Piran Paintings

Piran Paintings, 2004
Published by Project Keleia, Slovenia
Tommy Lydon

I can still remember the first time I saw Jim Pattison’s paintings in his East Campbell Street studio. I stopped and looked at them and thought – “ a hard edged painter who can paint”
And indeed the more I saw of the work the more I began to appreciate the often subtle and varied use he made of light and shade and painterly textures in his carefully articulated forms and objects. For objects, or virtual objects as much as paintings is what the pictures of the last five years is what they have become. His works have metamorphosed as he has progressively abandoned the conventional picture format, and reduced his subjects to their geometric quintessence, suspending them on the gallery wall in vivid mauves, greens, yellows and reds. The colour tones are carefully measured and there is never any attempt to mesmerise with exuberance or flashy tricks. One must realise that the message ins in the works not on them. By viewing Pattison’s figures on a superficial level one may easily overlook much of his real achievement and therefor miss his work’s real significance. The problem is that the pictures use a painterly grammar to which we have all been overexposed to over the past three decades, and faced with what we think is just another show of hard edged abstract paintings our minds glaze over as our eyes once did, and the meaning eludes us as we fall into the age old trap of critical complacency. But therein lies the central paradox of Pattison’s work, for these paintings are not abstract at all but are in fact a series of beautifully crafted and articulated illusions and as such represents a body of work which I believe provides a fairly unique solution to the artist struggle with picture and plane. Pattison has succeeded in projecting his own inner space onto the gallery wall with his complex trompe lóeil objects, further adding to their sense of illusion by using the thickness of his shaped stretchers to cast a shadow on the wall thus giving all his works another suggested level of depth and meaning. During the eighties and early nineties Pattison’s works were often initiated by various collage processes, he would juxtapose textured and painted paper fragments together with photographic material lifted from glossy magazines and brochures to create his sketches from which larger paintings could be made. These larger images nearly always included the third dimension with beautiful chiaroscuro effects in close up, often giving the impression of a reality sliced up and rearranged, thus creating a kind of Kaleidoscopic cubism. Now the drawings are nearly all made using a three-dimensional drawing programme which allows him to fine tune and amend his geometric objects without the assistance of glue and paper, the computer as sketchbook, with the final printouts being enlarged to make the template from which the stretchers are constructed. A colour print is then laminated and this in turn becomes the guide for the picture; the artist always making the final colour choice by eye in his studio. It is also worth noting that all the paintings are hand-done – the only ‘device as such being masking tape or film. All the works in this exhibition were painted at the Viba Film Studios in Piran as part of the Project Keleia annual International Weeks of Painting during September and October 1998. They have not been exhibited before. Jim Pattison remembers his time in Slovenia as being a period of great productivity and he has fond memories of the other painters in Piran that year. For all their directness and refined simplicity of form, Jim Pattison’s paintings remain curiously enigmatic, and in terms of aesthetic or formal categorisation they are equally elusive. ‘Illusionistic’ not abstract and being ‘hand crafted’: that is avoiding all mechanical painting processes: his work seems to occupy a kind of ‘no mans land’ in the pantheon of modern painting. Many of his recent pieces resemble visual puzzles or psychometric tests, for perception and illusion remains the fulcrum of his thesis and occupy much of his recent musings on not just what we see but what we think we see. He is ever wary of didactic explanations of his work, and is equally distrustful of overly psychological or spiritually pretentious interpretations. Yet regarding the pieces as mere icons of classical geometry feels instinctively wrong for they do have a curious transcendental quality, an internal luminescence. More resonant of the collections of colour spheres, cubes and cones used by medieval alchemists in their incantations and meditations; all part of their quest to enhance their cognitive powers and their desire to transform their world from lead to spiritual gold.
Painter as magician or shaman, heady stuff but I feel that the metaphor at least is sound, after all was it not the express wish of many of the last century’s avant garde artists, not only to transform their own perceptions and lives but those of greater humanity as well?