Paul Williams Material Man

He is suspicious of the things that he makes. He sets the stage for accidents. He stands at the top of a flight of stairs throwing paintings until his hand is dumb to them. He cuts and breaks and rips until surfaces disappear under other surfaces, turning canvas to confetti. In his studio the materiality of his collected images begins to trump their visual sense; he sees only their base substances: paint, ink and fiber. He’s trying to forget everything he has learnt.

He’s been looking at dime-a-dozen landscape paintings and family photos; his sister standing in the snow, an ideal European river, his father’s car, a brick veranda - person, place and thing. He decides that to see an image is to save it. But which images has he missed, which march toward the fire while he sleeps? In the white cube of his studio his rescued idols pile up on the floor. What is it to have a relationship with images? He thinks of them, but they never think of him. The painter studies the order of things in the hope that he can give the inanimate that quality of conscious life – animation.

Besides the agony of process, his job is that of an image-maker, so what is it that he makes? Despite his intention to do otherwise, he always returns to the canvas; a ceramic slip, the painter’s drop sheet, glass in a frame, all these other things become surfaces to prime, paint, and purge for the sake of the image. The possibility of story appears ghosted beneath washes of colour and line (there’s the car again and diagrams of bones appear repeatedly as a shorthand for the anatomy of our fates.) People and places sit on the surface like reflections, as if a stronger emphasis might destroy a thing. Sometimes flatly applied like decals to the canvas, the images he chooses to paint are facsimiles of other images, a deliberate articulation of the distrust he feels for them.

He paints his father as a noun: Dad, Dad’s Car, Dad in a Suit. Painted on clay with the same snapshot effect of a recollection, his father is replayed in miniature. Person, Place, Thing. The triptych within the ceramic canvas means that perspectives fail to form a single landscape; they are not incongruous scenes but they are out of time. Colour is a small concession to the surrealism of actual recollection; an acid green wash connects the exterior view of a car to the portrait of the man inside one. Between the exterior and interior views is a full figure portrait of his father in a suit, his shadow falling short behind him. His father is copper stained, not made of flesh but metal and cotton - a material man.

He’s been looking at dime-a-dozen landscape paintings and family photos. Each image suggests something, each suggestion promises a magical correspondence that qualifies the world he notices outside his body. He decides it’s not their ubiquity, but rather the lies images tell that make them commune. Dürer wrote: “What is beautiful I do not know,” then he drew Melencolia I. The artist is depicted sitting dolefully next to the angel of Genius surrounded by the tools of his craft and the abstract science of number, quantity and space. Dürer knew that images were slippery things; the artist’s work is either his enterprise or his entropy.

Perhaps it is best to eat images. The children’s author, Maurice Sendak, on receiving a fan letter from a little boy, wrote a kind reply with a drawing of a Wild Thing on it. The boy’s mother replied that the boy, Jim, had loved the card so much he had eaten it. Sendak recalled, “To me that was the highest compliment...he saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”