Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Jenny Pomeroy: Sourcey Paintings. Exhibition Opening Address by David Paton.

Jenny Pomeroy, Red Pill, Blue Pill, 2014. 

Acrylic and oil on canvas, 153 x 101 cm.

There is so much that can be said about this exhibition and the larger project behind it: I could for instance focus on the underpinning thematics of Jenny’s study:
Locating what she calls “the auratic” in certain paintings (that is, when they exhibit a presence or aura), and especially in the work of Marlene Dumas which Jenny was able to experience intimately in both Cape Town and Amsterdam.

Defining the auratic in terms of a liminal space between an artwork’s proximity (what Jenny terms “being-thereness”) and on the other hand, a distance or unattainability, (which Walter Benjamin identifies as the conditions for an artwork’s auratic quality). 
Today, ironically, such distance usually means that an artwork is often ubiquitously available to us as a set of scaled-down images in books and on the web - where they are unreliable, pixelated and often completely decontextualized, and thus without aura.

Another thematic with which Jenny grapples is in identifying the aura as a presence, especially in terms of what she calls a ‘certain something’ about the internal personhood of her model. The abiding attraction of the portrait and its photographic source – a source which, surprisingly, frees her from likeness, mimicry and, of course, flattery (this is especially interesting in that her sources are all family and friends)

I could focus on the tensions which lie at the heart of the location of auratic moments i.e. when the iconicity of the photographic source has been transgressed and liberated, and where transcending the source material occurs in interesting yet difficult-to-define ways. 

In her dissertation, Jenny has forged a compelling and exhaustive argument for the auratic in particular portrait paintings derived from photographic sources, an argument requiring no less exhaustive investigation in the making of these paintings: these phenomenological, haptic, embodied and dare-I-say auratic portraits in which material embodiment, indexical traces of their making and the meatiness of painting are evident in her quest to transcend mere likeness. 

She unhinges the false iconic power which the photograph claims in respect of resemblance and points our attention toward that liminal moment where physical likeness collapses and folds into a representation of the personhood of her sitter as only Jenny might know them.

This embodiment of what the American figural painter Willem de Kooning calls “slipping and glimpsing” results in a set of potently disconcerting - and in places, difficult and seemingly ugly - surfaces which threaten not to hold and which clearly deny likeness (the very convention upon which portrait painting builds is foundation). But for Jenny, any painting of someone else is also a palpable and indexical sign of her own existence, her “having-been hereness”, evidencing a thinking mind which directs the often unruly liquidity and materiality of her processes. In some fundamental way, these paintings then, are all, also, self-portraits. 

Jenny Pomeroy, Disembodied Selfie

2014. Acrylic and oil on canvas, 180 x 127 cm.
Any visit to Jenny’s studio would evince a space of ordered frenzy, the large canvasses moving between easel and floor where there is no longer a conventional top or bottom, and around which Jenny prowls, pours, tilts, wipes off, reworks and circles about some more. 
In this sometimes frenzied process of painting, a degree of control - along with preciousness and ego - disappear; the process of slipping and glimpsing that “certain something” about the personhood she is trying to paint, sometimes seems as elusive as the successful herding of cats. But it is visceral and exciting ending only when liquidity has settled, a film forms on the surface and calm is restored so that the painter can, at last, see what she has painted, and in this aspect alone, she is the bravest of painters.

Jenny Pomeroy. Mother, Brother, Me, 2013. 

Acrylic and oil on canvas, 121 x 153 cm each (triptych).

Jenny does not want a polite portrait which would - inevitably - only point back to the photograph and the model: such an act would only deny and undermined the very act of painting in the first place. 

Instead, Jenny’s portraits point us in another direction: towards the difficulty of liberating painting from mimicry, towards an act of material and visual ‘archaeology’; slipping towards and glimpsing that elusive relational aesthetic which underpins the physical and emotional relationships we share with others, especially those we know well and love.  
In this exhibition, the index of materiality, mark and process is a brave and honest act, a revelation of selfhood, material personhood and “having-been thereness” (as much as it embodies blood rising in the veins, a hair-standing-up-on-end moment, the flush of excitement, a chill up the spine, the bodily recognition of the tenor of a voice).

And so I appeal to each of us here tonight, to read the exhibition as it is built. Below, self-reflexive works explore the very foundations of her study, taking the idea of the portrait (Jenny’s own in places) in multiple directions to see where these paths may lead. 

In other works downstairs, familiar faces provide an opportunity to understand the gravity of the what, how and why of the study she has undertaken and where video animations help unlock processes of transgression and transcendence between starting and ending points (something absent when only viewing the final congealed product) and that shifting morphology which exists between photographic source and final painting. These animations have proven as valuable a resource for Jenny as they are entertaining and informative for the viewer.

Jenny, up here in the white cube (FADA Gallery) in which your major work can breathe and provoke, we are reminded of another protean idea expressed by de Kooning, that “... flesh was the reason why oil paint was invented”; of Maurice ‎Merleau-Ponty’s suggestion that “expressive painting is better equipped to reveal personhood than is photography” and finally, Marlene Dumas’ statement that “Paintings exist as the traces of their makers and by the grace of these traces.
David Paton
Supervisor of the Masters Candidate.

Senior Lecturer
Department of Visual Arts
Univesity of Johannesburg

Artist studio shot.

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