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The Tiresome Truth | Angela de la Cruz, Helene Appel and Roland Hicks
24/01/2019 - 08/03/2019
In polarised times it seems particularly important to maintain voices of subtlety and doubt. ‘The Tiresome Truth’ brings together work by three artists who demonstrate different approaches to the idea of trying to make truthful art, but who nevertheless all explore areas of uncertainty, and aren’t afraid to pose more questions than they answer.
Trying to be ’truthful’ as an artist can be problematic. Is a sculpture somehow more honest than a painting? Is an illusionistic painting any more or less ‘real’ than a non-objective one? Does a found object seem somehow more authentic than something imagined or invented? Or must all art be a form of untruth?
Maybe the maxim ‘Art is the lie that reveals the truth’, can help here – and Picasso’s much quoted statement does sound good and feels right – but perhaps this now also has worrying parallels with the ongoing political use of ‘alternative facts’… Stating something loudly and with conviction has greater impact and seems to suggest more authority – in art as in life in general – but of course this doesn’t make that something true. No matter how many times you repeat it.
As the author Nicholson Baker writes ‘the difficulty is that sometimes it’s hard to tell the truth because you think the truth is too personal, or too boring, to tell. Or both. And sometimes it’s hard to tell the truth because it exists in a misty grey non-space between two strongly charged falsehoods that sound true but aren’t.’*
Or as another American writer, Rebecca Solnit puts it, ‘Sometimes I think these pretenses at authoritative knowledge are failures of language: the language of bold assertion is simpler, less taxing than the language of nuance, ambiguity and speculation’**
Helene Appel’s paintings offer a pared back contemporary version of traditional trompe l’oeil still life, with tiny bits of everyday detritus, spills or other material seeming to sit directly on the surface of the bare canvas, painted with forensic veracity. But they also emphasise the canvas as very much an object in it’s own right, with the physical weave of its bare linen surface in equal balance to the minimal painted marks upon it. And simultaneously these discreet painted interventions across the canvas surface share as much in common with the delicate pattern and process of Agnes Martin as they do any form of hyperrealism. The very term ‘trompe l’oeil’ implies deception, but these works seem both humble and generous in their trickery.
Roland Hicks also makes use of trompe l’oeil techniques to make paintings and objects that look like modernist abstract assemblages made from found offcuts of various types of chipboard. These works offer very different readings from different distances – from the back of the room they appear as geometric abstract paintings, a bit closer and they seem to be neo-dada or arte povera found material assemblage pieces, closer still they reveal themselves as painted illusions, before at very close range returning, once more, to abstraction. They are not based on direct observation of a pre-existent model, so are arguably works of pure [albeit deliberately limited] imagination.
Angela de la Cruz’s painted objects have an emphatic physical, material presence, employing no illusionistic or spatial tricks. They are undeniably ‘themselves’. But they also play around with the conventions of painting, slipping between genres and media, being both painting and sculpture, sometimes using found materials, or pieces of furniture, sometimes embodying a physical act and often balancing somewhere between creation and destruction.
* from the 2009 novel ‘The Anthologist’
** from the essay ‘Woolf’s Darkness – Embracing the Inexplicable’ 2009 featured in the 2014 collection ‘Men Explain Things To Me’