Some thoughts on the paintings of Gareth Lloyd
By Paul Ryan, Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Gareth Lloyd: Leaving the 20th Century
By Jeremy Reed, Art Critic, London
Twilight and Idols On Gareth Lloyd
Gareth Lloyd: Towards an Aesthetic of Dissent
By María Esther Maciel, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil
Catalogues available in English, Spanish, French and Italian
Citations form essays about Gareth Lloyd’s work:
If, as Italo Calvino would say, we live in a culture in which the all-powerful media can do nothing but transform the world into images, it is left to the sensibility of artists like Gareth Lloyd to invent new forms of the visual apprehension of the present and extract from them an aesthetics of dissent.
Drawing inspiration from the cinema, his prodigious reading, the connecting points between mythic and representational reality, he is an artist working in his time with an alertness to creating configurative patterns from emerging contemporary myths.
The paintings of Gareth Lloyd make one inescapable demand that the viewer be in their presence. By this I mean that, in an age when mechanical reproduction has given way to the proliferation of digital media, Gareth Lloyd's work needs always to be seen in its original, unmediated state.
Some thoughts on the paintings of Gareth Lloyd.
By Paul Ryan Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
The paintings of Gareth Lloyd make one inescapable demand that the viewer be in their presence. By this I mean that, in an age when mechanical reproduction has given way to the proliferation of digital media, Gareth Lloyd's work needs always to be seen in its original, unmediated state. Catalogue reproductions fail to capture the active tension of the paintings surfaces. It is as much what has been effaced from those meticulously prepared surfaces that counts when it comes to experiencing the paintings. So this is not to make a plea for that unfashionable notion of engagement with the hand of the artist, but to make a more urgent plea for engagement with the eye of the artist. Gareth Lloyd plays with iconography, but the icons at its heart are not those of classical painting, they stem instead from the kind of imagery that has become iconic merely because of the role it has played in all our everyday histories. A fragment of mountain is instantly recognisable as belonging to the logo of Paramount Pictures. We do not need to see the film company's name, nor even to register the band of stars that is sweeping up to take its familiar form of a haloed constellation such as was once found in depictions of the Virgin Mary. Films and film stars of the past are conjured by that simple fragment of mountain; theirs were the faces and figures that peopled our visual landscape in the way that saints and mythological gods once peopled the visual landscapes of earlier generations. The silver screen was the canvas that most enchanted us and on which we gazed for hours at a time. It was our Twentieth Century fix. But Gareth Lloyd does more than tease us with fractured cinematic memories and, as the title of one of his works makes clear, he is very conscious of moving forward, leaving the last century behind. He draws on collective memory to arm us for the future and he adds other references, connects with other art forms, to present us with time as a continuum through which we shift as surely as it does. If images of dead or ageing stars captured in their youth have a vitality that still thrills us it is because they operate outside of, or alongside time itself. They have become enduring symbols of qualities we wish to find within ourselves. Some of the faces and forms lodged in Gareth Lloyd's art will be immediately recognisable, others are not so they are deliberately anonymous but they, too, become symbols with bodily positions or stray gestures that are generically identifiable with coded attitudes. Their alienated positions on GarethLloyd's canvases remind us of their strength in combating a hostile world. In the same vein, the other artists that Gareth Lloyd evokes refuse to be confined by time. The poet Mallarme, for example, produced work which seeps into our own age and challenges it anew. He teaches us that silence is never absolute, that an absence suggests a missing presence his metaphors, which seemed poignant at the time of the First World War, seem even more apposite now, after the Holocaust, the Killing Fields, the Twin Towers; and as we steel ourselves for the next shockwave which will attempt to shatter that notion of human innocence we still cling to so tenuously. All loss, no matter the scale of events in which it occurs, is an intimate affair. So those metaphors are pertinent for those private deaths that do not happen in a public context. Gareth Lloyds paintings, no matter how closely they connect with public events, are surely private works. The delicacy of their apparently robust surfaces requires close attention. They are sombre in character and yet, paradoxically, they have a brilliance that forces its way through them, passes over each surface like a ray of sunlight and is then submerged again within it. Catching that brilliance is one of the unexpected delights of looking at the work.
