifts in my practice and mediums over decades there are certain ‘leitmotifs’ that recur, these were not recognised at the outset. One is the stain; another is the ovoid form or irregular oval and yet another is the concentric geometric delineated forms. All exert an abiding fascination. Once again, there is a belated recognition that these oval forms reverberate with a key figure that Deleuze and Guattari propose as a Body without Organs: that of the Dogon Egg. This figure is adopted from the myth culture of
the Dogon people of Mali in West Africa and, at its most basic premise, asserts that the egg is the world. According to Deleuze and Guattari, the egg contains all the material necessary for the production of Bodies without Organs. ‘For Deleuze and Guattari every actual body has a limited set of traits, habits, movements, affects, etc. But every actual body also has a virtual dimension: a vast reservoir (my emphasis) of potential traits, connections, affects, movements, etc. This collection of potentials is what Deleuze calls the BwO’.5
Jim Mooney, collage on paper, both 1995 9
Jim Mooney BwO: Doubling#1, 2017, 137 x 198cm, oil on canvas
The stain has a rebellious spirit and allows for predictably unpredictable, quixotic flows, pooling, seepage and eddies that nevertheless create extremely precise and intricate edges as the paint settles. Stains and other marks and pictorial assemblages coalesce and form confluences that create new Bodies without Organs. The Body without Organs is predicated on desire and just as desire seeks desire so the Body without Organs seeks the infinite potentialities of the emergence of endless Bodies without Organs through new unforeseen conjunctions, new connections and assemblages. Appealingly, the fluidity of stains and flows of liquid paint can liberate colour from form, from the object and from the subservient role of naturalistic depiction. Consequently, colour floats above the world in billowing cloud-like accumulations, drifts and dissipations: aflutter!
This supports my intentions that the large black irregular oval forms that are predominant within certain works, be considered not as a void or empty space, but rather are viewed as a â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;plenum of the voidâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;, a reservoir full of potentiality as with the Dogon egg. In retrospect I recognise that the oval form that has so preoccupied me recently, but also, in different manifestations, for prior decades, as coincidentally reinforcing Deleuzeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s characterisation of the Dogon egg as a Body without Organs. This is an a posteriori attribution based on morphological similarity rather than an intentional reasoning that served me well as an a priori structuring device or generative impetus. Again, this is a belated recognition. The manufactured stain introduces an aleatory element into the production of painting. The stain can be harnessed and deployed yet remains quintessentially unpredictable, following its own course: its own volition. Images (left - right): Dogon Egg Piero Manzoni, Egg with thumbprint, 1960
This scope to make new connections encourages the establishment of unanticipated conjunctions such as the morphological similarities of the bodies of pre-Columbian Moche stirrup ceramics from Peru to ludic figures like the pataphysician, Alfred Jarry’s irreverent Ubu Roi and carnivalesque figures with exaggerated bellies and genitals celebrating the Dionysian base qualities that are temporarily elevated in an act of mocking and queering of established authorities where the world is turned upside down. Considering painting in this way, as a potential BwO, allows for multiple connections and porosities, lines of flight, flows of intensity and making contiguities from unanticipated relations. The penetrability of these bodies enables new conjunctions, new alliances, unanticipated allegiances and new assemblages to emerge from the ineffable.
