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MACROCOSM AND MICROCOSM, Andrew Paul Wood, 2016
The everlasting universe of things
Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves,
Now dark—now glittering—now reflecting gloom—
Now lending splendour, where from secret springs
The source of human thought its tribute brings …
Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni” (1817)
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
T. S. Eliot, “The Wasteland” (1922)
Tyne Gordon’s work holds a liminal position between two quite contradictory philosophical positions. On the one hand her elaborate miniature constructions of soap, glass, marble, clay, bone, modelling plastic and paint resemble the aesthetics of avant-garde modernism filtered through Julia Kristeva’s abjection in the way Janine Antoni’s Gnaw works did, or a more tranquil take on the work of Gerda Steiner and Jörg Lenzlinger. On the other, the ambiguous scaling in Gordon’s paintings, often inspired by these objects, result in something more fantastical and Sublime; the dramatic, crystalline landscape of Caspar David Friedrich’s Sea of Ice (1823/24), or the faceted alpine utopia envisioned by German architect Bruno Taut in the late 1910s. The ambiguity, the lack of anchorage in reality, but undeniable aura of authenticity, keeps the viewer puzzling.
The sculptures allude to dolls house-sized versions of monumental ultra-modernist biomorphic abstraction – Jean Arp, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth – resting on marble (a broken offcast), glass (a broken bottle neck), or modelling clay plinths. They draw us in with their perfect little forms and the absurdity of the materials. They look a little as though they belong in a Wunderkammer. Hard and obdurate stone and glass is counterpointed against biological bone and soft, malleable soap. Unlike with modernist abstractions, these humble mundanities haven’t been severed from the domestic human realm. They trigger memories of experiences through their familiarity the way a Joseph Beuys installation does. Nor should being cute be considered an aesthetic sin, nor their apparent playful feminist mockery of Freudian phallic symbolism.
The paintings distil the formal qualities of these little assemblages into an altogether loftier and more Platonically idea realm. There is a bravura to them, sometimes astonishingly delicate forms captured in a single long stroke of brush charged with oil or acrylic or thick, coral-growth impasto thrusting sculpturally into the viewer’s space. They are sketches of a concept, but fully fleshed-out artefacts rendered with hard won technical skill.
The paintings are visual koans pointing to a purer form of consciousness or else hinting at a surreal, visionary Symbolist landscape co-existing with us in a dimension beyond human perception. The Sublime can never be completely mediated by culture, sometimes you just have to take it on instinct and faith, however this is a postmodern sublimity, nature has been eclipsed by culture. A form reminiscent of a monolith of ice or an imaginary range of glacial mountains may recall the alpine paintings of Romanticists like Alexandre Calame or Caspar Wolf, or the early landscapes of Adolf Hölzel condensed to a key element. A mountain becomes something you can slip in your pocket or mould out of your mashed potatoes like that scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
But the other side of the Sublime’s coin is the Unheimlich – the uncanny, the creeping terror that we experience when the comfortably familiar begins to disobey the accustomed assumptions about its nature. That same finger of ice might be a pillar from some eldritch Lovecraftian city in Antarctica. A dark cloud hovering close to the invisible ground in the white void of the painterly plain (a Taoist paradox of simultaneously being and nothing) acquires an indistinct sinister personality and takes off into the dream worlds of Odilon Redon, Alfred Kubin, and Goya. The Pathetic Fallacy is in full play, investing the substance of the forms with a distinct life force and even awareness.
Gordon’s work is two thirds what you feel and one third what you see. It pulls you in, traps you, and when it lets you go, it keeps following you around.
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