A “sky that’s falling”, a red building “literally aground”....It seems that the works of Duncan Wylie can only be described by the artist himself in terms of tectonics. Criss-crossed by uplifted masses and clashing planes his paintings rebuff the superficial glance by a complexity of images made and unmade by stratum, revealing a spatial depth the artist constantly pushes further forward. The result is an explosive matrix whose energy emanates from the tension played out by the artist between abstraction and figuration.
In 2006, distancing himself from his previous series, he accumulated sketch after sketch, searching for new gestures describing pictorial space. This led to his fascination with the iconography of cataclysm. The nature of chaos being disorder, he arms himself with a set of rules. He tackles the canvas either directly, or by composing an orthonormal grid which he uses as a screen, almost a scaffolding. He then hastily applies his first paint strokes with alkyd, a quick drying paint of rough texture and quite basic colours. He follows this with thin, transparent layers of oil paint, in carefully chosen colours, over which are superimposed, in turn, more layers of paint, more thicknesses.
This method, based on the accumulation of stratum, implies a duration over time, and with a permanent stepping back on what is happening, allows for repentance and reversal dictated by the painting itself. Open to any accident, careful to let the paint evolve in a natural way, Duncan Wylie never knows beforehand the final outcome of his work. He lets himself be carried towards a story as it unfolds, towards a work that he allows to emerge without controlling it.
Inspired by photographs or newspaper cuttings, recognisable fragments come to the surface. Collision rules in what happens. The nuclear accident of Chernobyl (1986) stumbles against the famous Fallingwater house from Frank Lloyd Wright (1935). A torn apart building from Gaza merges with rubble from Japan. In this series, exhibited exclusively at the JGM gallery, the human figure appears for the first time among the fragments. But the loss of spatiotemporal landmarks still remains absolute. Scales are mixed up, accidents increase. The work becomes palimpsest, a witness to mismatched periods of history which are superimposed over the same surface without ever completely merging into one another.
It seems as if Duncan Wylie proposes through his painted “mille-feuille”, a glimpse on different layers of memory. The fragmented memory of a world in evolution; the memory of art’s history, where the European conception of painting as “a window on the world” meets the American approach of painting as a wall. The own memory of the artist who has added to his palette the very specific colour tones of rural primary schools in his country of origin, Zimbabwe.
Anarchitect in the style of a Gordon Matta-Clark, Duncan Wylie goes against the constructs of classical Greek thought, those masters of the “art of memory.” He builds demolitions. He digs the fault lines of the memory of the world, of the history of art, of his own story. He juxtaposes images while playing with the effects of reduction and mirrors, a process amplified through the use of the diptych in this series. In the end, the structured chaos of his paintings, far from being apocalyptic, is the product of a constant energetic rebirth, as loud and clear as a trumpet call. Fed with a perpetual movement of destruction and creation open to all possibilities, the space of the canvas lets the paint win over the image, and the energy of renewal overcome the ruins.
Conservatrice du patrimoine
Curator of the Boulogne-Billancourt Museums