unpatrolled emissions, evacuations, incursions and ingestions Visually they register as gaps or blind spots and challenge and disrupt the integrity of the pictorial surface. I am reminded here of the title of Dris Ben Hamed Charhadi’s novel, ‘A Life Full of Holes’ 6. Two things strike me here ‘A Life’, not ‘My Life’ and ‘Full of Holes’, intuitively echoing Deleuze’s view that we are collective beings and autobiography is of interest only if it connects with ‘a life’ that passes through the individual. ‘Full of Holes’ speaks to the porosity of lives, their incompleteness, assailability and interconnectivity. It is the holes and gaps in people’s lives that Deleuze finds interesting. This resonates, coincidentally with Jonathan Kemp’s essay ‘Schreber and the Penetrated Male’ 7 that appears in Deleuze and Queer Theory. Schreber published ‘Memoirs of My Mental Illness’ a work that was famously interpreted by Freud and subsequently became influential in the field of psychoanalysis. Kemp writes: ‘I will present a reading of the Schreber case as a DeleuzoGuattarian becoming-minoritarian/ woman/queer which shatters the neat and stable confines of the concept ‘man’ – no longer a universal, unmarked and neutral monolith but a flux of radical jouissance, a surface shot through with holes into which and out of which sensations flow, deterritorialising masculine subjectivity and locating the penetrated/ penetrable (male) body as a condition of territorialised
The surfaces of some works are repeatedly punctuated by regularly sized circles creating sites of penetration where imaginary passages are created that open up to other, as yet, unimagined and unrealized Bodies without Organs: new becomings… new potentialities… These ‘holes’, operating alongside the intensities and predictably unpredictable flows of the stains, introduce a vulnerability and instability into the work. They create permeability, and allow for random and 12
male subjectivity.’ Furthermore, in discussing Deleuze and Guattari’s articulation of the rhizome, Kemp writes: ‘Like the Body without Organs, it disrupts the idea of a unified totality by gesturing to an ‘elsewhere’ that is both incapable of being represented and constitutive of representation.’ This, in turn, is reminiscent of Jacques Lacan’s objet petit ‘a’ (the object-cause of desire) that is simultaneously central to and defies representation.
Delineated concentric elements, especially the concentric circles inject, a pulsional dimension where the tension between centrifugal and centripetal movement vibrates and oscillates, echoing bodily processes such as peristalsis and the sphincteral mechanisms/movements/ functions of the body’s orifices/rims and internal organs as they open and close, instituting a pulsating formal erotics. The surface vibrations generated by this operation recall the expanding and contracting rhythms of Orphism and institute a gentle turbulence and spatial disequilibrium, creating an undulating surface in perpetual motion. These Orphic resonances recall Goethe’s reflections on a stone dropped into water and how the concentric rings formed carry an echo of the circular elasticity of the retina.
Jim Mooney Mapping 1, oil and wax on canvas,1989 (black & white photograph)
I often apply paint in sticky impasto, creating small hooks (as the brush lifts from the surface) or raised deposits on selected areas. The paint is injected using syringes or applied with dry brush, creating pimpled or suppurating surfaces; raised nipples of paint that capture light differentiating and animating areas of the surface. Fluttering. These methods create a shimmering, bristling, unstable and mobile surface of points (redolent of light sparkling on the surface of the sea) and produce a slight bas-relief surface that shifts and glints casting subtle shadows that engender a slightly wavering lightenergy. Flickering. This has the effect of either creating a visual field that bristles (with desire?) or serves to highlight selected areas of low-level visual vibration or hum. Both serve to direct the gaze and in fact could be said to return our gaze. Glistening. Suppurating. Oozing. Jim Mooney Watercolor and oil on paper, 1985
Images (opposite): Pre-Columbian Moche ceramic, Peru Images of â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Ubu Roiâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; Jim Mooney BwO: Echo, 2017, 168 x 213cm, oil on canvas
One aspect of an open and unsettled painting practice that I find rewarding is the ability to make and pursue unexpected connections, be they due to an unlikely theoretical coincidence/bridge (e.g., that an interest in Pataphysics, connects Deleuze and Heidegger) or a morphological similarity or contiguity between objects/forms from disparate contexts. Connections are crucial to Deleuze’s advocacy of the multiplicity:
So, I connect the ludic AND the irreverent AND the carnivalesque AND Queer Theories AND Bahktin AND Kristeva AND Pataphysics AND Heidegger AND Deleuze (courtesy of Giorgio Agamben) AND the Body without Organs AND Antonin Artaud AND the Rhizome of Gregory Bateson AND the vitalism of D H Lawrence AND Nietzsche AND Isabelle Graw’s ‘vitalistic projection’ AND pneumatic modernism AND Oscar Schlemmer AND Fernando Botero AND Alfred Jarry AND preColombian Moche ceramics AND Ubu Roi AND Donald Trump AND Ku Klux Klan AND Philip Guston. I connect Manzoni’s inflated balloon ‘Artist’s Breath’ AND the ‘pneuma’, the soul or vital creative force of classical philosophy AND Luce Irigaray’s critique of Heidegger ‘The Forgetting of Air’ AND the deflated residue of Manzoni’s expired balloon, a consequence of time AND entropy with the poetic contemporary installations of Ian Kiaer. In highlighting the role of theory as a stimulus and tool in both the generation and understanding of the work, I equally want to assert the primacy of the visual and cite in support Brigit Riley’s recent observations on Titian’s Diana and Actaeon in the Scottish National Gallery where she quotes Delacroix that the first merit of a painting is to produce a ‘feast for the eye’.
