Galerie In Vorm
Hasselt, Belgium

ARTIST Mr. Michael Markwick
Born 1974, Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States

Michael Markwick

The Recent Paintings of Michael Markwick

A Michael Markwick painting is a collision: things have slammed together and now they are ready to fly apart. War, television, childhood, nature, art, and human bodies, all offer up their particular forms of anxiety, nostalgia, and abjection in his work. An image of a tree fractures the surface of a painting like a rock through a window. A hallucinogenic cloud envelops the looming figure of a suicide bomber—or is it an angel, or an insect? Tree forms hold body parts—a strange fruit, a grotesque burl. These paintings are constructed out of layered oppositions: anxious, urgent pressures of the bitter and the sweet, the desolate and the comfortable, the dirty and the pure, the cosmic and the ordinary.

The way Markwick handles paint is integral to these collisions. Images are constantly obliterated and restored in acts of painting that are analogs of the narrative; a collision of pigment and canvas parallels its subject. The marks constrict and expand. The paint crusts and drips. These paintings consist of densely compressed layers whose accumulated history creates a surface tension where the last layer of paint is stretched tautly over all the others. The predictable and the indeterminate push uneasily against each other. Color is both luminous and dull, and it vibrates in an anxious tension of decoration and violence. Pale tints of green and red with all the sweet commercialism of retro interior design collide with blacks and grays that suggest the destruction of trench warfare. Something happened, something is going to happen.

The physicality of these paintings, the layering, the additive and subtractive shifts in his process, the boldness of the contrasts, and the aggressive drawing are suggestive of Markwick’s interest in various Dutch and German graphic traditions, particularly expressionist woodcuts. The paintings reference a wide range of art history. Hints of Otto Dix and Max Beckman mingle with the strange visionary paintings of Henry Darger. Fundamental to his work are sixteenth-century Northern Renaissance paintings, particularly the apocalyptic works by artists such as Pieter Brueghel the Elder and Matthias Grünewald. But issues of contemporary global culture—things like consumerism, pollution, and technology—equally inform Markwick’s paintings, and the day-to-day materials and experiences of urban life such as web design and graffiti formally structure his work. Environmental degradation, genocide, torture, militarism, hunger, and sickness seep into his images in ways that are subtler, but just as urgent as they are in Breughel’s Triumph of Death.

Markwick embodies a complicated mix of ethnic, national, and class identities, and his personal history heavily influences his work. The trees represented in his recent series of paintings carry with them the particular desolation of trees near the Michigan trailer park where he grew up. This is a small forest of rotting wetlands and urban trash on the margins of a city—littered, tangled, impenetrable woods. But his paintings carry a bigger perspective that comes out of his cultural hybridity. His works have a doubleness, a form of irony that is deep in the work. This isn’t the glib irony of small jokes and wry wit. He uses conventions of painting that double back on themselves. Much like the work of Francis Bacon, Markwick’s vocabulary of Romanticism—expressionism, the heroic—is used to critique a culture that fetishizes freedom and the individual. Markwick adopts the language of expressionism as a sign, and combined with an indiscriminate mixture of high and low culture—Breughel and anime, for example—it creates an anxiety of not knowing where we are in this mix of history, pop-culture, and mythological freedom.
Timothy van Laar
Professor of Art
University of Illinois

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