My work explores a variety of subjects, from the heightened realities depicted in modern media to the perceptual effects of semi-abstraction, as well as the visual language of religious and spiritual iconography and narrative structures in my drawing and filmmaking.
Through the process of collaging figurative elements into semi-abstract compositions, within my drawing and paintings, I hope to direct the viewer into a visual state of limbo, where the brain attempts to pull the image together, to make sense of the recognisable parts, but instead is left with a shifting surface that fails to fully intergrate.
I use the collaging process to isolate out forms that I feel register a visual ‘peak shift’, the phenomena of neurological attraction that appears in both humans and animals to an extreme characterisation or reduction of an object to it’s most vital components. By collaging them together into the work, along with a vibrant use of color, my intention is to intensify these visual triggers even further - see 'Peakshift to Paroxysm' below for more detail.
Peakshift to Paroxysm
by James Roper, April 2010
The construction of each painting fuses disparate images from a variety of sources such as fashion magazines, animation stills, comics, the Internet as well as my own photo's and drawings. I predominantly choose images and try to create forms which I feel register a visual 'peak shift', a term given to the phenomena of 'neurological attraction' that appears in both humans and animals to an extreme characterisation of an object. Peak shift has been suggested by the neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran as one of the '10 universal laws of art'.
This peakshift is present within advertising, Hollywood blockbusters and Haute couture fashion as well as in the extreme forms of body exaggeration found in bodybuilding and pornography. Japanese animation, which also uses this technique, has for some time informed my painting style and is where I appropriated images exclusively for my 'Hypermass' series. By isolating out what I see as the crucial parts of such images and collaging them together into the work my intention is to intensify these visual triggers even further so they form a sort of neurological hyperactivity.
Another hyper-stylistic visual form which has informed my painting is that of Catholic iconography from the Baroque period, specifically in the sculptural work of Bernini. Bernini used the technique of exaggeration in the folds in robes, body structure and cloud formations to express an abstract form of 'spiritual energy'. But in contrast to their subjects stoic origins the aesthetic of Bernini's work manifests as lustful and extremely materialistic, and within the theatrical architecture of the cathedral or church (the expressive Baroque style has part of its genesis in opera), acts more as a form of psychological escapism than that of a form through which religious truth can be revealed. Religion constructed as a Baudrillardian hyperreality in which intensified or peakshifted models of reality seem 'more real than real' and the lines between reality and fantasy are blurred.
But, what seems at first to be a form of escapism from the 'Desert of the Real' can also act as a stimulus to wake us up to reality. Just as the Zen master hits his student and as a result the student attains his enlightenment, a jolt in the senses via an intensified version of reality can allow us to see how intensely real and visceral our direct physical relationship with our world really is.
This heightening of our perception of reality through art can be seen in the paintings of Francis Bacon. He described the aim of his work was "not illustration of reality but to create images which are concentration of reality and a short hand of sensation". In this exaggeration and distortion the impact feels more in tune with our direct perception of sensation rather than our sense of the world via our conception of it, the ideas we form about our experience that act as filters, numbing our sense of the world. This obviously seems perverse as in distorting what seems to be what we actually see we come closer to our multi-faceted experience. As Picasso once said, "Art is a lie that reveals the truth".
The Death of Affect
This proliferation of peakshift within the Baroque, as well as modern media, is a signifier of our apparent need for extreme forms of sensory stimulation and can adversely lead to what the author J.G. Ballard described as 'The Death of Affect'. Another indication of this is just the shear saturation of images we are all exposed to particularly across the Internet where I predominantly find the images to put into my work. I have found though that the more images I have intentionally bombarded myself with the more successful I am in refining them down, allowing what I see as only the most vital visual forms to filter through into the work.
This need to experience an amplified sense of reality is a symptom of our desire to break through the mental filters we put between ourselves and our experience. But if we lower these barriers what we experience is heightened, and the need for the excessive triggering of our senses can be dropped. The sense of ourselves and our direct relation to the world, even in activities that we commonly think to be normal or boring, can be felt directly and therefore much more visceral in nature than we initially thought.
