At a time when young British artists (and
especially the UK painting department) are getting the kind
of hype previously afforded only to musicians of their parent's
generation, it is worth considering the uniqueness of the work
of Mick Finch. Although he teaches at Canterbury, Finch lives
in Senlis, not far from Paris, where a recent group of his paintings
entitled Closer Than You Think is being shown at Art & Patrimoine.
His work was also featured at the Carré gallery in Lille last
spring. The Paris show constitutes a critical and historical
investigation into the limits of modernism and postmodernism
These large-format works borrow iconographic and formal elements
from both the mass media and abstract art and employ them in
two modes; highly configured (the use of vertical dividers bring
Barnet Newman to mind) and more nearly amorphous (camouflage).
The outline of Mickey Mouse is a recurrent motif in this cycle.
Sometimes Finch repeats it on the surface like a decorative
lattice; sometimes he buries it under the weight of dripped
paint or breaks it down into components that are recognizable
as pupils, ears, etc. Each canvas offers an example of one of
the various strategies he employs, playing on the contradiction
between the visibility and invisibility of the motif. When the
Mickey Mouse images saturate a space like a patchwork quilt
(Evolution MM1), the form does not become expressive until it
is etched into the orange band that serves as a background.
In the Trellis series, this outline loses much of its definition,
since the dancing camouflage patches prevent any definitive
resolution and it becomes difficult to read both the images
and the overall character of the painting.
This exhibition makes it apparent that Finch considers himself
post-historical. He constantly uses strategies (pretexts) that
cannot be confused with modernist pretexts, a repertory of prefabricated
moves that can be applied as needed, like Neo-Geo art or the
work of fellow Brits Rae and Begg. At the same time, he also
locates himself in the ongoing history of his own painting.
As Philip Armstrong wrote, "if an artwork does not face up to
its historical contingency, its resistance and incompleteness
begin instead to constitute a dimension of the history that
it seeks to accept as both a condition and challenge to its
own historical place."
This strategy of becoming owes a great deal to Finch's own
critical essays, in which he shows an interest in Rouan and
Bonnefoi and the conceptual and political approach to the contemporary
world developed by Art & Language. It is this double inheritance
that makes Finch a unique figure among contemporary British
artists and holds out the promise of a fruitful dialogue with
an idea of painting that is still very much alive in France.
Translation, L-S Torgoff