The image arrives as so many do these days, in our News Feed, onscreen. Superimposed upon nondescript boxes, thick lines in contrasting colours cross over each other, canceling the underlying image in a graphically powerful act of negation — it grabs our attention immediately. At first glance, it could be the document of a tricky installation; lines or forms projected or assembled in dimensional space, then photographed from a precise vantage point so as to resolve the fragmented reality into a convincingly flat, yet altogether illusory image. But doubt creeps in upon closer inspection, as the interplay between surface, depth, and detail begins to open the image to all manner of interpretation: are we in fact looking at a photograph of an installation, a painting of a photograph, a photograph of a painting?
A visit to the exhibition brings us closer to the truth — but a truth that is not at all simple. There are paintings on photographs, paintings on the surfaces of paintings, paintings on photographs of painted surfaces. There is even a painting on the surface of a moving image. In all these permutations we begin to see that for John Armstrong and Paul Collins, it is this literal intermixing of media which interests them; the spatial (im)possibilities that arise when our eyes and minds are faced with images in which differing visual realities have been mashed-up into a defamiliarizing new whole. Their collaborative process has been described as a “productive antagonism” — and perhaps not coincidentally this is also an apt metaphor for how their painted gestures engage photographic space, and how Corner as an exhibition confronts its audience as well.
The lines – varying in thickness, spacing, shape and hue – act upon but never completely obliterate the underlying image, and the resulting visual tension engages the eye in a dance (or battle) between graphic surface and perspectival space. Relationships emerge, telling visual stories: lines that express, emphasize, elide; images that retreat, reveal, resist. Details, too, are discerned: a face, a word, a space — but in a departure from previous pursuits this work eschews the textual in favour of the textural, and the act of reading becomes wholly subordinate to the facts of seeing: corners (where they exist), perspective, flatness, layering, rhythm, movement, and depth.
Of these facts, rhythm and movement are perhaps keys to understanding the process behind the work — and the artists did speak in musical terms throughout much of last week’s gallery talk with Bonnie Rubenstein. Performing a self-described call-and-response over transcontinental distances and durations, Armstrong and Collins create works which seem to warble, whisper, ring, reverberate, jangle, and clash — highly improvised compositions which willingly embrace visual dissonance en route to surprising harmonies of an unusually synesthetic order.
images, from top to bottom:
John Armstrong and Paul Collins, Nongfu, Corner, 2012, oil on chromogenic print, 20 x 30 inches; St. Peter’s Corner, 2012, oil on chromogenic print, 20 x 30 inches; Qi Jiu Ga Gallery Corner, 2012, oil on chromogenic print, 20 x 30 inches; Dreamscape Corner, 2012, oil on chromogenic print, 20 x 30 inches; Corner, exhibition view at General Hardware Contemporary, 2012; last three photos by Shani K Parsons; all images courtesy General Hardware Contemporary