‘It is not the elements or the sets which define the multiplicity. What defines it is the AND, as something which has its place between the elements or between the sets, AND, AND, AND – stammering.’
A brief word on belatedness: the concept of belatedness is important in relation to art, and for me, specifically painting. The recognition of any ‘significance’ or ‘meaning’, if not endlessly deferred, can only come later and again later. Even then, it is fleeting and constantly fugitive. For the painter of an unsettled practice understanding is constantly in flight, tenuous and provisional and can only ever be belated in relation to painting. I suppose I want to stress this point as, although theory is immensely important to the work at an earlier, generative, stage or there is a belated recognition of affinity, the crux of the matter is that art, in keeping with Deleuze and Guattari, ultimately deals with affects and percepts and not concepts.
Éric Alliez, The Brain-Eye, New Histories of Modern Painting, Rowman & Littlefield, London, New York.
On Entering the Sea, The Erotic and Other Poetry of Nizar Qabbani, Interlink Books, New York.
Isabelle Graw, The Love of Painting, Genealogies of a Success Medium, Sternberg Press, Berlin. See also Thinking Through Painting, Reflexivity and Agency Beyod the Canvas, Institut fur Kuntskritik Frankfurt am Main, Isabelle Graw, Daniel Birnbaum, Nikolaus Hirsch, Sternberg Press, Berlin.
Antonin Artaud, To Have Done With The Judgement of God, Radio Play 1947, shelved by French Radio when it was due to be aired on 2 February 1948. Artaud died one month later.
See Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, The Athlone Press, London. See also John Rajchman, The Deleuze Connections, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachussets. London, England.
Driss Ben Hamad Charadi, A Life Full of Holes, trans. Paul Bowles, Rebel Inc Classics, Grove Press Inc, USA.
Jonathan Kemp, “Schreber and the Penetrated Male”, Deleuze and Queer Theory, eds. Chrysanthi Nigianni and Merl Storr, Edinburgh University Press.
Jim Mooney, Portgower, Scotland, 2020
PUNCTUATE: An essay by Trish Lyons I talk to the trees but they don’t listen to me I talk to the stars but they never hear me Paint Your Wagon, the musical If any infidel lighted torches or worshipped trees, fountains or stones, or neglected to destroy them, he should be found guilty of sacrilege. The Second Council of Arles, 452 AD The mountains are great stone bells; they clang together like nuns. Who shushed the stars? Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk 1. Talking paintings
And there it was, a body without organs, a torso sized ovoid, its darkness blooming like the heart of a poppy dreaming of its own sleep, a shadow ghost floating in a pool of crimson red on a sea of hot pinks. At the cardinal points four bright yellow palm-sized dots appeared, partially eclipsed like blind spots pulling me in. I saw petro spills of Prussian blue paint mixed with burnt umber seeping over the surface like clouds passing across the sun. Beneath the cloud surface another surface of concentric circles appeared, expanding like sound vibrations, surfacing ring shaped echoes of unheard words rising from the depths of language, as if the painting could speak.
