EMPYREAN VISIONS is an ongoing enquiry which I started at the beginning of my final year, during Covid lockdown. Looking at theorists such as Clement Greenberg, Dan Fox and Susan Sontag, I began investigating perceptions of art and culture, exploring how an awareness of art history and theory can manipulate taste or the motivations for making an artwork (e.g. a work which falls under a term historically considered ‘bad taste’, like kitsch). I then began writing as an extension of my practice. By contrasting weighty, formidable themes with the mundane or the explicitly fallible through hyperbolic writing, I could challenge perceptions of sincerity.
I researched further modes of experimental writing and making like: ekphrasis (the description of visual art as a literary device), journals and autobiography (often with wordplay), spoken word, cento (works made up of quotations from other authors), autofiction, and parataxis (juxtaposing random/unrelated elements for effect). Parataxis especially intrigued me and I discovered it in various forms, like in Sue Tompkins’ performances and Hannah Weiner’s Clairvoyant Journal. I began thinking about Dante’s The Divine Comedy and visions of Empyrean (the highest point of heaven) as portrayed by Gustave Doré and others. In related literature, angels were regularly compared to bees (I found this in an article about The Divine Comedy and in Clarice Lispector’s Hour of the Star. A similar sentiment runs through Sylvia Plath’s Arrival of the Bee Box). I thought this a funny form of parataxis in itself: a swarm of bees can incite fear but produce sweet nectar; the swarm kills its male drones when void of function, yet bees are vital to human survival. Attempting to weave these juxtaposed elements into my work, I started to make paintings incorporating ambiguous symbols (flames which could be water; mountainous shapes which could be tools (inspired by Lee Lozano’s tool paintings) or phallic shapes; rings which could be depictions of planetary systems or Dante’s circles of Trinity) while trying to open up discussions around sincerity and perceptions of taste.
Inspired by representations of the dematerialised art object (e.g., Katrina Palmer’s work or Lozano’s Wave Paintings), I wrote and recorded some poems about an evasive object or artwork. I wanted to generate an autofiction and a blurry narrative voice. I used the dematerialised object as a stimulus to respond to rather than making it the subject of my work. The writing is hyperbolic, and the audio exists alongside the paintings, as if the paintings are a response – a reverse ekphrasis – to this preposterous masterpiece, loosely described through the poems, which has come and gone in a flash – like a comet. I am conscious of pictorial space in my practice, and my works are largely painted in transparent, turpy layers on paper or dry brush marks on unprimed canvas. I used layering to symbolise Dante’s stages of Hell but also to bring attention to paint as medium.