NANCY TOOMEY FINE ART, 2017
By Brian Curtin
In her book Flesh of My Flesh, literary critic Kaja Silverman discusses Gerhard Richter’s paintings as part of a thesis on the significance of analogy in western art and culture. Her interest is in Richter’s simultaneous use of abstraction, figuration and photographic realism. As we know, these forms are typically understood as oppositional, and therefore hierarchical, in art-historical and art-critical discourses. But, in Silverman’s terms, Richter does not take their fundamental differences as a condition for opposition. Instead he relates these forms in a manner that allows his paintings to both point inwards, as an autonomous object, and out- wards, as a representation or likeness of something else. This achievement, she argues, is the consequence of analogical thinking: a worldview that understands comparison, correspondence and similarity as a means of relating differences, rather than hierarchical opposition. At broad issue is an invocation to think beyond the given limits of forms of difference.
While Richter may be exemplary for Silverman’s concerns, her insight has great implications for how we think about visual art, and its practice, more generally. What is visual art if not an object of competing negotiations, views, claims, ideas and definitions? How might we approach this fact beyond the divisive insistences of particular perspectives? Audrey Tulimiero Welch’s work as an artist has grappled with two inter-linked oppositions related to the practice of painting: history and the contemporary; and object-hood and representation.
Welch’s recent paintings were produced during her last year living in Bangkok, where she was based for 5 years. These paintings represent a shift from the use of expressive and calligraphic strokes to the introduction of sharp
linear structures, both embedded in and overlaying painterly grounds. Or, conventional relationships between figure and ground have been ruptured within a seemingly organized and organizing framework. Welch’s research for her MFA, which she completed in 2010, explored the insights of writers such as Michael Newman and Jean Fischer in terms of automatism, the gesture and what Fischer termed ‘un-thought’; these ideas were examined in terms of both writers’ concern with drawing but have relevance to the tenets of abstract expressionism that inform Welch’s practice. That is, ideas of the sensorial which defy meaning as such. In the works that immediately preceded the current series, she combined this understanding of the expressive with predetermined grids of color in order to explore relationships between spontaneity and control, and intuition and intention.
The promise of these earlier paintings has now been fulfilled. Welch has closed the contrasts that would keep these different painterly modes as oppositional. Consequently, she has moved away from their historically-entrenched implications.
Her source material includes ancient cosmological maps and the artist has absorbed the experience of living in Bangkok, a city that gives truth to the statement that the map could never be the territory. The diversity of Bangkok in terms of place and space could only ever resist fixed representation. Welch’s paintings suggest topographical views as she has abstracted elements from these maps; and the linear structures point to the distinctive maze-like streets called soi in her adopted city. One commentator described these streets as akin to arteries. But while these paintings refer to much - from aerial views to graffito - they defy the strictly referential. As ‘maps’ they do not provide information but instead function as painterly equivalents that suggest the movement through and memory of spaces; Welch conflates the spaces of her references with the space of the painted surface and the works emerge as both cerebral and physical.
A success of these paintings is in their capacity to insist on the viability of a contemporary painterly language without being historically retrograde. Comparisons with artists such as Amy Sillman and Charline Von Heyl spring to mind. Here paint can function to explore oppositions without reinforcing conventional categories. And this includes the exploration of paint as a material as well as a means. Further, expressivity may now be understood expansively, taking in a range of personal and theoretical concerns that extend the language and significance of historical precedents in expressionism and abstract expressionism.
Brian Curtin is an Irish-born art critic and curator based in Bangkok. He writes for Frieze, Flash Art and Art 4D, amongst other magazines. He teaches at Bangkok University.