Paul Cunningham on Blurred Anatomies, Batman and Pablo González-Trejo

by on May.17, 2012

[Paul sent me the following message in response to the recent discussion of his book Foamghast:]

I thought I’d revisit a recent article Johannes posted exploring a synesthesia of violence and imagery evoked from a childhood memory of Mikael Wiehe’s “The Girl and the Raven” song. Johannes likens this simultaneity of violence/imagery to a “blurring” of the body—a defacing of the whole that elicits thoughts of violence. The blurring in the Bacon painting provokes similar thoughts of violence and I found myself recalling a humorous scene from Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) in which The Joker (a violent symbol of the defaced and anarchic) disfigures nearly every work of art in Gotham’s museum. The darkly comical villain makes only “Figure With Meat” exempt from such defacement—a Bacon painting that depicts a blurry-faced figure seated on a throne of meat-husks. If Bacon intends his paint to do violence to the body then there is no point in defacing the already self-defaced. This is something the defaced villain realizes.

The “defacement paintings” of Pablo González-Trejo do a similar violence/blurring to human bodies via white paint. His 2008 Defacing Art Project at Gallery Jeune Création in Paris showcased defacements of paintings like that of JFK, Joseph Stalin, and Marilyn Monroe. In addition to his own paintings, González-Trejo encouraged attendees to deface pictures of some of his closest friends. In these paintings, the white paint itself simultaneously adds and subtracts from the whole of the face, thus permitting a distortion of past political hurdles as well as the definition of celebrity. Past familiarities are therefore distorted. The artist has stated “If what we are is based on the experiences we have lived, and the memories of these experiences mutate with time, then we are no more than just a metaphor of ourselves,” which relates with his concept of emigration: an alteration of one’s past for a new future. (González-Trejo is an emigrant from Cuba and currently living in France.) I think the artist possibly sees his reactionary defacement of the past as a method for liberating his present-self.

I’m thinking about Duchamp’s ready-mades now and the functionality of the artist’s signature that rests upon those ready-mades. In many ways, González-Trejo’s white paint (which is itself responsible for the blurring) functions as a signature. González-Trejo collects images from the past and distorts/blurs/defaces to create something more relative to his present.

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