The Id, the Ego and the Superego
336 Old Street
London EC1V 9DR
+44 (0)20 7739 4055
Wed-Sat 11am-6pm or by appointment
In his papers Beyond the Pleasure Principle and The Ego and the Id, Sigmund Freud outlined his theories on the structure of the human psyche, where personality exists in a state of constant conflict between three main components: the id, the ego and the superego.
The three artists in this exhibition were brought together to illustrate a psychoanalytical reading of contemporary painting in response to Freud’s notions. Jackson, Mendes and Nolan choose to focus on the human form as subject matter, but in doing so treat the subject as a means to investigate the archaeology of the self, and often in order to reveal innermost psychological concerns.
Jackson’s predominantly small scale paintings and Polaroids are analogous to a type of free association where images and memories combine to reveal manifest and latent content, dominated by instinctive violence, melancholia and impulsive sexuality. At once obsessive, fetishist and beautiful, these works reveal both destructive and life affirming drives whilst
becoming sublimating mechanisms for both artist and audience. They are instinctive forays into the transgressive that are defined by an unrelenting representation of instantaneous and base gratification. Jackson’s subjects derive from the artist’s own source material as well as found images and embody everything that is innate and intuitive in an artist’s practice.
Mendes’ approach represents an entirely organised and rigorous methodology. His obsessive enquiry into newspaper obituaries is a structured appraisal of the greatest unknown, and should be seen in the context of the artist having suffered bereavement at an early age. By intellectualising and transferring Mendes presents as abstract a wholly emotive subject, and notably continues to repeat renderings of different obituaries at a constant scale and in a regularised compositional scheme.
Trauma is bound by a compulsion to repeat in order to overcome repressed anxiety caused by that trauma, and this repetition can be transferred into many forms, one of those being painting. In contrast to the id’s desire for pleasure and its domination by the libido, we find here a death instinct, or as Freud stated an urge…to restore an earlier state of things. In contrast to the id, although no less intuitive, stands the superego. A parental conscience, the superego assumes the role of
the father figure as laid out in the Oedipus Complex. Once identification with the father figure becomes apparent then an internalised system of ethics develops, again in contrast to the pleasure seeking, or at least pain avoiding, amorality of the id. The moralising tendencies of the superego might be likened to structures prevalent in civilisation. For example, monotheistic
religion, governed by a God (the omnipotent and ultimate father figure) provides a system of codes that serve to deny the amoral urges of unconscious instinct. Likewise, Government dictates rules and regulations to its populace. And culture provides guidelines that might or might not be consistent with the intentions of the above.
Gavin Nolan’s work interlaces tropes laid out by the histories of religion, art and capitalist society, as the artist maps their symbols onto his painted subjects. By employing linguistic codes Nolan embraces and critiques that which is prescribed by parent culture. Vortices of numerous elements are laid onto his subjects, those commonly being the artist himself, people around him, or composite portraits derived from the art historical or popular culture.As such Nolan constructs new visages by means of reorganisation and invention, playing God himself.
Of course the process of making paintings can be viewed as sublimative in itself. A culturally and socially acceptable way of communicating is used to express the unacceptable and the otherwise internalised. Together Jackson, Mendes and Nolan wrestle with difficult psychological drives to explicate and manifest them rendered in paint.