On a figurative journey

On a figurative journey
Rhonda Dredge

There is an otherworldliness attempting to break through Gary Willis’s paintings on show at Library at the Dock.

When Emptiness Becomes Form and The Enlightenment are appropriations of 400-year-old French works.

“They are selected as aspects of the original paintings,” Mr Willis told Docklands News.

“Appropriated and adjusted but after that, as close as I could get,” he said, without giving too much away.

The paintings stand out among portraits and landscapes drawn from life and seem to question the logic of figurative painting.

Why focus on the present when the past can be infinitely more alluring, particularly representations of serious young men in the process of study?

The subjects wear the refined clothes of the court and an air of deep concentration, as if this effort will reap them many rewards.

The originals of the paintings were done by Jean Simeon Chardin and are in the National Gallery in London.

“I have always admired Chardin, especially these paintings. I have done several versions and drawings of them,” Mr Willis said.

Mr Willis is as much a writer as artist and has documented his life in Dead Beat Modern Art Type 72-82. His PhD thesis was also published as Key Issues Concerning Contemporary Art.

These historical documents are displayed in a glass cabinet with the suite of recent paintings and a few witty excerpts.

In Dead Beat, Willis writes of his early experiment with the art world. “I was desperate to be done with the ‘70s.”

Documentation may well be the artist’s forte. Those who wish to discuss the issue are invited to a soiree on March 9 featuring three arts writers and publishers. A clue to this exhibition, with its underlying references, lies in the artist’s selection of mysterious subjects from the past.

“I also wanted to suggest there might not be much change in the ambitions of a bright young boy from the 17th century until today, except costume and currency.”

Other paintings that stand out are those of a fortune teller and an absurdist portrait of poet Ania Walwitz.

Paintings, Gary Willis, Library at the Dock, until March 11. •

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