Richard Devereux, Continuous Now at Tarpey Gallery
It already seems like an age since I bumped into a few friends at the PV of the Richard Devereux exhibition Continuous Now, at Tarpey Gallery, though it was only November. There is much debate about the work on show, mostly a fascination with the “how” rather than the more contemplative mode that I had expected. They’re enchanting paintings that probably aren’t paintings at all, and that’s part of what gets us into conversation before each work: “what is it?” not in the sense of “what does it represent?” but “what is this thing that I am looking at and how was it made?” They didn’t drop out of the sky that’s for sure but were they actually touched by human hands? They almost approach the acheiropoiesis of certain byzantine icons, that were supposedly made “not with human hands”. Their method of production, though it is clear that they were brought about by some process of making, is unfathomable, at least to me, and to those gathered at the PV, each of us offering our speculations, maybe they are printed, or possibly the process is close to photography. I get up really close to see if there is texture and if the smaller marks are really marks at all, much as one might check whether an image is a reproduction. I am searching for clues as to how the work is made. I take my glasses off and put them back on again. I look from the side and from the front, at different distances, and I am still unsure. Even when I decide one thing I later change my mind.
In a recent article at Abcrit Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe argues that “we see paintings as beings rather than things. To share a space with them is more like being with a person than with a table or a rug”. Being with these artworks is not at all like being with a table or a rug. Maybe that’s why I think they are paintings, whether strictly speaking they are or not. After all, what is “aqueous polyester and pigment dispersal”? None of us here can explain it even though at first we thought we knew what it meant. Reading in the gallery notes that
the work is made by using a high-density pigment which is applied to a 100% cotton fibre membrane. By employing conventional masking methods and a variety of ‘pressure dispersal techniques’ – which have evolved over extensive periods of experimentation – the unique surface evolves as the dispersal flow is disturbed and randomised by a form of ‘particle interference’. The finished membrane is then mounted and then coated with several applications of archival, water-clear, acid-free, matt varnish,
helps me a bit, and I have to say that it does sound like painting, if not quite as we know it.
Once I get over that I don’t know how they’re made and I get on with just looking at them. I am captivated, enthralled even, but not quieted. My state is more one of excitation, and it only very slowly gives way to something calmer.
The paintings (?) are quite similar, monochromatic or almost so, always blue or turquoise, the parts entirely determined by the whole, yet themselves making up that whole, and only subtly differentiating themselves as ‘parts’. The differences between one painting and another becomes interesting. I have favourites, but it’s not easy to say why. I like the ones that don’t have a border more than the ones that do, and I attempt to rationalize why that might be. Is it that the border appears to display the work more conventionally, emphasizing the image more than the object, whereas in those that have no border the image/object relation is more ambiguous? I am enjoying all of them, each individual work having something at times only slightly different to offer. In One Morning We’ll Slip Into A Harbour We Have Never Known and Other Places (series two) II, I sense that I am looking at a landscape but only long enough to be brought back to the surface by the homogeneity of incident and lack of representational markers. But the surface is difficult to discern, I know it is flat yet it contains a strange kind of illusionistic quality, as if it also contains the illusion of another surface, lunar or aquatic. Then again, maybe it is a kind of weaved fabric I am studying.
Other Places (I) and Other Places (II), both small paintings, have obvious similarities as well as noticeable differences. Other Places (I) has more the appearance of movement, as if the image was fixed in mid flow, whereas Other Places (II) is static both in the sense of “still”and in the sense of an electrical buzz that is almost auditory, and it seems to hold more surface detail. It’s this second one that I like the most. I really like it and spend ages looking at it. Yet, I find it almost impossible to verbalize what it is that I am enjoying so much. I like the other one, but I like this one more, why? I am reminded of a time I was viewing a painting by Clem Crosby in a London gallery not so long ago. A critic who joined me pronounced an immediate judgment, something along the lines of “the colour is awful”. I made the mistake of asking him what he thought was “awful” about it, only to find that If I didn’t already know he certainly wasn’t going to explain it to me, it was so obviously self-evident. My own view was that the colour was rather good, but I would have been equally unable to justify my position. I am not at all sure that the words I have learned to say to myself are anything like an accurate report of my experience. Is this the whole point of looking? Almost that the more difficult it is to say in words what’s happening, the more interesting is the work, but that’s no reason to give up on the attempt! Nevertheless, for now, I just look.
Continuing to look, it’s the constructed-ness of the work that regains my attention, and I imagine once again the method of its making and what relationship the artist has to each finished piece. How much control does he exert, versus the paintings almost making themselves? Could it be that the notion of self-organization, or autopoiesis is helpful in thinking about this artist’s production, a development from the acheiropoiesis I started out with? As Devereux says
The work continually evolves, the work carries me – it knows far more than I do – I’m simply a facilitator.
It is no longer idols or icons I have in mind, more the way that (living) systems invent themselves. I am thinking metaphorically, clearly paintings are not alive, yet we do tend to relate to them “as beings rather than things”. Is a painting akin to a self-organizing system, and perhaps specifically so in Devereux’s method, (though indeed I have little understanding, if any, of what that method might actually be)?