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THE IMPOSSIBLE ROOM Paintings by Olly Beck at Sartorial Contemporary Art 27 November to 19 December 2009

Category: Art
Date:     13 December 2009
Time:     01:02 PM


Paintings by Olly Beck 

Sartorial Contemporary Art 
(The Project Space) 
27 November to 19 December 2009

 “at each detour, with a kind of nausea, men discover their solitude in empty night. The universal
night in which everything finds itself – and soon looses itself” (Georges Bataille – Visions of Excess)

A theatrical triptych of three other worldly mutants greet the visitor to Olly Beck’s Impossible
Room. The figures on either side resemble floating astronauts supported by tentative lines
resembling crutches or wires.  Headless, with unconnected limbs they indicate a disabled state of
statis. A central red figure disrupts his two companions. This archetypal trickster hangs upside
down from a trapeze like structure and with his jester like hat appears to be  mocking his fellow
travellers'   ‘severely accepted malady of being’. (ibid) These paintings exist in an indefinable
science fictional terra incoginta which Beck himself has written about 

“Did the first moon walker so abruptly sent into space return from the ultimate summit a broken man
without any regard to his personal journey?...`Perhaps he found something unknowable, unspeakable,
that can only reveal itself through dreams, electric shock treatment or hypnosis? Or perhaps it was
just nothing, just nothing in nowhere?...” (Soft issue one 

Somnabulist metaphors abound throughout this exhibition. 
The avant-garde experimental film maker Stan Brackage described hypnagogic visions as “what you see
through your eyes closed – at first a field of grainy, shifting, multi-coloured sands that gradually
assume various shapes…a streaming of shapes that are not nameable – a vast song of the cells
expressing their internal life”

This description aptly relates to another series of Beck’s paintings which invoke hallucinatory
images wrought from the edges of sleep where the titles further underline this presomnal connection.
In “These Visions” an amorphous mutation, half helmet half strange creature’s head floats in the
corner of a vaguely suggested room. 
The head itself appears to be gouged out of the painting surface, thick and encrusted with paint it
oozes stuff (blood?)  as it glides silently against its flat surface. In “A Deep Coma” an amoeba
like sea creature continues its shape shifting journey along another set of walls. Both these
paintings along with “Expressway to Your Skull’ with its more representational image of a ram’s
skull are rendered in varying tones of dark purple or green akin to  Eigengrau or  intrinsic grey 
which is the colour seen by the eye in perfect darkness and as such these paintings must be a bugger
to photograph! 

However these apparitions shimmering on a futuristic horizon somewhere between a mirage or an opium
inducted stupor invite labyrinthine readings. These mutants and shape shifters exist as metaphors
for what the artist calls “contemporary life's implosion of meaning from a theatrical and
semiological perspective” Beck has taken his title The Impossible Room from JG Ballard’s seminal
book The Atrocity Exhibition (1970). The works on show here are an poetic response to his reading of
Ballard’s notion of a room or a space with its “psychotic apparitions” which he has melded with his
own feelings of ‘silent rage and unattended loss” at our current post millennial crisis. Whereas
Ballard came out of a time when resistance appeared cohesive taking in the mass street protest
movements of Paris 1968 and the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations – current resistance movements
appear more illusionary. Beck’s paintings exist in and define a fragmentary, unknowing hinterland
bereft of either political or psychological certainties. In Three Spheres Brackets and Icon a gun
suspended on supports hovers over three dark moons or as Beck calls them “burnt out carbon howling
pock marked spheres” The fragile brackets appear to render the gun useless, it appears only as a
meta-weapon, the kind of thing boys draw all over their jotters at school but by calling it an icon
he appears to be alluding to the continuing potency and seductiveness of the image, to the dark
stupid fetish that makes guns and war seem sexy. 

Interestingly when Beck was interviewed about this show on a programe for Sky TV, the interviewers
attempted to see it ostensibly as the artist’s response to the ‘war on terror’. But by doing this
they missed the many readings present in this complex and layered show. As a political being,
someone who is engaged with and aware of contemporary issues Beck has utilised his painting to
explore his own internal ambiguities not just with the fucked up state we are in externally but with
how this rage impacts on a psychological level.

Its an ambitious show where Beck, who is a known writer manages to make an authentic relationship
between his words and philosophical musings and the mess up medium of paint.

Alex Michon 

See Olly Beck interviewed about this show

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