These computer-tuned monoprints of brassieres by Mark Williams extend the range of his scrupulously executed displacements. It is possible to view these in the context of his previous work, which includes paintings of chairs. One series of these had elongated legs that suggested the legs of a woman in boots. Via chair-legs alluding to boots, a dominant value attributed to machismo got displaced and became invested in the female.
Earlier, Williams had created crisp, often scurrilous fusions of Disney and pornographic cartoons, avowedly more interested by the juxtaposition of two styles of comic imagery than by the shock value of the result. The image has always been appropriated, never observed from life, in his work. It is something which owes its existence to an advertisement in a magazine or on a website. Williams moved on to the scrupulous rendition of “high design” chairs for the office. Allusion to something other than design was no longer necessary. Design was sensuous in itself, as with the vacuum cleaners placed in glass cases by Jeff Koons. Yet the appurtenances that we use make reference to the body: for instance, a vacuum cleaner has a “handle” which implies a hand. In Williams’s work, we get the sense that direct allusion to the body is unthinkable; something which cannot be shown. Instead we are permitted to view only that which supports the body: the place where the body might sit, for instance, immaculate, all tubular steel and sleekly upholstered leather.
Williams can paint a brassiere as easily as he can paint a chair. Except that it can’t be that easy. The act of painting must be executed with a devotion to the task. It is a form of worship: worship of the unviewable. Is this to view the artist as a fetishist, that is, at one remove from the actual, and therefore celebrating the brassiere, not that which the brassiere hides? Displacement enables the attention to become fixated on the “armature”, and that “armature” takes on the properties of the suggested object that might be held by it. It becomes humanised.
This is a standard psychoanalytic view, and it might be argued that psychoanalysis should provide a reading of the artist’s current subjects: these burgeoning supports, clearly inhabited, and yet inhabited by nothing. One is reminded of the notion that for a child who refuses to eat, nothing is an actual substance, it is what that child does eat. Another hypothesis also comes to mind, that of anamorphosis, where Lacan recalls the collapsed skull in the painting of the ambassadors by Holbein and compares it to a flaccid penis. The righting of the image depends on one’s viewpoint, so could this be true also of the “inflation” of the penis to an erectile state? In a sense, these brassieres are “erect”, and thus, again, they invest feminine attributes with masculinity: at the same time, they are “full”, and so charged with femininity. The contradiction in the reading cancels out both interpretations, leaving the disconcerting fact of each image, which may now only be read in terms of a dialogue between formalism and decoration. It’s the style of drawing that the artist is focused on; the way commodities – such as lingerie and office furniture – are presented with an injection of romance that renders them desirable.
Williams initially does line drawings of the bras, which derive from brand images. He then scans these into the computer and digitally enhances the image. This enables a dedication associated with fine art to use the tools of design. It’s an ability to capture the detail in the decoration embellishing attire that we find in the work of Ingres and more recently in the huge images of the torsos of women clad in lingerie by the photo-realist master John Kacere. Fetishism has simply been the pretext for becoming immersed in execution, as flowers were for Redon, or tins and boxes for Morandi. His attitude goes beyond that of Allen Jones, whose models with erectile breasts become excuses for a formalism that rivals the earlier work of Frank Stella, and also beyond the cartoonish work of Takashi Murakami, for with Williams graphic skill is being utilised to create a scrupulously accurate object, albeit uninhabited and fantastic, just as King Kong is an animation that tackles the ostensibly real.
A wider set of references fans out from these brassieres than can be accommodated by referral to their subject. One may be reminded of sails, swelling in the wind, of Van Gogh’s collection of brightly coloured fishing-boats, or of the irridescent frills and furbelows of some Portugese Man-of-War. The colour introduced into these prints rescues them from a narrow protocol, and invests them with a humanity redolent with peripheral but equally relevant imagery.
Private View 6.00 - 9.30 Friday 3 March
Viewing by appointment: 0208 808 9318/07729 044489
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