I first encountered Jim Mooney’s painting Body Without Organs No.1 this past summer at the 2019 Edinburgh Festival in the painting exhibition “Fully Awake”. I was performing at the opening of the exhibition and had arrived a few days earlier to see the space and check out the sound equipment. The curators were busy hanging the show in four large painting galleries at the Edinburgh College of Art. I was directed towards a locked room where the sound equipment was stored. I passed through three galleries of paintings and as I approached the locked room I was stopped in my tracks by a painting whose pull on my peripheral vision forced me to turn and take a full look. 18
2. Signs of life
In semiotics, the study of sign processes, a sign is anything that communicates meaning to the interpreter of the sign. Unlike linguistics, semiotics also includes the study of signs that are non-linguistic, such as analogy, metaphors, symbolism, symptoms, and allegory. It is why semiotics has proven to be such a useful tool for examining meaning across virtually any discipline; for example, medicine (how to read symptoms), anthropology (how to read rituals), computing (how to read code), criminology (how to read evidence), economics (how to read numbers).
This is the thing about Jim Mooney’s paintings, they feel alive, and they speak to us, but how do these painting speak to us? We need only look to the title of the exhibition, “Punctuate” to be alerted to the artist’s intention that language and meaning, text and textures are organizing energies in this body of work. To punctuate is to add marks to a text in order to aid meaning. These marks; semi colons, commas, and full stops (to name a few) effect a pause, a space for sense to accumulate and for meaning to take place. In the exhibition, Mooney carefully places smaller related paintings throughout the galleries in order to puncture the space and to act as punctuation. But it is important to state that this exhibition is not about punctuation, much in the same way that these words you are presently reading are not about alphabetic letters; however, these letters are signs that communicate meaning such that ‘we see what they say’, thus “Punctuate” is a sign that points us towards, indeed is a point of entry into, the paintings themselves. I will return to points, punctums and dots in Mooney’s paintings, but first I want to consider the use of signs as a means of communication because communication provides an important key to these works.
The 19th century American philosopher, mathematician and scientist Charles Sanders Pierce identified three categories of signs that are used in semiotics; 1) icon: is a stimulus pattern that has meaning; for example, a picture of an envelope on a computer or phone screen signifies the mail function, or a picture of a light bulb lighting up signifies the occurrence of a bright idea, 2) symbol: is an arbitrary sign whose meaning is relational and most often culturally specific; for example, the word ‘paint’ is not paint in and of itself but rather refers to something called paint, and 3) index is a sign that has a physical relationship with what it is signifying, it operates as evidence; for example, a footprint signifies a foot, dark clouds signify a storm, smoke signifies fire. 19
In her book ‘The Love of Painting’ (2018) the art critic Isabelle Graw begins by using semiotics in order to explore the use and effects of the communicative power of painting. According to Graw, it is specific -ally in painting where indexical signs predominate. It is the corporeal, material dimension of the painterly sign, the gesture and mark of paint that presents the viewer with traces of the presence of the absent artist. The effect of the indexical is the power of evidence. Where there is smoke there is fire, where there is a painting there is a painter, the author of the painting. Such is the power of the indexical connection between painting and painter that one need only think of a famous painting and the artist springs to mind; that is a Leonardo, this is a Frida Khalo. We put a definite article in front of the artist’s name when identifying a painting and in doing so we conflate the person with the thing, painter and painting (note that ‘painting’ is both a verb and a noun). This conflation of painter and painting, subject and object, confers a status on painting that Graw calls quasi subject. The quasi subject produces “imagined vital features such as liveliness, life force, subjectivity or en-soulment into dead matter”, this effect she calls vitalistic fantasies.
Renaissance and the aesthetic ideal that figures and paintings ought to appear lively and animated, the idea of the transformation of the inanimate into the living, often at the hands of a talented artist, goes back thousands of years and can be found throughout the world. The historian Julian D’Huy performed a phylogenetic analysis on various iterations of Ovid’s Pygmalion (the myth of a sculpture that comes to life) and discovered that the Greek and Bara (Madagascar) myths likely split from the Berber (North Africa) story three to four thousand years ago.