Again, it is not a delight that shows itself in reproduction. So we return to the surfaces although not in the fetishistic, Clement Greenberg way for each surface rewards examination. The most obviously accessible of Lloyd's paintings (I speak for myself, as these are, I repeat, private works) is Vanishing Points. Here we see the Paramount summit in full, although the name is still missing and the stars are still in flight. To its left is a sheet of graph paper pencilled with perspective lines and, further left, chalk marks sketch rudimentary perspective on the graphite and masonite ground. One could imagine an early artist attempting to second-guess Giotto with his representation of a neighbouring mountain; or, yet again, a prehistoric architect, aware of nature's grace, seeking to design a towering height of his own with the Paramount image standing for the final refinement of his design, realised several millennia later. But the interplay between the three vertiginous designs is richer than that, and lends itself to deeper contemplation. There is a deliberation in Lloyds placing of an appropriated image, his addition of a careful line or a seemingly negligent run of oil or water. So it is with the images, signs and symbols he creates and then erases perhaps many times over. Every surface has borne so many things that we can no longer see but whose absent presence, or present absence, is contained deep within it. Each painting is a palimpsest bearing testimony to its own history. At times, it may even seem like one of those stone slabs, found in ancient sites, which bear the markings of several civilisations. Through these we can trace our way back through time, then return to trace the development of human language in a manner that leads us back to our origins but also points directly to our living present, our unborn future. Nothing that has lived ever dies, something that is unborn is by no means dead. Gareth Lloyd has an internationalist outlook. The absence of clear, readable images (the presence, instead, a kind of anti-image) is not a denial, it is an embrace. If it connects with the poetry of Beckett and Mallarme, so it connects with those non- European art forms which, in their pure abstraction, replace images with traces of a thousand individual gestures many of them mathematical or calligraphic gestures that measure and describe the world but never seek to reproduce it. Every one of Lloyd's canvases is worked, mined even, as fully as a seam of coal. Each dark, organic mass yields signs of its own, lived existence. Each surface maps an interior landscape and, for this reason, a real engagement with the paintings surfaces is necessary.
Further reading: Marlon Brando: A Portrait by PAUL RYAN
Twilight and Idols On Gareth Lloyd
By Shahidha Bari
The world, as Gareth Lloyd captures it, is steeped in a grey twilight, hovering uncertainly, with a tremulous gravity, on the cusp of night and day. Darkness is always falling, never quite fallen, on a world that betrays itself in shifting lights as vast and austere, elemental and unyielding. Greyness is revealed not as an achromatic emptiness, but immensity, a sliding spectrum, mercurial and metallic at times, great washes of blankness scratched and striated, intersected by emergent figurations and imbricated by painstakingly affixed swatches of colour. These colours are close, perhaps, to the love Yeats delineates in his poem, unable to alleviate the magnitude of a world that is without relief. In “Massive Thaw”, it is the traces of teal and green that gather at the base of the shadowy mountain, which flash with an electric brightness, as though the cold, still verdant earth beneath the ice might offer benevolence, momentarily muting the catastrophe of climate change. Momentarily. In “Sea and Sulpher”, it is the uneven bloc of chalky limestone, a creamy yellowed shore that barely keeps breaking waves at bay.
Yet, it is in the colour grey that the gravity of the world is carried. In Lloyd’s thoughtful palette, it is infinitely expressive, variously signaling duress and patience, heaviness and blankness, suggesting stone and chalk, mercury and miasma, air and element, a subdued power and a stilled anger incapable of containment. In grey there is ascending beauty and mounting disaster in equal measure. This is exemplified in “Area”, where a pool of inscrutable charcoal darkness gathers and laps at the snow amassed landscape behind it, punctured only by the sequences of fiercely scored lines, a scrubland of white stars become cracked ice – crystalline structures, once strong, breaking with weakness. Human presence is neither wanted nor needed here. This is a world that does not wait on our apprehension nor exults in the life we might give to it, as though it were capable of a beauty long before our unwanted incursions and spoilt by our presence. The greyed skies and snows possess their own dignity, luminous and tender, carrying lightly their mystery. If we see this world, it is through a glass darkly, behind a miasmic fog of our own making, marred, scored, scratched and distorted.
