Piers Veness / Army
July, 2008

From scar to dance

How can art represent barbarity? What artistic form or incarnation can be molded out of the horror of war and the monstrosity of its victims?

Between the photographs of soldiers mutilated in the First World War gathered by Ernst Friedrich, the evanescent abstractions of Fautrier or Wols, and the reaffirmation of a presence which looms out of fractures and scars, the English painter Piers Veness takes the third path. Employing Phillip Guston´s flat brushwork from the 70s and a similar strident pink, he creates figures enclosed in black which stand out crudely from a neutral background.

In his paintings Veness discards any narrative figuration in order to obtain a monumental, frontal presence on a human scale. The dismembered bodies establish a dance, unfolding themselves in a poignant attempt to reach one another and penetrate their fractures.

Our respect and our revulsion are provoked as much from the aggressive colouring as the head-on cry of the figures, like a squad of injured generals. Each form gesticulates contorsions of survival, fixed in the eternal scar of our gaze.

The geometric rigour and repetition touch upon a hieratical presence found within the statues of goddesses which Veness would contemplate on his visits to the British Museum, and which so influenced the murals from his previous series, Black Paintings (2003-2006). Here too the viewer is markedly dominated by the imposing size of the paintings, the compelling repetition of the motif, and through the way the pieces seem to levitate in the room.

The six paintings from the Army series are on show for the first time, along with a selection of preparatory studies which show the development of the final work.

Patricia Ciriani
 

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