Published by Duncan of Jordanstone College, ISBN 1 899837 44 2
Jim Pattison’s Layers represents the directions he has explored in his work over the last four years. Many of the pieces consist of multiple layers in their design and construction, as well as the ways they can be interpreted. Their technical accomplishment and complexity as ideas and designs enables them to combine different media and characteristics, such as painting and printmaking; loose, autographic marks and tightly controlled objectivity; spontaneous improvisations and rigid frameworks; trompe l’oeil perspective and surface pattern; hard, geometric forms and soft, organic environments.
Although it was not conceived of as such, this group of works is perhaps most aptly described as a suite, consisting of several interrelated series. Viewing the work retrospectively, the musical parallel is striking: each series (or movement) explores a theme through a number of different variations and serves as an introduction to the next. The musical analogy of repeated themes with constant variations is also an apt one which can be applied both to the suite itself and to the various series of works within it. At the same time, each individual work is unique and complete in its own right and can stand for the whole series; each has its own internal rhythms which nevertheless resonate with the orchestral whole.
As viewers of these works, we are drawn into this constantly evolving creative process. The arrangement of the work here largely follows its chronological development. In many way, Layers begins where Jim’s last show Colour Maps (1999) left off, and the brightly coloured, geometric forms of ‘Touching Points’ or ‘Violet Star’ recall illusionistic concerns of the earlier show, although now the element of trompe l’oeil no longer requires shaped surfaces.
As before in Pattison’s work, the design process begins with virtual computer imaging programs which mimic traditional forms of mark-making, collage and sculpture. One of the major concerns of his work is to test the capacity of the virtual world of computers to create images which are actually realisable as paintings and prints; indeed rapid prototype technology has even been used here to produce two beautiful objects (an example of Jim’s interest in binary systems) which have all the delicacy of wax models, though made of resin. Faced wit the almost infinite range of possibilities which could be created at the virtual imaging stage, the artist performs his first key task, essential in any creative endeavour – selection. Thereafter, at every stage of the transition from computer image to finished piece, new possibilities and choices continue to present themselves and Pattison invariably experiments with several different combinations. The artist then works on each chosen variation in ways that are both unique and highly wrought. Thus, although he is remarkably open to new technologies as tools for research, the value Pattison attaches to the autographic mark and to the skills of craft also links his work firmly to artistic tradition.
In this art about the artistic process itself, the finished work is presented as the product and record of its own making. At the same time, it also operates at another, more personal level and charts Jim’s own journey from renal failure and treatment, through dialysis and a kidney transplant. For example, the repetitions in ‘Four Steps” and ‘Four Touching Points’ mirror the process of dialysis four time a day, while Jim’s latest work, two digital prints, ‘Cones’ and ‘Filters’ also uses repetitions which can be interpreted on one level as referring to courses of treatment. Likewise, the ‘Forms’ series, in which ‘hard’ objects developed from virtual images are inserted into ‘soft’ environments based on images from the natural world, can be read as references to transplantation. Such intimate references and explicit meanings, however, are never forced on us. The art of Layers consists not of emotional outpourings or extravagant gestures but something much more discrete and subtle which, despite its often bright colour and bold design, works on our consciousness with a much quieter insistence, gradually revealing its layers of meaning. Perhaps the closest parallel can be found in Francis Picabia’s artistic transition from Cubism to Dada in the early 20th century, when his art used real or invented mechanical forms, seen in close perspective, as metaphors for deeply personal and emotional themes.
In the ‘Marks’ series, as in the ‘Madrid’ series, the dialectic between surface and depth is further explored through a combination of printed and autographic marks. Some of the ‘Marks’ series are applied to canvas, which increases the interplay between two and three dimensions, whilst the box frames of these smaller works are another reminder of their status as objects. At times, the richly worked surfaces and the juxtaposition of screens and marks recall the complexity, if not the scale, of the work of Robert Rauschenberg. Light passes through these screens, which can be read as barriers preventing the image from being revealed in full, or as filters of sensations and experiences. These evocative glimpses, like snatches of conversation or half remembered events, invite the viewer to reconstruct the elusive whole out of our own experience or imagination.
The relationship of fragments to whole has been a recurring concern in Pattison’s work. The ’Madrid’ series beautifully records the patchwork of his memories and impressions of a visit to the Reina Sophia Museum of Contemporary Art there. Each one combines fragmented images of works in the collection, screened by different grids. ‘Madrid No. 3” for example jumbles sculpture s by Christina Iglesias and Donald Judd with a painting by Sonia Delaunay. The ‘Madrid’ series like ‘Points of Contact’ and ‘Portpatrick’ also marks a significant step in the recovery of personal freedom following Jim’s transplant. The photographic ‘Points of Contact’ are the most directly representational works in the show, though even their reality is mediated by personal circumstances and printed layers of ‘interference’. The ‘Portpatrick’ works reintroduce the theme of alien forms transferred from their original context. Here, however, a kind of resolution is achieved, for in fact, each of the shiny, Magritte-inspired (?) sun-stars echoes the previous work in the series by literally embodying it. The linear series has also given way to the circle, in which the last is contained in the first.