More hopeful, though, perhaps is the patiently worked through DMZ (demilitarized zone) series. Scrublands sprout resolutely in the deserted terrains of “Violet DMZ”, like the wildlife that grows recklessly in abandoned no- mans-lands, springing from the ground upon which it is barely safe to tread and where life nonetheless rudely flourishes. The shadow-lands of striated firs are seen almost as though through the smeared glass of a passing vehicle in “DMZ Sepia”. Appended to the top right hand corner of both landscapes are images in miniature of their former plenitude, sketches traced in crude lines, lavender and terracotta respectively. The sketches seem in their very sparseness somehow to speak of a lost abundance, of what were once sloping hills and carefully tended arable lands, perhaps still recuperable, like a memory hovering on a horizon not yet gone. This possibility of recuperation is most beautifully figured in “Accidental Paradise of DMZ” where a grey foreground is marked by the tracks and prints of a presence not long gone, and a band of brilliant emerald green flashes across the middle of the canvas like a promise, sheltered under a sandy sky. The shadowy grey-black firs in the foreground seem almost to ripple and eddy. By “DMZ”, the accrued glaciers, fogs and grey mountains are recognizable tropes, but now layered behind the phantom of a deer-like creature, trusting and tentative, stepping vulnerably into the foreground of the image, the faintest trace of something childlike, unwounded, still wondering.
Infancy acquires a different accent in “Points and Lines in an Age of Terror” when the regal frame of a sphinx is positioned in opposing direction to the silhouette of a child’s cartoon character: a blurry Oriental mystique facing off an indistinct Disney. Impishness sits alongside innocence, as does menace with mystery, but in Lloyd’s cunning construction the crosscurrents surface, become apparent, beguiling and bewildering. Ancient Egyptian riddles reveal themselves as childish as Disney characters are sinister. This commercialized childhood, Lloyd suggests, offers new auguring mysteries and monstrous deities of its own kind. The menace of modernity preoccupies Lloyd, and is replayed in his repeated figurations of the Paramount insignia, the star-circled mountain so familiar that the big screen simulacra seems almost to have eclipsed and occluded any real sense we might have of melted ice caps and eroded mountainsides. For Lloyd, the intrusion of simulacra is metaphorised/realized in the form of an actual intruder, a shadowy figure, variously luminously green and blue, looming in a doorway, a silently present danger but also the vaguest indication of a human sensibility capable of acknowledging the derelictions for which it is responsible. In all of these works, there is muted jeopardy and ungentle beauty, and by Lloyd’s insistence, they are uncoupled and inseparable in the grey twilight.
Gareth Lloyd: Leaving the 20th Century
By Jeremy Reed
I tend to think of time as discontinuous whenever we enter into the individual space occupied by an artist's vision. It's inside this mental precinct that we discover the artist's ability to convert his findings into a more durable pattern of universal associations.
When Blake wrote, "Eternity is in love with the productions of time", he was pointing to the insights available to those who work in the given moment with the awareness of its magnitude.
In his art, Gareth Lloyd has confronted the issues that continue to preoccupy his discourse with the world. The modern crisis of the ruin of language via commodification and media exploitation is one tension point on which his work pivots, falling out of language we become dependent on the visual signs rooted in the mytho-poetic. The artist's work becomes that of the compensatory retrieval of the icon as it appears in his particular time. Here we have traces of figures as they resonate in the artist's psyche: Ned Kelly crossing the Red Sea, private detectives who may have jumped out of a pulp novel and the idea of the angel or psychopomp as the necessary and luminous instructor to spiritual progress. In each case the icon is re-visioned through erasure as a pointer sign-posting the way in a progressively de-individualised ethos.
For all its post-modern complexity, the artist seems preoccupied with the re- sanctification of the mediated individual as creator. I mean this in the way that art, if it is to have durability, should always represent an uncompromising challenge to any ideology intent on suppressing forms of dissent. The trend of the late 20th century has been increasingly directed towards information at the expense of vision: data as a substitute for the tentative.The serene texture of Gareth Lloyd's paintings, conceal the radical dissent of an artist who refuses to conform to the new media hegemony. Drawing inspiration from the cinema, his prodigious reading, the connecting points between mythic and representational reality and the seething nucleus of West End energies in which he lives, he is an artist working in his time with an alertness to creating configurative patterns from emerging contemporary myths. His art is a solitary one sustained by inner conviction and the overriding belief that truth is best realised through an inwardly achieved creative expression.
