Painting Rituals - Various Artists - Shelter Press

#006 / « Painting Rituals » by Lindsey Bull, Jill Mulleady, Maria Thurn und Taxis

48 pages / 16.5 x 23 cm / full color offset / 2012 / first edition of 1000 copies / perfect bound / hard cover
€20 – £16 – $26 / out of stock


About the book

Familiar yet strange, the ever-enigmatic propensity of the mind to swell with excess of experience, from the fuzzy and all-consuming realms of birth, sex and death to existential musings on time, space, meaning and meaninglessness; every moment of every day we are surrounded by concepts too big to be contained purely in synapses and cell matter.

The higher-order that superseded the ‘primary’ consciousness of our ancestors produced, in Homo sapiens, the capability for artistic production. This consciousness possesses the ability to reflect, reproduce and manifest that which obsesses, drives and consequently escapes us in our conscious mind. Since the caves at Lascaux and Les Mains Negative, where the human mouth spat ink over the human hand preserving its residual image on a wall, humanity has found a way to capture these intangibles for the purposes of thought and interpretation.

Death for example; the purest form of the incomprehensible. Tomes of philosophy, theology, science and medicine for thousands of years have explored and pondered the concept of mortality. Entire belief systems have been forged from the desire to understand and even evade death and more commonly, to cope with it. The vast narratives of afterlives, burials, paradisal landscapes and hell fires are imbued into collective consciousness, though the details vary depending on what the individual subscribes to within their own personal system. In secular Western society the tropes, ceremony and tradition of religious rituals are still felt across what is now a palimpsest of scripture, popular culture and law; marriage for example remains a union of the legal and the religious.

Let’s take for example a gesture familiar to a contemporary British public: the small, gentle act of placing flowers upon a grave or memorial. A marker, but also an action which remembers the dead enacted by the living. It is performed.

Ritualised action such as laying flowers brings the loss into tangible form, and marks the absence. Without this there is only loss and grief – those emotions that have the power to make us inert if we cannot externalise. These ritualised actions become (often visual) signifiers in our life narratives, more memorable than the overwhelming emotion that was felt at the time they are a restriction of trauma and by manifesting, it becomes knowable, smaller – contained.

Rites, whether direct (casting a curse or spell) or indirect (totems or symbols) are performative. Take for example Rites of Passage, as detailed by Arnold van Gennep in his 1960 publication on the subject. These rites take place in liminal spaces and moments of flux, where ungraspable and unfixable events surrounding the individual, group, or collective society are without predictable conclusion.

Life, as we know it, is linear and defined by time. There is, therefore, a journey catalysed in birth that must continue through life toward death. Bound by the condition thus, we are forced into the creation of pathways for meaning, the search for understanding and where the inconsistency, the tension and the shock of the unpredictable and unplanned veer us off-course, we search for markers in order to stem the fear of that which we cannot hope to know. Rituals become systems and guidance notes, milestones and signposts that enable us on our way ever-onward.


In naming the exhibition Painting Rituals, the artists acknowledge this and parallel the unstable performative act of the ritual with the unstable moment of creation. In mark-making they transition between conscious and unconscious communication leaving traces and residue in the form of the painted canvas. From fascination, attraction, repulsion and a desire for investigation, their subject matter is selected. Jill draws from moments, feelings or images but then paints directly from her mind’s eye, creating a performative connection with her body and the canvas surface as she builds colour and form intuitively. Quoting Baudelaire she suggests ‘dancing is like poetry with arms and legs’, and when painting she uses her whole body, expressing with ‘brushstrokes and arm wrists, not only head and imagination’. In ‘Mars’ she recalls thinking it was to intended to ‘hit like a punch in the stomach…red on red on red on red’ like the primal ‘I love I love I love I love…I want I want I want I want’.

Jill knows when a painting feels right as it is ‘in-tune’. For Lindsey it ‘vibrates’ and for Maria it stirs. Where Jill represents primarily from her gut instinct, Lindsey and Maria re-represent rituals from image sources. These acts of translation from image or feeling to surface allow the drives that triggered them to emerge in the moment and be captured. This performed ritual encounter between artist and surface having resulted in a trace of the unstable liminal state, which then has the power to trigger similar affective states in the viewer allowing for a revisiting or re-enactment of that initial moment of emergence again, and again, through the multiple encounters that will play out in the gallery space. The painting therefore evokes on repeat; even though the result is different for each viewer, the surface always acts as a vessel for the original thought whilst simultaneously producing new meaning in its audience.

The three discernible affective states of pleasure, pain/sorrow and desire are characterised by being transitional. Rites are developed around the major transitional points in life – birth, coming of age, death – and what binds this set of paintings is their root in the transient. They are about movement in flux, images in translation and ideas being grappled with. These paintings exist on the threshold of existential planes and it is this that causes their tension both within the individual surfaces and also en masse. The traces of motion that are depicted in Lindsey and Maria’s paintings are represented in Jill’s.

In each instance the temporal structures used to bind the bodies and ideas in consideration are pulled at and fragmented through masking, erasing, rubbing out and separating. It is in this deconstruction that the tension occurs, and the embodiment of the transitional moment is allowed to emerge. Where Jill channels the doctrinal formations and presentations of ritual through her own corporeal being, Lindsey is drawn to the heightened aesthetic of bodies caught then isolated testing the boundaries between figurative representation and abstraction. Maria draws on her Catholic upbringing to guide her subject matter, having travelled to Seville in Spain for Holy Week where the people parade cloaked and in bare feet as a form of enacting penance. In their respective works, the three painters deal with systems and prescriptive ceremony being pushed to a point of strain. By entering the physical world their ideas transcend the spectral moving between thought and body – hand and brush – marking the incomprehensible and fixing it, fleetingly, in time.

Susanna Davies-Crook, london, march 2012