Monday, 20 June 2016

Clear Line Clash, 2nd - 31st of July at Orbital Comics.

Land of the Giants

From the iceage to the doleage / there is but one concern

To misquote Steven Patrick Morrissey; some girls are indeed bigger than others. And while the cast of giantesses in Carl Stimpson’s most recent paintings certainly take some beating in this regard, scale is not simply a question of perspective. Who are these monstrous glamour girls and where have they come from? Why do they appear to stalk the rooftops of an unpeopled, anachronistic London?

For over a decade, Stimpson’s practice has drawn on a variety of sources in the development of both its form and content – namely the ‘ligne claire’ technique inaugurated by Belgian cartoonist and Tintin creator, HergĂ©; latetwentiethcentury British popular music and the trademarks of wellknown industrial brands.

While the paintings may deliberately ape the graphic simplicity and bold visual language of their pop cultural references, this belies the intricacy of the methods undertaken in the process of their composition. These involve (among others) the use of photography, Photoshop and the painstaking, letterbyletter extraction of text from Tintin comics. Once this process of collage and digital manipulation is complete, the image is transferred to acetate and projected on to paper for the next study to be made. At this point the photographic source material is refined and translated into‘clear line’ and inked in for colour reference. This study is then transferred to acetate to be projected on to canvas, at which point the final painting is executed.

On these canvases, paint application and brushwork are unerringly democratic — an eyelash is treated with the same care and attention as the tail of a letter ‘e’. Partly this ‘allover’ technique is borne out of fidelity to the mechanically printed methods used to produce those images that Stimpson references throughout his work. But a commensurate result is one of flattening and consolidation — creating a kind of parallax effect whereby the viewer’s attention often fluctuates between an assumed background and foreground. In this way, the paintings are always already interrogating the veracity of their own invented world as well as our own cultural fascination with images and their ultimate (un)reliability. In this most recent body of work we are also witness to a hitherto unseen selfreflexive experiment whereby images or characters from older paintings appear on billboards in Underground stations or on the sides of buildings; adding another layer of fictive density and uncanniness.

The deployment of brand trademarks (of products used by the artist over a number of years) has become increasingly prominent in recent works. For Stimpson, these brands have taken on the nature of talismans — the touchstones of his working life. By lovingly tracing the bounding lines of these brand names, the painter, rather than necessarily reaffirming them, perhaps actually divests them of their linguistic integrity – the walls do, in fact, come tumbling down. Similarly (though conversely) oblong tower block windows can be seen to incant the blank ‘I’ of their unknowable subjects — each representing the anonymous life of its occupant(s).

The use of pop song lyrics superimposed onto the images creates yet further possibilities of interpretation and narrative disjuncture. While the pop songs from which these lyric utterances derive could be considered the wellspring of Stimpson’s creative imagination, their inclusion in these paintings often provides not clarification, but rather, further obfuscation.

Through the dogged exploration of his own obsessions and desires, Stimpson pulls us through the looking glass into a topsyturvy world in which colossi roam and brutalist architecture sings.