Stolen Identities

Found paintings reconfigured

Digital prints 2017

  

The artist’s mark is often seen as a definitive expression of individual identity. Marks made on the street are forcefully so: “I am here. This is me. I cannot be ignored.” The defiant proclamation of the graffiti maker must be as old as art itself. Yet graffitists usually emerge from anonymity and quietly slip back again. Their

work can briskly follow, erased by aggressive chemicals or overpainting. And even those visual statements 

that are undamaged by other human hands will eventually be transformed by the disinterested processes

of weather and time.

 

I have a special fascination for paintings where evidence of this unguided transformation has begun to occur, where the artworks are acquiring a new identity, independent of their maker. I capture on camera those elements of the painting that show the least evidence of the original maker's intention, and the most evidence of colour and texture - so no tags and no overt meaning. I reconfigure the images I gather to construct another kind of artwork altogether, a kind of pictorial abstraction produced, in part, by chance. I realise that, in doing this, I am guilty of an act of theft such as Picasso boasted about when he said, “good artists copy, great artists steal.” But, of course, Picasso declared that everything he did -whether origination or theft- was expressive of his unassailable identity as a genius. Without the alibi of greatness myself, I have to acknowledge that my intention is more hesitant, more conjectural. I am reflecting here upon the very idea of identity, in its many manifestations, personal, cultural, national, political. I offer up a metaphor for how elusive and contradictory the concept is, so often a point of contestation, challenge and change.

 

Answers to the question, ”Who am I?” can be imposed on us as limiting definitions, making identity a burden as much as a resource, an imposition rather than an option. Britishness, for example, is today being defined in ways I have no wish to subscribe to. In fact, I seek to challenge the demand that I be defined as British at all, as if I had a choice in the matter.  On a much more pressing level, I have encountered millions of people in the Middle East, such as Palestinians, Kurds, Shia and the many and varied groups who live under the flag of Israel - for whom identity is a question of blood and treasure, and assumed belief. I see how hemmed in they are, and how frequently endangered by, both chosen and imposed definitions of identity. "Who am !?" quickly becomes a threatening, “Who are you?" Even the Israelis, who have fought and wrested the right to proclaim themselves as they choose, have become crippled by the process.

Hidden Identities

There is another category of Found Art that also fascinates me - those paintings (and other stumbled-upon objects) where the evidence of original intention are all but lost, hidden in layers of happenstance that only an archaeologist could be expected to identify. What marks here were made with what purpose, on this battered blue skip, now no longer to be seen in Bristol Harbour?  Perhaps the blue of the ground was painted for some reason. But the splashings, bashings and scrapings, what could have caused them? And why? 

As for Palermo, the capital of Sicily, it is a city of dust and dilapidation, with signs that sometime, somehow matters will all be put right. Then the city might once again reveal its lost glory, if that is what its citizens really want to do. Decay has always fed the romantic spirit, and good money can always be spent on other things more immediately profitable. Meanwhile, amateur Italo Calvinos can fabricate the stories that couild have been played out to produce these engrossing tableaux, that are scattered amongst an urban fabric of the half-remembered and the unresolved.

"Cultural identities come from somewhere, but, like everything which is historical, they undergo constant transformation. Far from being eternally fixed in some essentialised past, they are subject to the continuous play of history, culture and power."

 

STUART HALL, Cultural Identity and Diaspora

Geoff Dunlop

ARTIST CURATOR