The vaudeville-like impresario Dr. Pappenheim, a rather weird and always positive person, like a manifestation of the ever hopeful artist, needing to set up or stage an optimism in order to be able to get on with actually confronting the idea of making another work. I imagine him dressed in an outfit not unlike one of my alter ego characters Tom Bland, a straw boater, tie, flopping handkerchief in his top pocket, patent leather shoes, a cream suit, with his umbrella. In Badenheim 1939 there is a suggestion of a kind of collapsed performance which will never take place.
Tom Bland performs an enactment of painting, attempting to present its essential nature as a non-direct form of communication. He tries, like a modern-day shaman, to be a personification of paintings language. I see a relationship between Appelfeld’s book and my approach to painting. I intend to make paintings which are both deadpan and alive to sensibilities, cold and heartfelt, careful and in some senses frivolous. There is a bleakness, a flatness in his text, a way of coming at the subject from an oblique angle that parallels the enactment of painting’s performative aspect and its dialogue with the viewer.
In my paintings I hope to achieve a kind of incorrectly correct, rightly wrong quality; a placing here and nowhere, an attachedness and an unattached removal. In the text there is an aspect where the shifts from one step to another, seeming obvious, become so utterly inconsistent, unquantifiable, impossible to pin down and yet commonplace and everyday, and this is something I would like to think my work is doing with the language of paint. What seems clear and straightforward, an equilibrium even, is then an unbalance which holds temporarily, awkwardly, somehow tasteless, alternating crudeness with gentleness of handling and delicacy. The book is pervaded with a fragility in every moment, (like the pause before the ship sinks in Moby Dick), it hovers and we anticipate…something or maybe nothing at all. A creeping banality of dailyness and the mundane at the same time as the gloriousness of the moment, before it is all gone.
In Cupboard Love, a book I published recently, I attempted to articulate something of this staging, shifting performative process, the nuances, observations and drifting thoughts which lead to a work being made. Cupboard love is a form of cloaking in order to reveal, a false affection, a performance with the intention to attain a circuitous, round-about result. (The bland predictability of the black and white cupboard photos, inserted in the text every ten pages, show hardly noticeable shifts). Appelfeld’s text hovers towards the disaster. A contemplation of the moment suspended, then lost in confusion and uncertainty, there is though a recognition that this is perhaps elusiveness itself. That it isn’t lost but only impossible to hold onto, as if it is somehow always there, like a pause, waiting.
Jeff Gibbons is an artist based in London. His exhibition Volare, Cantare will be at the Temple of Clitunno from December 7, 2018 to January 31, 2019.