Thursday, 20 August 2015

Jordy Hewitt: Ledge Point: Moana.

Sentence. Painting. Text.

by Graham Mathwin

Painting died a private death in my life a few years ago. I thought it would never be redeemed. Sometimes though, something incredible appears before me, and I find myself in a position of dissonance. Hewitt’s paintings were one such appearance. How could they have impacted so much on me? I had built myself a fortress to defend myself from the wiles of painting – especially abstract painting, so easy it is to be recouped into whatever discourse that requires some visual matter.

The reconciliation I reached was to deny what most people would interpret this as: the ability of painting to overcome its mediation and affect us viscerally. Such an idea is ludicrous. Painting is perhaps the most mediated, complex and meaning-full practice in art – it certainly has the longest and most eminent history. Yet here is also the point of reconciliation that I reached: in the very mediation itself. We too often deny that painting is a language, and therefore do not realise that if it speaks to us, it is through this language that it speaks. The power of literature is not diminished by its nature, save we realise it is only paper, and barring the necessity of our being literate. Painting likewise need not suffer all our distaste for being what it is: the ultimate auratic object. Rather, it is through the application of a language, albeit an archaic one, but certainly a complex, intricate, and important one, that painting can speak to us. We can consider a sentence separate from its text, and so we can isolate the sentence of a painting, like it asks us to do, and its capital letter and full stop will be its frame, and we need not see the paper the ink is printed on all the time. To do so is important: through it, perhaps we can give painting a space and understand the possibility of its language. It does entail a duality: that we understand the painting’s language, but that we do so necessarily at the cost of our ability to argue against it on the basis of its broader mediation, that none-the-less exists.

It seems especially appropriate to talk of language in seeing Hewitt’s work over the last two years. The progression she has undertaken has been especially deductive and logical – Hewitt is someone whose practiced ability with the language of paint results in an articulate and comprehensible ‘thinking’ through paint. Not that it is a purely logical deduction that is present in these works – they are certainly still within the realm of poetry – yet her two bodies of work, ‘ledge point’ and ‘act one scene one’ both present what I feel is appropriate to call something of a Cartesian meditation. Both bodies of work seem to contain the kind of realisation of an origin that Edmund Husserl asked us to undertake, as the basis of a phenomenology.

‘Act one, scene one’ is analogously illustrated by a narrative Hewitt tells of a dying relative, who, upon her deathbed, uttered her last words of ‘act one, scene one’ – a return to beginnings at the end. The work was a confused ground, without any figure, an evocation of uncertainty, but also a reduction of the language of painting back to its origin in the painted surface. This is why I call it a Cartesian meditation. Descartes, in his own meditation, decided to question everything. He very rapidly then deduces the existence of the world. Descartes’s method invariably validated the world he lived in, though it also changed it. Hewitt’s realisation can be taken in parallel with this idea: that Descartes returned to an origin, and then deduced the world from it – an end from an unsubstantiated beginning. The new beginning of her passing relative echoes this double relationship: the return to the origin in order to end, or the end as the beginning – something we can see paralleled in science’s obsession with the ‘final theorem’ – the equation to define the universe. It is both an origin, and an end. The hope of returning to an originary principle is that you may then extrapolate everything: that you will come to know the end. Within it, everything will be defined yet still unfolding. Hewitt’s work can be seen in this broader context, her work is, as so much abstract work has been, a ground. There is no figure, yet also little paper visible. The work is a cloudy accumulation of marks. The work is not as totalising as either the final theory, embodied perhaps in Malevich’s black square, or Yves Klein’s blue or white, or Rauschenberg’s white canvas. The work is a Cartesian meditation, but it is not the same ‘return to origin’ that those artists purported. Like an expert poet, Hewitt knows that it is not the physicality of the paper that makes the painting; it is the arrangement and choice of its language. What she presents us with, then, is not only an origin: the raw stuff of the language of paint: the ground; it is also an articulation of that ground: it is an attempt to understand the language that enables such a ground to be established. Far too often the Cartesian meditation in art results in nothingness, without an understanding of the language that enabled this absence-of-itself to occur.

The formation of this second body of work ‘ledge point’ is a fascinating progression, or deduction, from the previous body of work. For Hewitt has not conjured up something to inhabit the ground she constructed in her previous body of work. Rather, she has constructed a second ground. The key figure of her work in this show is not any figure at all, but a horizon. The horizon is a fascinating figure because it is not any defined figure at all; it is a limit of visibility, a figure generated by the curvature of the earth, and on a hypothetically even surface is set about 5 kilometres away from us. Hewitt’s horizon is rather less global, yet pertains to the same strange definition as that horizon that defines the limits of a visible world. It feels wrong to call it a figure; because of the lengths Hewitt has gone to avoid any figure in these works, even any definitive directionality, despite the easily language-able ‘landscape’ in these works. She has denied it, and avoided conjuring a typically easily comprehensible world into being – rather she has only conjured a horizon, a limit. The figure exists outside of the space of any particular definition; it is a meeting point, an infinitesimal space between two others.

This move is itself an intriguing one, but is again made poetic by the expert negotiation of the painted surface that was there in her last body of work, and that is here again. The marks, in both exhibitions, are a fluctuating mix of strokes, scattered yet controlled. There is only one definitive mark here, and that is the horizon’s line – and the sentence-like structuring of a sheet of paper and its frame. All else is articulated noise, a poem that is its own celebration, colour, tone, and those visible strokes that create them. This language is that of uncertainty, an indistinctness that does not reveal anything except itself as a ground. It is to Hewitt’s credit that despite the bold inclusion of a horizon, there is not more distinctness for it – or rather, that she has not done away with the implacable uncertainty, the cloudy, indistinct form of her grounds, rubbed every which way, in an attempt to invoke and dispel a foundation, a ground.

The true magic of a Cartesian meditation, and these paintings, is that they are an alchemical transformation, or a conjuring. They transform base material into value, or they bring forth the earth. The magic of what are just black lines on paper, and what are marks of pigmented dirt on paper are not espoused enough. The return to an origin is a magic spell, a conjuring of the earth. Similarly, the basic material of paint is manipulated into a ground. Through language it becomes something else, something beyond its material alone.

I am yet further intrigued by imagining what may come of the Cartesian meditation that Hewitt has undertaken, the reduction of her work to a field, and then to its division. It is a private, personal Cartesian meditation, something that feels like a crisis of sense. The continual emphasis on the indistinct, the confused, despite its more recent definition, gives the argument its power. Yet it is still that extraordinarily articulate structuring of the space, the manipulation of the shape of marks, the selection and presentation of colour, that gives the work its magic, and that wrests from base material the wonder of these painting. What the next step of this argument will be will emerge from that indistinct mass of paint, the confused marks that exist within that frame, just like the horizon that has come into view.


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