The memorial presence of the past takes many forms and serves many purposes, ranging from nostalgic longing for what is lost to polemical use of the past to reshape the present. The paintings I make deal with both aspects, and serve as a longing and a warning as well as an active means of reshaping the past. Cultural recall and nostalgia are not merely s...omething of which you happen to be a bearer. They are something that you perform.
I am interested in Eastern European culture, in the suppression of memory as well as the intentional subversion of historical archives during the Soviet years. After being awarded the Richard Ford Award, I considered what is called Spain’s “Pact of Forgetting”. I found it ironic how investigations into the murderous repression in Spain under fascist leader General Franco is generally silenced, while at the same time Spain’s history though art is celebrated.
I am interested in the use of archival imagery. Jacques Derrida wrote that the structure of the word “archive”, which comes from the word “arche”, which can mean “beginning/ ontology” or “authority/ law”. Derrida believes that the archive functions as a death drive, which leads to the destruction of all memory that cannot be incorporated into the archival structure.
However, he also realizes the paradox that it would be impossible to construct an archive without this death drive. He claims that the archive represents a sign of the future – for whatever is not archived perishes and that which is becomes the future.
I am interested in imagery with cultural ties, which can interact with and subvert each other, and make something totally new. Each image has a mythology behind it – they are culturally iconic moments, references or people. Some are better known than others, and each depend on inherited cultural knowledge, therefore their reading will change depending on your background and nationality. Whether it be the English hunt or the Polish cavalry charge during the Second World War, each of these moments leaves a shadow of their past and have never really left the cultural psyche.
I think that painting is important. I see it as being intrinsically linked to cultural memory and an ideal medium to link the past to the present. The representational aspects of painting that I deal with may at times seem like a naïve primitivism, fueled by nostalgia, but I regard this as a tool that can be utilized. Choosing oil paint as a medium comes along with the heavy baggage of history, every style, gesture and subject, references the weight of history. I used to be fearful of this, of the responsibility. However, I’ve come to see this as another tool that can be manipulated like the paint itself. Political portraits can reference an icon and a dog or flower comes with a readymade symbolism. I see contemporary painting as a means of both escaping and regarding culture as an outsider looking in.