Painting is an illusion, a piece of magic, so what you see is not what you see. Phillip Guston At the centre of Mooney’s painting Apparition floats a large blue cloud, its surface embellished with dots. The cloud is outlined in ultramarine giving it a distinct animated character, a shape from a trippy cartoon. Above the cloud, another cartoonish shape, of what might be read as a head or a pale blue light bulb. Its thick dark outline is done in one continuous brush stroke, as if the paint stroke itself had lit the bulb, painting at the speed of light. It is funny and playful and alerts us to the ideas at play in this painting. In the centre of the cloud is a dark oval, unlike the other ovoids throughout the exhibition
While Graw traces these vitalistic fantasies in painting back to the European 20
this oval shape is strict and symmetrical and suggests something man-made like a mirror, further emphasized by what appears to be the shadow of a head caught in the mirrorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s reflection. Again I am reminded of Grawâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s proposition on the indexicality of painting; that the physicality and materiality of painting signs evoke the ghost-like presence of its absent author. With the ghost-like shadow at the centre of Apparition, Mooney draws our attention to someone or something that is not there, he simultaneously exaggerates and mocks an authorial presence in painting, the subject that is both there and not-there, or as Graw calls it, the quasi-subject. The title Apparition is doubly indexical, not only does it point to the ghost-like presence of the absent author, but it also points to an image that is effectively smoke and mirror, as if to say that painting is an illusion and Apparition is a ghost-busting myth of a painting. There is something oddly comic about Apparition, with its bold shadows and outlines, Beano cartoon colours, bubblegum pink polka dots and the absurdity of a shadow trying to catch a glimpse of itself in a mirror floating in a sea of hallucinatory abstraction. This comic cartoon styling and painting seriousness, reminds me of the late work of the American painter Philip Guston (1913 - 1980), who after establishing himself as a serious abstract
Jim Mooney BwO: Apparition, (detail) 2019, 207 x 215cm, oil and collage on canvas
expressionist painter and academic, left New York City in 1967 and moved upstate. Frustrated by the purity of abstraction in a world that was messy and complex his practice underwent a radical change in style and content, making paintings that were full of vulgar cartoon figures, in plastic pinks and shitty browns, that were both a comic and serious take on the subject of the painter and painting itself. As an aside, I note that in the Wikipedia entry for Philip Guston his style is listed as: “cartoon, abstract”, a rather apt stylistic description of Apparition.
4. Dots, spots and points
There is a mobility of the retina, a chromatic circle we traverse, and which is animated (‘a living circle’) according to a movement of eternal opposition capable of animating images with a molten rapidity whose lasting effect is conserved in colours. Éric Alliez, The Brain-Eye Mooney paints concentric circles that pulse like sound vibrations. He tells me that he most often paints the circles in yellow ochre deep and that they are meant to inject an orphic/oneiric element, indeed these are animated soundings, echoes from oracles and dreams. He covers sections of surface with tiny points of paint applied using syringes as a sticky impasto or with dry brush, creating goose bumps of paint; and here I must fully quote Mooney’s own description of these pimples of paint so vivid and knowing of the effects they create: “…suppurating surfaces; raised nipples of paint that capture light in order to animate areas of surface. These methods create a shimmering, bristling, unstable and mobile surface of points (redolent of light sparkling on the surface of the sea) and produce a slight bas-relief surface that shifts and glints casting subtle shadows that engender a slightly wavering light. This has the effect of either creating a visual field that bristles with desire or serves to highlight selected
The significance of cartoon as a style in painting is bound to animation, the state of being animated from the Latin root anima meaning breath, it signifies what is living and breathing and gives us the word animal. Animation in this sense is what we know as liveliness. It is this liveliness, this vitality; that Isabelle Graw returns to throughout The Love of Painting. Mooney deploys a full range of painterly devices that evoke animation. He does this in the full knowledge that painting is an act of animation in and of itself. The paintings in “Punctuate” form a shifting, hallucinatory mapping of liveliness and presence. The repetition of motifs, and shifts in scale provide a rhythm, surfaces shimmer, colours vibrate, dots, circles and spots pulsate, and rings radiate. 24
areas of low-level visual vibration or hum. Both serve to direct the gaze and in fact could be said to return our gaze. Glistening.”
