The tightly-choreographed paintings of Sydney-based artist Genevieve Felix Reynolds hatch multi-layered dialogues between classicism and contemporaneity; materiality and digitisation. Representational fragments of ancient artefacts are set within non-objective, geometric frameworks, conjuring complex new conceptualisations of space.
What are you exploring in this latest series?
Painting has always been about space; and its lack. Today we have new languages and technologies through which to tackle this concept. I’m interested in the effect of the digital era on our perceptions of space. A collage-like approach to geometry and the figurative allows me to play with flatness and find space behind it.
References to fragments of classical sculpture link the three-dimensional to the two-dimensional, and the old to the new, but I’m also being wry. These fragments aren’t really paintings of ancient artefacts at all; they’re paintings of jpegs, which were photographs, which were sculptures in museums, which were in old cities, which were new. My experience of most of these objects is as pictures on a screen – floating, context-less, in the great belching swamp of the Internet.
How are you engaging with history and architecture?
These are life-long interests of mine, but as metaphors they’re easily politicised. The words ‘Rome’ and ‘crumbling’ come to mind. These references in my work might be nostalgia for a mythical ideal civilisation, or criticisms directed at the world today, but they aren’t intended to have an explicit message. I prefer a muddier, amorphous approach to conceptualisation.
Like painting and photographed sculpture, architecture straddles the 2D /3D divide. The Cartesian plane makes building a breeze by simplifying space into formulae. In art school I was obsessed with a quote from Cézanne – ‘treat nature by means of the cylinder, the sphere, and the cone’. It is a slippery slope between lines and curves and buildings and bodies. If this is a sliding scale, the photographically real and the geometrically flat are cousins. And what’s the difference between figurative and geometric imagery to a machine? I’m printing my screen, slowly, mechanically, by hand.
You analogise your paintings to a screen?
The digital screen reminds me of a painting – an ever-changing window of composite data. Then again, I’m a painter, so everything reminds me of painting. My day-to-day life could be graphed as a binary of digital and physical engagements. As a metaphor for 2D and 3D spatial experiences, this fascinates me. It seems impossible to ignore the fact that this new mundane is re-forging our perception. Geometric abstraction seems more relevant than ever to our conceptions of space.
Can you walk me through your art making process?
Before painting I make digital sketches – lots – often using earlier works as starting points. One composition can generate thirty more fairly quickly – this is why elements often reoccur. Like geometric perfection, the multiple is made mundane by the computer. Turning jpegs into paint is the antithesis of this proliferation.
Painting is my last step and involves slowing down dramatically. Only one percent of the sketches become paintings. I’m staying away from mechanising the painting process with tools like tape and spray paint – for the works to be conceptually distinct from the digital they must be truthful renditions of the hand. Lately I’ve really enjoyed incorporating figurative elements into my work as it’s a welcome relief from straight lines. I listen to audio books while I paint – one painting takes about one book.
There’s a kind of remote sensuality in these paintings; the cold marble flesh of anatomical fragments like visual synecdoches reaffirming the bodily and the tangible in an increasingly immaterial era. Is this intended?
Nailed it. Pretend-flesh is weird – sensual and frigid; another dichotomy.
I’m interested in what guides your choice of colour.
Late Baroque painting is an influence because Fragonard basically solved colour, but it’s a pretty intuitive process that I’ve been experimenting with for a long time. I’m probably searching for a personal feeling. I try to find new colour combinations that feel contemporary and fresh, but meditative and potentially timeless. Heavy blue is psychologically intense. Grey pink is calm and alert. Golden brown is warm but authoritarian. Like visiting a tiny Catholic church. The chartreuse is the guilt.
Elli Walsh is a Sydney-based arts writer.
Nicholas Thompson Gallery
26 September to 14 October, 2018