Parafin Gallery presents Justin Mortimer, Kult. The British painter’s latest London exhibition of recent works. Mortimer’s response to the figure via the artist’s a psychological mise en scene of necrotic hues and frail bodies, slightly shifts focus as the artist’s imagery undergoes a slight thematic alteration, and heads towards a possible change in painterly practice.
The artist’s usual focus on the ‘victim’ as a form of central yet obfuscated narrative is no longer the central leitmotif of the work, the sickly strained nudes of Mortimer’s amoral Goya-esque performances are less prominent here, as is the artist’s fetishistic tone and voyeuristic tableaux. The viewer is still met with a shifted focus and a subversion of intent, we are still left with a feeling of unease, as if witnessing some sort of sordid event, the centre of which is blocked or even in the case redacted by the artist removing a key to the narrative.
Mortimer continues his painterly practice of sourcing imagery from the internet, and constructing collages as a starting point for the artist’s paintings, often being influenced by global events, with images that Mortimer finds intriguing being sifted and juxtaposed with often disparate elements to create a subverted narrative journey. The artist’s current focus was the recent and terrifying breakout of Ebola. With the work Der Besucher there is a shift away from the victim – there are no Ebola patients on display in the work – instead the protagonists appear in the form of nurses swathed in protective clothing, masked bodies wrapped to redact personality, who appear to be walking through a picturesque Swiss landscape – intentionally out of place, along with the suggestion of some abstracted machine forms often found to break narrative in Mortimer’s paintings.
The artist highlights the bold colours of the the nurses attire – the yellow plastic sleeves, the blue rubber gloves – finding an otherness and a strange beauty in the figures menacing presence. There is always a sense of finding beauty in something terrible; as Francis Bacon obsessed about finding beauty in textbook images of diseases of the mouth, as an artist Mortimer cannot help but respond. The figures are at once contemporary yet their context has been shifted, re-purposed for a pilgrimage across an alternative landscape.
But it is when we come to the work Nes Ziona that the artist reveals a striking shift in practice. The ‘finished’ and slick elements often found in Mortimer’s final images are nowhere to be found in this painting. The artist has taken a pre-existing canvas partially removing the painting on its surface. Scraping back through two layers, through two discarded images. In a process of removal the artist has stopped and began a new painting over the scratched and rough surface. Mortimer then incorporated elements of the previous images into this latest work.
The central motif of the image is – as is usually the case – a figure. But with this image Mortimer has partially removed the form revealing layers below it, allowing the viewer to look ‘through’ the painting. The image is open and the surface informed by the previous images, the history of the canvas effects the current image. The artist has shifted his practice, a new element has been added to the process of the image. Mortimer has added the process of painting to the final work. The painting are now about the nature of painting as well as image, the addition is one of temporality.
This is a painters painting if you will; the work not only reveals its process but discusses it. The viewer looks through the painting understanding the canvas and an element of time. This layering effect also consolidates as well as divides the temporal plains of the work. Nes Ziona also forms a a fascinating amalgamation of language.
The remaining elements of the surface image form that of a figure in a landscape, yet the removal of sections of the image to reveal the image layers beneath ‘abstracts’ the final work. The figure becomes only partial: as a headless statue in a landscape blurring with the red wounded stains of the scrubbed-out images below. This painting is perfectly balanced. At once figurative – a landscape painting – and an Abstract work.
This is a new and exiting direction for Mortimer, with the addition of painterly reference the artist has improved upon his existing practice, the end result is an evolution in the journey of a painter, and one to follow closely and with great anticipation.
Words: Paul Black. Photo: P A Black © 2015
Justin Mortimer: Kult – Parafin Gallery – until 27 June 2015