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Magical realism, autobiography and biography

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My most recent project still remains an expression of ‘magical realism’ but the emphasis has changed: over the past two weeks I have gradually moved away from the idea of a phantasy-laden ‘dreamscape’; in its place I have been constructing forms of portraiture – or, at least, ‘portrayals of persons.’ Initially I had the pleasure of making a romanticised type of work that sought to embrace a number of themes: for example, I had melded time-past and time-present and produced work that reflected certain idiosyncratic aspects of my imagination. I had focused on myself and an acquaintance of mine – a young Taiwanese fashion student who was following a course of study at UCA.  After I had developed a rationale for my work I became very absorbed – overtaken even – by questions of aesthetics. I enjoyed relating my work to certain manifestations of recent iconography. There was also a fair ‘dose’ of classical Freudian psychoanalysis that was embodied in my work. I had made conscious use of this: one screen print of Celia, for example, quoted from Bunuel’s ‘le chien andalou’ …)

But then I started to feel as if I was really finding a dubious rationale for everything that I was doing; something was disquieting me; I was troubled by questions of authenticity. I was troubled because I had come to realise that I was mainly developing a series of portraits – both of myself and of Celia – the young woman from Taiwan. I was, I think, making work that was both autobiographical and biographical. (When I look back I rather regret my loss of confidence in what I had achieved. But there it is! )

So, I completed the more autobiographical work by paying attention to the fact that I enjoy the inner process of following trains of thought – and I focused on Celia as a young person ‘wired’ into the world of fashion whilst simultaneously living in the post-Sontagian ethos of the ‘new aesthetics’ i.e. the ‘now’ of the super-saturated digitised image-world.

I also turned to develop an additional series of screen prints featuring the artist Meng Zhang. I had worked with the intriguing Meng in various ways over the past four months. (We enjoy each others’ company.) I had great pleasure in choosing an attractive image of her – and especially an image that reflects certain of her current interests and personality characteristics. I then set about making screen-print portrayals of her.

The production of each and every print was (and is) always challenging but really enjoyable. Technically, the making of the screen prints was (and is) never really straightforward. I had to prepare backgrounds and estimate what any additions to the backgrounds (the process of collage) would achieve prior to the actual printing. What is more, each image is a unique piece: there is a certain degree of chance involved in producing each print and a successful outcome is never guaranteed. Will the merging of the colour ‘work’ with that of the background? Will the specific applications of paint enhance the image or just ‘look’ wrong? Will the designs actually satisfy complex and elusive aesthetic criteria? Do the images genuinely describe their subject? – and so on.

At present I have made up to five good prints of myself, of Celia and of Meng. They do achieve one thing: they suggest the shifting identities on the part of each person under review. They almost certainly reflect the kind of image each person likes to have of him or herself. To that extent they serve as a ‘document’ of time-present – a time that is informed by time-past and time-future.

For the time being (at least) I have resolved a way of conceptualising my work: it is simply: 3 experiments in magical realism.

Footnote: The photo above is my screen print (number 3) of Meng Zhang. The photo upon which it is based was taken in Paris, France in December 2019.

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