October 22 - December 14, 2019
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I stand beneath the mystic moon
Edgar Allan Poe
Arkhip Kuindzhi was born on January 27, 1841, or 1842 in Mariupol (then part of the Russian Empire, now Ukraine). It is believed he came from a very poor family and was orphaned at age six and earned a living by grazing and doing other humble occupations. After living in Taganrog working as an assistant to the photographer Simeon Isakovich between 1860 and 1865, he went to St. Petersburg, where he could finally develop his vocation as a painter, with perseverance, determination and a lot of struggle, dying there in 1910, having reached international recognition.
It is known that he was influenced by the master painter Ivan Aivazovsky, who dominated the art of painting the sea, almost always a rough and stormy illuminated by lights from below giving the water the glow and transparency of a precious gem. The introverted Kuindzhi, who was more given to contemplation and deep thoughts, did not deny the sensationalism, and although he was also a painter of marine storms, his best and most mature works were depictions of the night treated in an highly poetic and intimate way, as if he only wanted to share the deeply felt emotion with whispers.
All his works reflect his talents and technical capabilities, using high horizons, panoramic views, exquisitely elegant chromatic ranges, and brilliantly polished oils. In his nocturnal works, especially those of the Dnieper River, the calm borders restlessness, and the impenetrable mystery of the landscape in the light of the full moon with its dense blackness and fleeting glows reaches an immense lyricism. The beauty in these works is resounding, silent, condensed, without ornament, exciting and sacred. His refinement and sensitivity evoke nostalgia and transcendence; paradoxically, at the same time as these paintings question, they also give us the expected answer: this beauty sedates and covers us in a halo of comfort, likely reconciling us with our own soul. Almost two centuries later, another painter this time from the antipodes, William Mackinnon, shares the same heartbeat of Kuindzhi’s nocturnal paintings.
and the road before me
Suddenly, the headlights of a car illuminate a road surrounded by large trees. William Mackinnon (Melbourne, Australia, 1978) drives through the vast plains of his motherland thinking about the night. In 2010, he painted Conceived while driving, a rainy road at night time. The scene allows us to see how the lines on the asphalt glow and the shine of the red brake lights of the vehicle that precedes while the luminosity glimpsed down the hill announces the imminence of another car approaching in the opposite direction.
This work presents the theme of painting roads that Mackinnon continues to explore today, the scene is conceived as a cinematographic photogram on one hand –documentary photography is the basis of his conception of this painting– and on the other shows its artistic background and the influence from American Pop highway paintings such as Allan d'Arcangelo’s Full moon (1963) or Ed Ruscha’s Hollywood (1968) both whom used a panoramic vision and lettering, although they, unlike Mackinnon, employ a coldness and greater emotional distance.
This painting, where faint traces of Mackinnon’s thoughts and process appear along with warm visible brushstrokes, is grouped into a family of work that share themes without being part of a series. For example, The Lucky Country, from 2011 is the ironic title for a group works that contain cemeteries of abandoned and rusty cars within a community of shacks in whose surroundings wander disconnected characters, hooded, faceless and with their backs to the viewer (Still counting, The purple house or Our secret history, all 2019).
The Great Indoors, a family of works from 2012, contains many nightscapes, with the road as protagonist. Again, the landscape and the foreground surrender to the winding asphalt, vanishing in the background. The flickering lights of the cities in the distance and the surrounding blackness, only visible by the headlights of the cars, give a vibrant and dynamic substantiality, which communicates an inhabited, dramatic, vital and beautiful world thanks to the magical effect of darkness.
The way Mackinnon treats the night environment in The world is as you are (2019) is linked to Kuindzhi’s Evening in Ukraine (1898) and Night In Ukraine (1876) in the sense that the interior lights of the cabins cut against the darkness is a radical interpretation that takes on a metaphorical and poetic presence. (The painters of European Baroque tenebrism were even more discreet and clement in the gradient between light and shadow than Mackinnon).
and on misty moonlit evenings, while the dingoes howl around
Here we are: with no compassion ahead of the night in a world where everything is borderline. The interesting family of paintings under the title On the edge of knowing (2013) is a thematic parenthesis as it shows us some daytime coastal landscapes and even celebrations of the joy of living: open forests in the foreground allow us to glimpse beaches and surfers in the waves. Using the same habitual perspective of Japanese Edo painting, and very concretely evoking the Great Wave of Kanagawa from Hokusai (1829-1833) as no other reference occurs to me more eloquent and close –not in time but in subject and formal resolution– seeing the painting titled The Green Wave by Mackinnon, in which the perspective is achieved by superimposing planes cut against each other while a giant wave owns the scene by raising its powerful and threatening crest, in vertical development.
Back to his purpose of painting the Australian "trenches" Mackinnon impregnates his work with a strong feeling of nostalgia. Paintings portraying a once wild and imposing nature are now razed landscapes. The premeditated burning for the regrowth of vegetation, where the dingo howls, as the poet says, and where the inhabitants survive adverse circumstances; gathering on the porches during the inhospitable nights, playing football on improvised dirt fields (Remembering Fitzroy Crossing and We will find out, 2019) wandering hooded or traveling by car to cover infinite distances in an infinite territory, while the waste of what is no longer useful –often cars– share territory with giant anthills and germinal eucalyptus (Whitegoods, 2019). Only the caravans on the ditches and the barracks illuminated from the inside are understood as oases of life in the middle of the desert. They allow us to intuit the “modus vivendi” of these disinherited inhabitants.