Facing the new century we're all disinherited from a sense of the poetic. With real time increasingly invaded by its counterpart, it's important not to lose sight of inner time and space with its unending potential for imaginative discovery. The artist needs that space and time, and Gareth Lloyd's paintings will help familiarise you with its inner topology, a map leading to the long trajectory of the cosmos.
Gareth Lloyd: Towards an Aesthetic of Dissent
By María Esther Maciel
The now has converted into the topos of contemporary sensibility. Not a closed now where past and future are elided, but a moveable point of temporary intersections. Where the memory of the world is inscribed and erased. Where the senses migrate to the until then unexplored zones of the body. Where the margins and the center become a non-place. A space of small things, of detritus, of desires for impermanence. A time of cultural intersections. Consumption and waste.If, within this perspective, utopian promises no longer trace the paths of the present, and the future cultivated by the historical movements of the avant-garde no longer occupies the center of the temporal triad, it is left to each artist to create his own way of looking, and with it to invent his own now. As Paul Auster says, seeing is a way of being in the world. And we might add: of leaving the world, to then find it again in a state of otherness.Gareth Lloyd invents his now from a gaze in transit. A gaze that not only sees, but critically reads the time (historical and personal) in which the artist is inserted, and extracts from this experience a new horizon for his vision. In other words, the mobile nature of his work is justified by the attempt not only to capture, through images, some visual signs of the last three decades, but also to reconstruct a personal trajectory: one which he himself as an artist has sought throughout this period, in his intense but non-complacent dialogue with Pop Art, media iconography, and the aesthetic legacy of the modernist tradition. Through this experience he has known how to convert the look into a movement of traversing the limits of time and space, in search of a viable alternative sensibility for the present.One may say that the way in which he undertakes this search is by putting on the surface of his pictures, in conjunction and disjunction at the same time, various modes of handling the question of image in the contemporary culture of the turn of the century. For this purpose, he makes use both of icons produced by the mass media and of some metaphors that modern poetry (more specifically those of Mallarmé) has left us. And he adds to this his own aesthetic proposal, which is simultaneously the sum and subtraction of the two other approaches. He manages to construct from this game of paradoxes a kind of visual narrative, through which he tells-in oblique ways-the story of the process of creation.Perhaps the best way of showing how this narrative is constructed is beginning with one of the works in this catalogue, entitled "Two Icons from the Seventies." In it are found two fragments of two representative icons of the political/cultural clash between capitalism and communism during the Cold War. On one side, the supposed back of Clint Eastwood, one of Hollywood's myths; on the other, the arm of one of Mao's soldiers. Between the back and the arm, there is a strangesymmetry, as if these parts completed one another in some way. And yet, there is a fissure, a gap between them. We might say that what separates them is also a kind of distance that unites them. Above these images, two others with no figure, almost empty, are placed, as if they were blank pages from a notebook or paper, for a drawing that does not yet exist. The background of the picture is dark, stained with chalk and water.Without a doubt, the ingenious articulation of the two icons of the Seventies (both converted into stereotypes of a given moment of world history) point critically to an aesthetic mode of representation based on the ideas of identification and consumption. That is, a mode of representation which has its aesthetic appeal in the iconic image, canonized by the media of mass culture. And when I say critically, it is by thinking of the form in which this articulation occurs in this work, since the figures are not presented directly but metonymically, through fragments, as if when the artist does present them, he has already put them in a state of precariousness, of erosion.On the other hand, the presence of disinhabited and denuded images suggests another possible path of representation: that which is sustained by Mallarmé's idea of silence, of the abyss, of the blank page/canvas, in short, of non-representation. Yet, a more attentive look can perceive that the surface is not so white, for it contains light touches, diluted spots, yellow pigments; and that the silence is traversed by small, nearly imperceptible noises. They seem to tell us of the impossibility of attaining absolute silence or nothingness, showing that purity is an illusion. In this sense, the artist also makes a critical reading of the aesthetic project of a certain current of modern art and literature: that which is sustained by the negation/destruction of reality and language itself, in search of something beyond the materiality of the form.It is important to note that these two forms are not presented as opposite or mutually exclusive. They are superimposed, joined, making one relative to the