figure smaller than life size for a figurine, make a figure larger than life size for a monument, make a figure life-size and you create the uncanny sense of a human presence. You see Jim Mooney paints paintings that know what a painting does. He thinks of painting itself as a Body without Organs that is operating as a provocation to others to create a Body without Organs. A Body without Organs is desire. It is desire that draws us in, just as the love of painting asks us to feel life in the dead substance of paint and then asks us why.
Polka dots in contrasting and complimentary colours seemingly dance across the paintings, like eye floaters or the bright bursts of light that appear behind closed eyes. Our blind spots occur where the optic nerve attaches to the eyeball but our vision remains uninterrupted in spite of this dark hole in our sight. It is a cognitive phenomenon that our brain fills in the visual detail that our blind spots obscure. Seeing in the dark, painting shows us what is not there. Goethe writes about light and its absence as necessary to the production of colour and that colour itself is a degree of darkness. In Mooney’s painting it is a volume of darkness that shapes the egg figures of the plenum voids that are predominant in certain works in the exhibition. They are painted in Paynes gray, a dark mixture of iron blue, with traces of yellow ochre and crimson lake, a moody damp colour well used in shadows, clouds (cold), and the dark reaches inside our bodies that we can only imagine. I asked Mooney about the size of the plenum voids. He replied, “they range in scale from head to torso sized” and I think to myself, of course they are life size, these are bodies without organs no less. I recall the art school lesson about scale: make a
(Middle spread) Jim Mooney Carnival Triptych, 2017, 167.5 x 376cm, oil on canvas 25
5. What about you? And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses Had the look of flowers that are looked at. T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton A picture can only appear alive if there is a viewer ready to project a liveness onto it. Isabelle Graw, The Love of Painting albeit in playful colours and cartoon stylings. The bright blue radiating beams appear to pierce the dark spots that dot the painting, like light piercing retinas or blind spots. In fact the bright pink central oval with its glistening dots floats on a dark red bed of Alizarin crimson, the contrast of colours causing a retinal burn of the image. A glowing mis-en-abyme of an image reflecting itself; Monstrance shows us, the viewer, caught as a gaze in painting, not as a reflection but glimpsed in the flash of radiating light, a virtual projection. We pass through paintings as a body without organs aligned with other bodies without organs. You, painting and painter, like three celestial bodies of a solar eclipse, we appear, shadowed and radiant alike.
Nothing matters in painting without you, the viewer. Just as an actor stands before us and says without speaking ‘look at me’, we stand before a painting and it asks us to see. At the centre of the painting Monstrance we see a rosy pink oval, and like the oval in Apparition its shape is strict and symmetrical and suggests something man-made like a mirror, but here the mirror is covered in tiny glossy dots. The same dots that Mooney has said “serve to direct the gaze and in fact could be said to return our gaze. Glistening”. Monstrance, as with all the titles in the exhibition, is a sign that points to the heart of the painting. A monstrance, meaning to show, from the Latin monstrare, is a ceremonial object designed to display a sacred item. It features a round glass vessel encircled by radiant beams resembling the sun. And indeed we see such a figure in the painting Monstrance,
