Some Charlie For Henry
painting-in-motion video projection, 10' x 14', 2014
in group exhibition: Do You See What I See
curators: Natasha Clews Gallaway, Nelcy Mercier, Jessica Sleevi + Alexis Vrousos
@ Chateau de la Napoule, La Napoule Art Foundation
Avenue Henry Clews, Mandelieu-la-Napoule, Alpes-Maritimes France 06210
31 January - 28 February 2014
rt: 3.5 minutes
Some Charlie For Henry is made from cycled loops of painterly actions amplifying the textures and anthropomorphic physical structures found in the work of sculptor Henry Clews (1876–1937). Clews was an expatriate American who, with his wife Marie, bought and renovated the medieval ruins of the Chateau de la Napoule and its gardens on France's Cote d'Azur during the early 20th century. Some Charlie For Henry is a confrontational work which marches toward viewers, surrounding and enveloping as its energy dissolves into you only to repeat the cycle, setting the terms as a ghost might.
The subject matter for Some Charlie For Henry -- layered, phantasmic "walking" actions in painting-in-motion -- is site-reactive, emanating from and directly confronting the eccentricities of Clews, who believed in and sculpted supernatural apparitions and sprites, examples of which are found throughout his reconstituted chateau. These "ogs, wogs, imps and gliks" are found in Clews' atelier and throughout the manor as caricatures of friends and enemies, all over the garden and its grounds, even supporting pillars which hold the chateau in place. My response to his fantastic ideas -- which Clews sculpted into harmless arrested motion -- involved taking his controllable idea of the uncanny and relentlessly taking it out of control using a dynamic range of movement, proportion, layering, and accumulation. All this while maintaining anthropomorphic -- accessible and recognizable by the human body -- structures dissolved by sheer scale.
How better to demonstrate the existence of these phantoms (and specifically their actions) than to have them present as light in daytime? This allows for repeated forms -- in differentiated pairings and groupings of images -- to function as an ethereal complement to the sculptures around the grounds and in the atelier of the Chateau de la Napoule. While Clews himself was an academically styled figurative sculptor, after my residency at the chateau I primarily remembered the rough surfaces of his figures and the chateau itself. So in this work I used rough paintstrokes reminiscent of splattering plaster and rough burlap while resisting illustrating Clews' rotund figurative sculptures, as I'm more engaged with their attitudes, movement, trails, tracks and messes left behind.
Some Charlie For Henry, the title of this piece, comes from observations of the action it demonstrates (as in all my work), which in this case is a shambling toward viewers in an unintended but somewhat slowed and restrained Charlie Chaplin-esque fashion. While this makes the work accessible to children as per the curatorial vision/mission of this particular exhibition, it also relates to the whimsical and humorous approach Clews applied to his work and worldview. Taking this further -- perhaps to a conceptual breaking point for Clews were he alive to see it -- the layered close-up confrontation of exaggerated paintmarks at the end of each cycle dismantles the anthropomorphism in each approach, returning the work to its roots in abstract action painting, thus radicalizing it.
Clews, a political conservative, despised modernist abstraction and therefore resentfully described Picasso (who lived and worked in nearby Cap d'Antibes and Vallauris and a frequent guest at the Hotel Robinson -- now Colombe d'Or -- in St. Paul de Vence, also nearby) as a flash-in-the-pan hack. While Clews might have taken aesthetic issue with my injection of abstraction into his chateau, it's my hope he might also have secretly appreciated the liberties taken by the rematerialization of paint via technology in his home, a left-wing libertarian point-of-view I certainly would have argued with pleasure over multiple glasses of Cotes de Provence at one of his numerous Wall Street-funded dinner parties. In this way the title "Some Charlie For Henry" becomes a double entendre by introducing an "enemy" from combat slang -- Charlie = enemy = radical abstraction-- into the castle of fine, upstanding King Henry. This transgression does not preclude my gratitude to Clews and the arts organization his wife founded after his death, whose ongoing commitment enables artists to continue to work at the Chateau de la Napoule.