The night in his painting is a tremendously effective and expressive theme, as in Kuindzhi's work. In both, there is an intense romantic feeling, the night is understood as beauty, as an element that ignores and silences aesthetic discrepancies. The night and its lights, natural or electric, the moon or lighthouses or lamps are the warmth ahead of the inhospitable. The darkness becomes a radical way of intuiting what precisely the night hides: loneliness; the desert.
the desert shrivelled and burnt off his feet
Hope Sitting on the dry red earth taking advantage of the shadow cast by the caravan with the flat tires and rusty panels. Gathered in a group, following ancient customs, living in a narrow margin next to things abandoned, they are there under the justice of the sun.
Mackinnon paints his self-portrait alongside the famous aboriginal painter in Sitting with Naata Nungurrayi. The old woman, the head of the clan, the master possessing and keeping the secrets of the hermetic traditions, paints one of her works in Mackinnon’s presence in a quiet ambience while dogs doze in the heat. Sadness, tiredness, boredom? Not even the wind is heard. Mackinnon and Naata Nungurrayi represent a sort of alliance between cultures, invisible bonds of emotional strength and recognition.
On one side, these works contain an awkward issue: the inability of modern societies to assume the consequences of voracious consumerism and the evidence of how the consequences perverts, ruins and degenerates the landscape, the traditional habitat and ancestral customs of indigenous peoples. Colonization has dire consequences on the ancient balance between the aboriginal population and nature. Indiscriminate mechanization, development and consumption have broken the old axiom, the human organization system has been uneven.
These paintings sometimes have premeditated unfinished areas leaving the fabric exposed, which adds dramatic accents to the theme of the razed landscape but also establishes a relationship with the outline, in which the hierarchy of finishes is established in an order of semantic importance of those represented. The artist’s despair is evident when he paints Phoenix and Phoenix II (2019) referring to depictions of charred cars over the scorched earth. The myth of the Phoenix is used as a fatal analogy as the resurrection cycle seems impossible.
The night too quickly passes and we are growing old, so let us fill our glasses and toast the days of gold
Mackinnon connects the matters of his Australia based paintings to a universal sensibility. These scenes present concerns that affect all modern societies, in which the rural world has been displaced by the urban, bringing with it an irremediable loss of identity and dehumanization. These paintings express not only the end of a way of living but the verification of the extent human beings cling to adaptation and survival, in the hope of not losing everything and becoming uprooted. The poetic minimums in this life, described in these paintings, belong to that feeling of hope felt by the author.
The awareness that highways are a symbol of civilization, as was the railroad in the American West, does not negate that they can also be a representation of discrimination and the hard frontier. The inexorable night is the only thing that remains foreign to human drama. Two disturbing paintings of capital importance cannot go unnoticed: The world is as you are / dark studio and Loss of innocence (2019). The two are conceived in two planes of depth the first consisting in a collapsed wall of a room –through which a background can be seen and on whose ceiling hangs a broken fan as if it were a stump. Two differences, however, are key to making these paintings opposite in meaning. In The world if as you are / dark studio, the wall is full of graffiti with phone numbers; Mackinnon rightly points out the duality of the function of the mobile phone: it can be useful and serve its purpose, which is to communicate, but it can also be the cause of isolation and loneliness. In the background, the vision of the barracks and car cemetery plunge us into the idea of a fatal destination.
In the second painting, Loss of innocence, however, the same wall but without graffiti and the same damaged fan frame the vision of two boys walking towards the background cast in white. By avoiding any formal representation on that background, Mackinnon introduces hope, the possibility of an undetermined destiny, not yet written and therefore capable of being materialized as a golden dream; the golden days yet remain to come. If I am not wrong, I would say Mackinnon wants to believe the myth of the Phoenix is true.
I love a sunburnt country a land of sweeping plains
William Mackinnon was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1978. He has lived and worked in Ibiza for four years. He studied Art at the University of Melbourne between 1996 and 2000. Once these studies were completed, he held an internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice in 2004 and another in 2005 at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa (Texas). He completed postgraduate studies at the Chelsea School of Art and Design in London in 2006 and the following year completed a Masters in Visual Arts at Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne.
His first collective exhibitions began in 2002 and individual exhibitions followed in 2009, being immediately recognized and receiving awards and prizes. His brilliant career in Australia has taken his work to important public and private collections. This is the first time he exhibits in Spain.
The landscapes of Australia appearing in Mackinnon's paintings correspond to semi-desert areas where the practice of controlled burning in vast areas is carried out ancestrally by aboriginal communities to achieve greater soil fertility and promote the growth during the dry season. These fires maintain the characteristic landscape and are officially recognized as a preventive practice against uncontrolled and devastating bush fires. This referential context to Mackinnon’s work ascends to the category of universal metaphor. His paintings contain elements that go beyond local concerns seguing into global issues such as the reconciliation between tradition and innovation, the need to safeguard the environment, and the survival of the ancestral in industrial and post-industrial societies, all of which are represented by a lyricism that runs between nostalgia and melancholy, thoughtful but also mysteriously romantic.
Ibiza. October,10, 2019
EN / SP
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