Garry Kennard

by F.

I was rooting around on Semir Zeki’s Neuroesthetics site and came across the work of Garry Kennard, which I think is wonderful.

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His website is here. Go there and buy his work. Do it!

Still here? Oh. Well, then you may be wondering what I like about it. Hard to say, as I don’t think introspective reports about artistic preferences are worth much. But I did find myself thinking of Francis Bacon when I looked at Kennard’s portraits. So I Googled “Francis Bacon” and got this:

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What’s the connnection?

I think it’s more than the bright, single-color background, though that is the most obvious similarity. I think it has more to do with the amount of disambiguation required by both works.

A lot of people find Bacon horrifying, and either like him or hate him for that reason. I don’t find it horrifying. When I look at Bacon’s work, I don’t think much about the subject matter at all. For instance, above I don’t see some sort of horrific mutant human who has his head on backwards and upside down and his teeth inserted in his urethra. Nothing like that. I see a figure who, at the moment, seems to be wearing a shin-guard for cricket and seems to be moving around inside some strange room. But the image is plastic: once you think you have it one way, the image shifts (obviously not on the canvas—in your mind) and yields another interpretation. It fails to give up one interpretation.

And his works consistently do this, from my experience. Print out one of his works and put it on the wall. You’ll look at it 100 times and it seems different every time you see it.

And I love the spaces in which these figures live. They are both realistic and schematic, which makes them feel—to me—like much of waking life. Certain details pop out, others recede. Right now, I’m sitting and typing this on my PowerBook and the little table on which it sits is in focus. My kitchen, across the room, isn’t. But I know it’s there. There’s no hole in my moment-to-moment perception of the first floor of my house. The kitchen, now, is highly schematic. Like a Baconian space.

So Bacon feels a lot like everyday perception to me. Again, forget the exact subject matter—other than the fact that there is a figure in the space. See, I think the figure is key—the fact that there is a figure (or a face). A Baconian painting of a bowl of fruit would be just a bowl of fruit. Trying to disambiguate figures and faces makes the works just that much more challenging. Why? I’m not sure, but it may be because it’s pretty important to disambiguate things like faces and figures—we are social animals, after all.

Now back to Kennard. His work does some of the same things to my brain as Bacon does, it seems. The spaces are ambigous but oddly realistic. The figures hover in the spaces and I can feel myself trying to fit the figure and the ground together in some way. It’s not frustrating to view, but it does sort of tickle. And I like being visually tickled.

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