Paul Walsh | Mellifluous Arcana | April 2018
Over the last eight years BasementArtsProject has become something of an immersive project. It is immersive for the viewer in so much as when you enter this subterranean space you become at one with it, the outside world temporarily an irrelevance. Equally, for the artist designing exhibitions the only reality is the one that is being created for it at that time. As the owner, curator and technician for the space it is also immersive as I navigate daily life and that of my family in conjunction with the ever-changing reality created by the artists with whom we elect to work.
The present is an aggregate; history builds layers into the reality of now, the past is always trying to reassert its place as the surface shifts reminding us of what has been. Across the years it has been interesting to watch as some artists have worked with the history of BasementArtsProject and others have tried to fight against it. Whatever approach is taken, the end result is always one of respectful distance between past and present, somehow managing to work in unison to create a unique event in that moment.
In reality the nature of BasementArtsProject is a slightly theatrical one, in which interaction is an activating force, turning what is often perceived as an historical pastime into a present, and very much living occupation. This is something that the work of Paul Walsh naturally trades on and for this exhibition his methodology pays dividends. ‘Mellifluous Arcana’ speaks not only of the individual works on display but of the exhibition as a whole; A harmonious mystery. Walsh often talks about the death of the author, and how he believes the work acquires its life through continued engagement with the viewer. In line with Roland Barthes’ view that we must take a more text-oriented approach to viewing visual art, the walls of BasementArtsProject become the pages of a book in which Walsh’s paintings are the words; text in a visual language. And it does feel like every single work was made for the space. Whilst there was a certain element of selection based on my ideas of what would work in the space, never before has an exhibition felt like such a purposeful collaboration between the current artist and its previous inhabitants. There is an overwhelming sense of purpose in the placement of every single work.
For ‘2015 Year of the Ram’ the environment provides cover; glittery cobwebs, a hangover from a 2016 project by Pippa Eason, dangle from the ceiling, a network of pipes and wires from the electricity fuse box, itself decorated with white polka dots by Alistair Woods in 2014, mingle with the shapes within the painting. It could not have been a more naturalistic placing if the work had been made for this environment, but it wasn’t, so in this case the work recedes into its background as if trying to hide, rather than issuing forth from its surroundings. A fortuitous accident that reverses the usual way of working. Many of the works in this exhibition are hidden in plain sight.
On the chimney breast in the front exhibition space is a piece entitled ‘Natural Purple (Murex Mollusc)’ and below it ‘Nithing’, which you would be forgiven for missing, hidden as it is within the hollow of the fireplace. In ‘Natural Purple (Murex Mollusc)’ there is a violence apparent in the construction of the piece; the wood is gauged with a sharp tool after painting and tiny flecks of wood remain poking out of the surface at the end of each stroke, like sparking embers. The image, although abstract, resembles a crackling fire and at the heart of it a strange but beautiful crystalline sculptural element: arsenic. Historically painting has featured many invisible toxic substances such as lead and arsenic, but here it is presented at the centre of the painting and very visible. In the corner of the work a small intaglio plate depicting a dandelion with seeds drifting away from it; a moment of quiet freedom, strangely echoing the movement of the flames and violence of the larger image within which it is embedded.
‘Nithing’, which is opposite ‘2015 Year of the Ram’, echoes the horn shape within the opposing image. A rare moment of symbolism granting definition should it be required in one of Walsh’s paintings. ‘Nithing’ refers to the Nithing Pole, a cruciform shape designed to ward off evil spirits as part of pagan rituals.
Dialogue is transmitted as energy between the negative and positive antenna that exist within many of Walsh’s works. Questions arise in the form of shapes in some works that appear to have answers reflected in the shapes of others. The answers in Walsh’s paintings though are as oblique as Deep Thought’s answer to the meaning of life in The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to The Galaxy. To get to the answer we first have to reach deeper for what the real question actually is. For Walsh the answers appear to arrive in numerological forms; patterns in 3, 6, 9, 12 etc feature heavily as does the idea of rules and restrictions to guide the flow of creativity.
In the darkness of the Rear Exhibition Space the works follow a particular pattern that explain the order of their creation. From a floor-based piece utilising maps and found objects which he describes as both a liturgy and an ‘object as painting’. Next to this is another piece that contains a literal liturgy, in the form of pages from an order of service found discarded on the streets of Venice. The pages are not recognisable as this as they have been worked into the painting and merged into the patterns, textures and colours of the work. The piece entitled ‘Suprematist Sunset’ also has another reference contained within its title. Whilst Walsh was in Venice for the Biennale that year (2015) the work ‘Suprematist Sunset’ by Malevich sold for the largest amount of money ever paid for an artwork, up to that point. This is a work that refers to religion in its construction whilst commenting in its title on the status of art, perhaps as a near religious experience for those willing and able to pay for it. The manner in which this painting was created is further explicated around the room and ends with a three-dimensional piece placed on the floor between the columns of the chopped-out chimney breast. A series of small framed boards painted in a similar manner on all surfaces and placed together to form a cube. Painting as object.
The other major piece in the room; ‘The Whole Process’, refers to the point at which he started, and the point at which he now finds himself, engaged, as he is, in an MA in Performance design. The work depicts a person against a white background surrounded by a perfect single black line. The image itself comes from a film still in which Walsh gives a person a set of strict instructions by which to create a painting and films the process of it’s execution. When you first enter the basement there is a QR code which takes you to the original film. From the point at which you enter and circulate around the exhibition space, until you leave, by the same way that you entered, your own journey has mirrored that of Walsh’s journey to reach that point, but a bit further down the line. The circle in the artist’s own interpretation is of the heavenly sphere often overlaid with a grid of squares, the worldly concerns. Equally I feel it could be a reference to ouroboros, the snake devouring its own tail, a cycle with no beginning and, most crucially, no end. Life as a continual series of discoveries.
Bruce Davies | April 2019
TO READ AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL WALSH IN OUR STUDIO JOURNAL <CLICK HERE>
Paul Walsh is a Leeds based visual artist currently engaged in the postgraduate study of Performance Design at The School of Performance and Cultural Industries; University of Leeds. In April he will be presenting an exhibition of painted work, film and performance at BasementArtsProject.
‘Mellifluous Arcana’ is an exhibition of artworks that are revealing of the processes behind their creation. Focussing on surface and texture, these artefacts are the result of continuous investigation into capturing movement as a means of production. For Walsh, his immersion in Daoism and the philosophical and meditative aspects of the martial arts have led him towards a form of Japanese physical theatre and performance known as Bunraku. The metaphysical energy of these disciplines are all tools used by Walsh to create work with a sense of balance and harmony.
This exhibition marks a shift in the artist’s practice towards performance and a multidisciplinary approach to expression.
Friday 12th April | 7.30pm – 9.30pm
Sunday 14th April | 2pm – 4pm
Monday 15th April | 11am – 2pm
Thursday 18th April | 11am – 2pm
Sunday 21st April | 2pm – 4pm
Monday 22nd April | 2pm – 4pm
Thursday 25th April | 11am – 2pm
Exhibition Remains Open By Appointment until
Monday 6th May
Lunchtime Conversation including performance: Paul Walsh
Monday 29th April | 12pm - 3pm
Booking is essential. To book. a place visit: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/lunchtime-conversation-performance-paul-walsh-tickets-59791808910?aff=ebdshpsearchautocomplete