The similarities between the aesthetics of modern consumerism and that of Christian iconography reveals how these conventionally separate visions (materialism vs. spiritualism) are in fact no different. The feelings of hope bound up within the consumerist vision of perfect skin and shiny surfaces is no different than the magisterial depictions of heavenly abodes, they both promise a permanence, a glossy infinity that will never succumb to the muddy entropy of the natural world. We have to choose whether we want this amplification and distortion to connect us fully with reality or to sweep us away into fantasy.
I have explored these subjects in my paintings through the structure and landscape of the body, how our bodies move through our environment and their physical relationship to architectural forms as well as the immediate folds in the fabric of our clothes. Also the fetishism of inanimate objects and the fusion of body and object or self and other which is apparent within many religious practices especially in Eastern Philosophy. This inter-connection between the internal and external can also be seen in Deleuze's concept of the fold:
“The outside is not a fixed limit but a moving matter animated by peristaltic movements, folds and foldings that together make up an inside: they are not something other than the outside, but precisely the inside of the outside.” (Foucault – Gilles Deleuze)
By constructing abstract bodies formed from multiple elements with a variegated surface of protrusions and recesses my paintings mimic the complex bodily structures found within nature. An ordered chaos in which a bigger whole is made up of smaller interconnecting parts like the microscopic cells of the macroscopic organism. These smaller parts are therefore inherently no different from the larger organism, so when you eat or drink you are in a sense consuming 'yourself' and the universe will eventually consume you, a constant cycle of envelopment and unfolding.
Our sense of this bigger organism has lead to the idea of God, but in holding to this idea we separate ourselves from it, with our little self here and the 'Big Self' out there. Ancient theologies worked through a process of mental dissection and analysis of this apparent little self, intending to peel off the layers of our gross physical body to reveal a divine soul beneath in order that we could release this bound entity and find spiritual exaltation with the Bigger Self. Instead having dissected ourselves and unfolded the fabric of our physical reality through the progress of science we have found nothing but sparking synapses, molecular structures and subatomic particles leading to an eventual slide into the chaos of quantum physics.
Behind our conventional view of separation has what seems a hidden aspect, we have discovered that there was no smaller self to begin with, just one Big Self. The sense of strangeness or paradox we feel about this, the mystery of the mystics, is no more than a result of the process of our filtration of our direct experience through our mentally formed constructs and the 'spiritual' feeling of wanting to be released from our bodies (from our minds, and therefore this filtration) is born out of knowing we are seeing things in a numbed and fractured way.
This feeling of release or transcendence occurs most purely within the seemingly opposing natures of religion and 'sin'. This is dealt with explicitly in my Rapture series, the inspiration for which originated from my interest in Bernini's sculpture 'The Ecstasy of St.Teresa' and how St.Teresa herself through her writings inadvertently drew comparisons to psycho-sexual release in her descriptions of religious ecstasy:
"He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it." (Life of St.Teresa of Jesus – St.Teresa)
This is explicitly symbolised in the Rapture series by the use of porn stars as the vehicle for the expression of this 'spiritual' emotion, the shedding of carnal bodies giving way to an abstract purity beneath. The idea of release from the material to the spiritual is apparent in many religions as if there were a divine soul trapped in our earthly bodies. This is analogous to contemporary imagery found in comic books specifically the way in which Clark Kent, a normal man, sheds his clothes to become a Superman.
Our bodies retain energy and any processes placed under restraint will result in an intensification of it's eventual release. My work attempts to portray this intermediate state as control gives way to chaotic abandon and a transition occurs from one state to the next, an old self is shed to give birth to another. In contrast to El Greco's gentle ushering of the spirit towards the heavens my paintings spit, ejaculate, regurgitate and projectile vomit the spirit out, rejecting it's bodily form in a fit of maniacal hysterics, a nonsensical reflexive outburst like the spasmodic speaking in tongues of those 'slain in the spirit'.