other. In the simultaneous convergence or divergence between them, a new space and a new time are created for the image. Through the paradoxical game they engender, the artist seeks an alternative form for his own sensibility.If this alternative form in the work in question still appears as a state of search, one may say that it will appear in a more explicit form in other works of his, as, for example, in the picture entitled "Slight Adolescent Girl". Here the icon is implicit (the traditional figure of the Madonna and child) and makes itself seen at first in the image from a package of soap-powder (put on the surface and stained with pigment). On the right appears a kind of blank, the slightly pigmented emptiness of analmost empty page. In the middle, another image already appears, merely sketched on a surface that is also stained, traversed by dilutions, containing an inconclusive, ill-defined drawing of an adolescent girl. The lines of the figure are tenuous and dispersed. In it, the figure loses its compactness and weight.The limits established between the three images bring them together in the same proportion as they distance them (as in "Two Icons of the 70s"). These images are also placed in a background with no homogeneity. The one in the middle, in which the two others are condensed and dispersed, represents the way of access to a new approach to the seeing (mediatized on the left by the consumerist appeal and on the right by the completely silenced appeal). This approach, which refuses the stereotype without destroying it, is the alternative that the artist offers for his time. "De-doxify" our cultural representations, without the destructive gesture that defined the so-called "tradition of rupture" is Gareth Lloyd's movement. He seeks to extract a modest figurativeness from the lightness and incompleteness of the line, without compression, without visual saturation, at the same time that he places this figurativeness in a dialogical relation with other models of representation of our culture.To achieve this form, the artist traverses different moments in his creative process. If we distribute all his works along a diachronic line, by following the thread of this process we encounter what was called at the beginning of this text a visual narrative. In this narrative, we first encounter the works aimed at a direct confrontation with the figurative mode, proper to mass culture, which finds in Hollywood cinema its best expression. This confrontation appears as a challenge: how to critically deal with the logic of consumption that structures the representation of images in the contemporary world? Through the modernist path of rupture and aesthetic autonomy? Through the idealized path of abstraction? Aware that the modernist response to this conflict no longer suits the critical demands of the present, the artist chooses another path: that of erasure, of dilution. From this choice arise other works like "Icon," in which part of a photograph of a Humphrey Bogart type appears blotted out by another ground, in a movement of foregrounding the background. Little by little, the space of erasure (generally represented by the brightness of a intense yellow, such as in the picture "The Desert and Perspective") will expand in other works and completely obliterate the consumption and identification mode. At this point, the artist stages his own exile in the space of the uninhabited images and begins to explore the signs of expansion: the desert and the sea. Within this field, other associated images come in: sand, night, rain, and wind. They come in various works to show the ambiguity of edges, limits, given the near impossibility of making precise the point where these elements come together and draw apart. One may say as well that in the works of this series an implicit complicity with the idea of loss is found. An elegiac but unsentimental atmosphere makes itself felt in some of them. This is the case, for example, in "The Death of a Stereotype," where the image of a masculine figure (Richard Burton) appears partially diluted in black, on the dark surface of the background, beside a section of bitumen, simulating the gloss of film. Disappearance, solitude.The escape from exile is made by crossing the desert, a humble crossing: clandestinely, on the back of a donkey, in the morning rain. On the sand, the flower, the footsteps of an elephant, the features of adolescence, (transition) the lion. A new form insinuates itself, leading both back to earlier works like "Zephyr" and "Ellipse", and to a passage ahead of itself. The work "Leaving the Twentieth Century" is the creative response to this movement. It shows us how the artist, on leaving the century/desert, finds a new outlet for his own language and begins to take an alternative form from the contiguity of the prosaic and the backgrounded: girls/rain, toys/shadow, animals/blurs.Objects sketched as incomplete figures, drawn out of the layers of the as yet unseen appear, whose function is not so much to represent, but to suggest.
If, as Italo Calvino would say, we live in a culture in which the all-powerful media can do nothing but "transform the world into images, multiplying it in a phantasmagoria of mirror-games images that are mostly destitute of the internal need that should characterize every image," it is left to the sensibility of artists like Gareth Lloyd to invent new forms of the visual apprehension of the present and extract from them an aesthetics of dissent.