The Thought Fox
Amita Kirpalani 2014
When Lara Merrett describes “catching a painting”, she is in part describing the tarpaulin which flanks the four metre paintings of the main Karen Woodbury Gallery space - this material which catches the run-offs, drips and over-painting is offered as a kind of witness to work in the studio. By ‘catching a painting’ Merrett is also describing the double-acts of painting the painting, and watching the painting. It is a process of continual risk where the paint gets away from you, like words, tunes, and paper in a breeze.
After my conversation with Lara I’m thinking about the ways that ideas, words and painterly forms find shapely reconciliation in the studio, since putting pressure on one element has the force to misshape or throw another out of balance. I’m thinking of Ted Hughes’ poem The Thought Fox (1957). In it Hughes describes a non-shape mysteriously stirring in a still night. Slowly cajoled into sight by light and language, the poet discerns “A fox’s nose” as it “touches twig, leaf”, full of suggestion as “Two eyes serve a movement”. The fox represents nervously twitching inspiration and timid intuition. Inspiration and intuition, played by the fox “sets neat prints into the snow”, and in this series of half-sights foreseeing “a body that is bold to come”. Eventually as the fox moves closer, and closer towards the poet its eyes appear as one eye, and the fox “enters the dark hole of head”. The fox is at this point fully apprehendable and ‘caught’ in the mind-lair. The poem in part describes harnessing inspiration and “brilliantly, concentratedly” looking through one’s own eyes: the difficult act of trying to analyse one’s own way of looking.
Critic Jorg Heiser asks an important question of contemporary painting, speculating through the voice of the artist: “How can I watch my own eye in the process of seeing, and how can I do justice to the other forms of perception by painterly means?” Again, a question of how to watch the fox entering the lair. Or if you prefer, a process of analysing inspiration, one purpose of which is, of course to encourage more foxes. It’s partly about a crisis of relevance; a crisis of saying too much or too little and being simultaneously inside and outside of the paining.
Lara Merrett’s tarpaulin works, humbly, in part pay tribute to being both inside and outside the painting, by asking us to consider the studio. Exhibiting this evidence or element of the studio describes the conditions in which the painting developed, where edits were made, and the dominant shapes and angles emerged. The tarpaulin speaks to the space within which a painting followed a line of thought, a flight of fancy, or when a determined grip seized a particular line. It’s a bit like, well, these walls can’t talk but they can make sign language at you.
The title of the exhibition, Doublethink, is a reference from the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and points to this double bind. Within the novel Doublethink is a form of trained, willful blindness, a method to control thought directly via language. Doublethink is both knowing and not knowing, says Orwell in the novel, “Doublethink is basically the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them”. And further: “even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.” To be a painter today is to concurrently doublethink painting’s history, to doublethink one’s social, political and environmental circumstances and to doublethink the cultural context within which the painting lives. In this way, Lara shimmies between breaking and feeling painting’s structure.
The slightest sensations can be felt through and intuition can be announced in painting. Yet painting can never be a congruence between rational function and intuitive reflex. Lara leads and is mis-led in the painting, and in this jostling the painting finds its own logic, forcefulness and tension.
Painting can both prompt and enact the thought fox. Here, the fox is bravely twitching.