The soul grazes the paper, and immediately the foot slips
Helen Cixous, Stigmata
To “Fledge” is to care for, to nurture, to feather a nest, but in contrast it is also to make an arrow (the root of fletch). It is along these two poles of the tender and an implied wound that Chris Anthem’s paintings oscillate. Presenting a fragile and visceral vision of the human condition.
Predominantly working on paper used for dress patterns that he associates with his childhood (his mother tailored whilst working at a doctor’s house; an early introduction to medical illustrations that often appear in the work). These delicate surfaces appear fragile in contrast to the often heavy mark making and weight of paint. The reading of these surfaces can be extended through recent paintings on animal hides, where the epiderm is scored, tattooed and stitched. It is across the intimate quality of the surfaces that the paint often seems to function as a balm to heal some ineffable rift.
The works on animal skins originated whilst working in a studio in Ethiopia in 2011/12. They developed through being both open to the subtleties and ambiguities of place, and of alienation to that place. These images combine forms and patterns from drawings made in southern Ethiopia amongst the tribes of the Omo valley, and figures sublimated into a western aesthetic from street life in Addis Ababa. The silhouette of a cranium form is rendered in black household gloss paint; flat and resistant these heads evoke ideas of a figure balaclava-ed, veiled, masked or helmeted.
In 2012 Anthem relocated to Beirut in Lebanon; where growing tensions spilling over from the Syrian conflict have reinvigorated sectarian and religious differences within the neo-conservative consumerist society that Lebanon has become after it’s own devastating civil war. In his words it is: ”a place where the wound is buried deep in an amnesiac consumerism and neurotic self consciousness. A place where globalisation is mistaken for cosmopolitanism.”
Here his mixture of high art baroque figuration, blended with allusions to tribal difference, and the use of materials associated with both consumerism, tribalism and his own intimate childhood have found a new resonance. It is in this context that the innate humanity and tender violence of his work responds to the contemporary and historical energies of time and place.
“In the studio the dress patterns hang, floating from a baton, secured like flags in a country church. They billow where the studio draft lifts them. They breath. The cow hides hang gruff heavy. Each extend the quality of the other – as dress, as surface, as weight.
Paint has an ambiguous nature; on the one hand pertaining to be other than its material actuality, whilst it still offers the possibility of being congruent with an honesty of spirit. I recognise that honesty in paintings when I’ve managed to keep its energy there. In some paintings that honesty dies, it gets lost in its own rhetoric and the painting’s energy dies, or rather the paintings commit their own clichéd suicide, stillborn in the cowl glister of varnish. It still surprises me that honesty and mortality are still so co-dependent and that short-cuts of effect kill paintings.
Every successful painting that I’ve done has had at its core a tangible event, something unresolved and nagging to get itched. That before the idea, the internal image, before the composition and the stitching of sources and technique there is the event. In the painting, in spite of its seductive surfaces and its neurotic baroque, there lies some tender actuality that only a brush and oil would soothe, and only a humility of mark can address. Paint and oil are the salve that cures the surface - balm of a meglip scab.
And I guess it’s that rupture, that intrusion on the surface tension on the canvas; or paper, or mind, or body, that the rest of the painting dresses - like you would, whether functionally or theatrically, a wound.”
Chris Anthem, Lebanon 2013
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