Trish Lyons, Guadalajara, Mexico, 2020
Solar Corona, 2019 The image was created by the ESA-CESAR team observing the eclipse from ESOâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s La Silla Observatory in Chile, South America
BwO: Filiation (for Jon Thompson), 2017, 153 x 114cm, oil on canvas
Untitled, 2018, All 35.5 x 26cm, oil on canvas
BwO: Monstrance, 2019, 207 x 215cm, oil and collage on canvas
BwO: Conjunction, 2019, 198 x 198cm, oil on canvas
BwO#1, 2019, 220 x 210cm, oil, coffee and collage on canvas
BwO: Oneiric Torso, 2017, 178 x 137cm, oil on canvas
BwO#2, 2019, 220 x 210cm, oil on canvas
Festoon, 2018, 214 x 214cm, oil on canvas
BwO: Doubling#2, 2019, 213 x 302cm, oil on canvas
BwO: Apparition, 2019, 207 x 215cm, oil and collage on canvas
(Above) BwO: Split, 2018, 167.5 x 376cm, oil on canvas (Opposite) PUNCTUATE : An unsettled practice, January 2020, Exhibition installation views at Inverness Museum & Art Gallery
Jim Mooney: CV & Biography Born Glasgow, 1955 Studied at Edinburgh College of Art and the Royal College of Art. Prix de Rome, Painting, British School at Rome, Italy, 1981-83. John Florent Stone Scholar, Edinburgh College of Art, 1987-88 Churchill Fellowship, Research into Moche Ceramics, Peru and Bolivia.1992 Elected Fellow of the Royal College of Art, 1995. PhD (RCA) awarded 1999. Thesis: Praxis-Ethics-Erotics (Towards an Eroticisation of Thought: A Matter of Praxis). Selected Solo/Two Person Exhibitions: 2020 ‘Punctuate: An unsettled practice’, Inverness Museum & Gallery and Thurso Gallery. 1998 ‘Face to Face’, Galeria Zderzak, Krakow, Poland. 1996 Kingsgate Gallery, London (with Kate Meynell). Galerie Eboran, Salzburg, Austria (with Kate Meynell). ‘Obiekty, Fotografie, Obrazy’, Galeria Kolo, Gdansk, Poland. 1995 Gasworks Gallery, London (with Kate Meynell). 1994 ‘Stains’, Quicksilver Gallery, Middlesex University (with Kate Meynell). 1989 Edinburgh College of Art Scholarship Exhibition. 1988 Todd Gallery, London. 1985 Galeria de Arte Viva Mexico, Caracas, Venezuela. 1984 AIR Gallery, London. Selected Group Exhibitions: 2019 ‘Fully Awake’, Edinburgh College of Art, Edinburgh Art Festival Exhibition. 2015 Curator of ‘Simply Painting’ touring group exhibition, Highlands, Scotland. 1999 ‘Rhizome’, (4 artists), Kolo Gallery, Gdansk, Poland. ‘Reading Matter’, Norwich Gallery, Norwich and Standpoint, London. ‘Machos y Muñecas: Imagenes Cerca de la Masculinidad’, (6 artists), La Casa Elizalde, Barcelona, Spain. 1998 ‘Inter-views’, (4 artists), Studio Gallery, Budapest, Hungary, part of ‘In and Out of Touch’, Budapest/London exchange Project. ‘Close to Home’, UFF Gallery, Budapest, Hungary. 40
‘Orpheus Looking Back’, a celebration of Maurice Blanchot, Bracknell Arts Centre. ‘Artysci Galerii Kolo’, Galeria Kolo, Gdansk, Poland. ‘Relatives’, Anna Bornholt Gallery, London. ‘Join the Dots’, Galerie 5020, Salzburg, Austria. ‘The Thinking Eye’, Gallery 7, Hong Kong. 1992 ‘3 Ways’, British Council tour, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania. ‘3 Ways’, extended 2 year tour of African countries. 1991 ‘EAST’, Norwich Gallery, Norwich. ‘Sommeraustellung’, Thun, Switzerland. 1990 ‘Works on Paper’, Galerie Zur Alten Deutchen Schule, Thun, Switzerland. ‘Patterns of Intention’, (3 artists), Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh. ‘Jeune Peinture’, Grand Palais, Paris. ‘Rome Scholars: 1980-90, Gulbenkian Galleries, RCA, London. ‘3 Ways’, British Council touring exhibition, Hungary and Poland. 1988 ‘Exhibition Road - 20th Century Painters from the RCA’, London. ‘Royal College of Art’, Galerie Zur Alten Deutschen Schule, Thun, Switzerland. 