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 in painting.

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.

Tristan Trémeau

Translation, L-S Torgoff