1983 ’12 Artisti Britannici’, Palazzo Barberini, Rome. 1982 ‘Mostra’, British School at Rome, Italy. ‘Artisti di Quattro Accademie Stranieri’, Galeria Nazionale de Arte Moderna, Rome. 1981 ‘Scottish Young Contemporaries’, Touring exhibition. ‘New Contemporaries’, ICA, London. Mooney taught at Middlesex University and the Royal College of Art from 1989 – 2009 where, respectively, he was Reader in the Theory and Practice of Fine Art and Senior Research Tutor in Painting. He held Visiting Professorships at Birmingham City University and Grays School of Art, Aberdeen. He writes on contemporary art, focusing on painting, radical art practice, ecology, ethics, queer theory and Fine Art Research Methodologies. He has published extensively including essays on Lari Pittman, Félix Gonzalez-Torres, John Dougil, Michael Curran, David Wojnarowicz, Peter Hujar, Queer Sorority, Hamish Fulton, the Algerian photographer, Hocine, the Kurdish artist Rebwar Saeed and Shirin Neshat. 41
Artist’s Acknowledgements I would like to extend my deep gratitude to the splendid team at Inverness Museum & Art Gallery, Cathy Shankland, Kirsten Body and Lucy Woodley for the opportunity to present this exhibition and for all their professional support and invaluable assistance. My thanks are also due to Leon Patchett for expertly managing the installation. Special thanks are due to Kirsten Body for designing the catalogue.
Meynell was Artist in Residence at Nordisk Kunstarsenter Dale, winter 2019. Recent videos include: Hat and Wig 2019, an informal documentary with Fluxus artist Geoffrey Hendricks and arts activist Sur Rodney Sur, touring in ‘RADICAL INTIMACIES, WE ARE HERE: Artists’ Moving Image from the British Council Collection and LUX’, 2019. Elizabeth, 2017, shown at ‘Elizabeth Friedlander’, The Ditchling Museum, Jan - April 2018.
I’m deeply indebted to Katharine Meynell for producing and directing the film ‘An Essay on Painting’ shown as an important part of this exhibition. Additional thanks to Hannah Kates Morgan and Roland Denning who ably assisted with production and editing. Further thanks are due to Hannah for her patient documentation of paintings.
I am equally very grateful to Trish Lyons for her valuable and insightful essay that forms a key component of this catalogue.
Dr. Katharine Meynell is an artist and writer, using moving image, performance, drawings and artists’ books. She is part of GraceGraceGrace live art collective; and often works with the artists’ book imprint Gefn Press, including Poetry of Unknown Words, 2017, which is currently on display in Contemporary Artists’ Books at the British Library Treasures Gallery.
Dr. Trish Lyons is an artist and writer living in Guadalajara, Mexico. She is currently writing a performance piece I OBJECT based on her experiences of institutionalisation as Head of Sculpture at Camberwell College of Art, Head of Fine Art Research at the Royal College of Art, London and as a former patient at a psychiatric hospital. She is one half of the post-punk psychedelic band VIRALUX. She recently performed their track Tiger Lady at The Edinburgh Festival, commissioned for the centenary of the birth of the Edinburgh born author Muriel Spark.
Publication produced by High Life Highland’s Exhibition Unit to coincide with the exhibition PUNCTUATE: An unsettled practice 25 Jan - 7 March 2020 Inverness Museum & Art Gallery 14 March - 25 April 2020 Thurso Gallery, Caithness Cover image: Jim Mooney BwO: Apparition, (detail) 2019, 207 x 215cm, oil and collage on canvas
ISBN 978-0-9934004-2-1 Photo credit: Ewen Weatherspoon Printed by J Thomson Printers, Inverness © All images are copyright of the artists © Text copyright of Jim Mooney and Trish Lyons High Life Highland is a company limited by guarantee registered in Scotland No. SC407011 and is a registered charity No. SC042593.