The luxuriance of signs
In front of Jim Coverley’s work, the spectator is immediately seized by a feeling of unease, to appear contradictory: at once seduced by the finesse of his objects, but in the same time affected by their monstrosity. These simultaneous sensations of wonder and dread situate the spectator in a split, which all of Jim Coverley’s artistic practice has not ceased to dig, and by this we could consider it like the art of a split or the splintering — where, in a sense a split would be obtained by tightening open contradictions. The luxuriance of forms, the luxury of the details, the meticulous work and the fragility of the materials (by majority in cloth and paper), the variety and variations of the colors distributed in the repetition of the motifs, but also the poverty of these very materials — worn bed sheets bought in thrift shops, stain or stained with colors, as if bodies had again darkened their surface of concretions or of loss -, the simplicity of the employed techniques (cutting and folding, effects of symmetry obtained in an academic and childish fashion)…This split is equally provoked, in the artist’s work, by the grandeur of the objects produced, the finesse of their appearance, the meticulousness of their technique in a vertiginous precision turning into obsession or neurosis is where happens the impact of the ornamental and the organic, immersing the spectator to the brink of a veritable abyss.
Material and Symbol
Jim Coverley’s work divides itself in two sets. The first amongst them under the generic term Skin, assembles works of volume which resorts to materials that share the common particularity, in their every day use of being in contact with skin — these are bed sheets, pillows, comforters, recuperated and collected by the artist. These worn materials equally refer to the body’s position, lying down, to its situation(s), confined to the bed. The analogical terms of the relation set by the artist, which assimilates a material to a skin, as if a transfer zone had been established by simple contact between body and object, transmitting the intrinsic qualities of one to the other, engages in a production whose forms are attached with an organic vocabulary (Cotton Mouth, Passion Killer, Beast). This is distinguished from an other assembly of two-dimensional works, where operations of cutting and folding are performed on paper (Work on Paper). These two categories of activity are equally distinct in their recourse to different forms of representation. In the works on paper, the artist does not hesitate to conjure myths, biblical figures or cultural symbols (Patroclos, Adam, Eve, Skulls). In the Skin series, the signs produced don’t play on a mythological tone but summon again the symbolic. In such a different manner however that it is suitable to clarify in order not to assimilate, even if the temptation is great, Jim Coverley’s production to a symbol factory. In this last category of works, the symbolism operates not so much on a formal mode than it functions with support from the material plane, as clearly indicated by choosing the term Skin to designate the nature of the materials. According to this connection of implication, by using bed sheets, used quilts and pillows, Jim Coverley calls in his constructions the reminiscence of anonymous bodies and beds where all at once is summoned dreams and sex, life and death, rest and illness, conscious and subconscious… Bed sheets, mattress, quilts become according to this use the clues structuring a symbolic system of signs, which in its turn covers all forms of this production. Certainly, we may take recourse in symbolic terms to qualify particular objects created by Jim Coverley — insofar as we hold strictly to the definition of the common term: “to be instead of somebody or something”-, it is then more exact to note in this esthetic production the journey that is obeyed by each proposal between material and form that motivates a symbolic circulation of signs. Which then implies that all signs will have to be perceived as “being instead of somebody or something”, either that all material will summon a recumbent statue, a sleeping or sick person on or in bed in agony, dreaming or waking, and that all form will resolve itself in an organic assembly, the fragment or totality of a diseased body agonizing or imagined… But it is also the techniques employed by Jim Coverley, and therefore the production system of these signs, that are in a submission to the laws of symbolism. The meticulous cutting out, stitching, folding, the torsions and tensions performed on materials that by the game of this analogy are assimilated to “skins” and immediately summon surgery, scars and stitches the autopsy of bodies diseased or dead but also the manipulation of these, their reconstruction and fabrication of hybrids and mutants, their offering in sacrifice and their torture (these “skins” are in fact pulled and stretched by nails in their extremities, directly evoking a crucifixion)
Jim Coverley’s work could easily lend itself to the scholarly game of a genealogy that would call in first place the heritage of symbolism, artistic movement, literary and pictorial of the last part of the 19th century. Most likely there is reason to go look into Félicien Rops, but also Gustave Moreau or Gustav Klimt, for some of the sources of a tradition, which forces the sign into refinement and triviality, in majesty and dread. We could again, legitimately, start off with the games of ambivalences to which Jim Coverley subjects the signs, pull ancient strings where join together the qualities of the sacred and the sexual, of Eros and Thanatos, and underline once more in this work the convening of contradictions or of contraries, that once again clash with ethics or good taste. Why not, finally, in the vein of science fiction, search in literature or films monsters with familiarities to those created by the artist: The Island of Dr. Moreau, inhabited by creatures that are an outcome of genetic manipulation or also in the fascinating plasticity of Ridley Scott’s Alien…
Plausible hypothesis, that Jim coverley’s artistic practice does not however put explicitly to work. For in contrary with the symbolists, his works rarely recourse to the representation of the human figure, interested in the body and again more specifically in its anatomy and organism. If struggle and violence there is — and how could it be other in such a shock of contraries -, they are founded above all on imaginary planes: inside the ambivalence of the glorious body and the diseased body, in the miseries of its organs, the monstrosity and the seduction of hybrids, which unfold in reason of a first pact sealed between the artist and the spectator binding together a bet with the signs themselves: to accept that the medium becomes a skin, and this with no opposing view. Yet, this bet necessarily opens a chasm between materialist thinking on one side (the place where it is founded) and symbolic thinking on the other (the place where it is resolved). The split created by Jim coverley’s work, inside of which the spectator is invited to settle, asks us to take a side step, keeping one foot in the material world and placing the other in a world of symbols, so that bursts, in its almighty contradiction the ambivalence of the signs. Another skill putting together the body and the sign will then come and fertilize this split of the material and the symbolic: tattooing. Body that is sign, sign that is body… Jim Coverley’s artistic practice certainly transfers tattooing onto new skins, but it protects its meaning and the fondness, as it preserves a certain mannerism, beckoning to motifs and the ornamentation, which is completely embraced (we will equally locate the presence of certain symbols largely spread by popular tattoos — here, I am particularly thinking of skulls). About the technical aspects concerning the work with cloth, it is another practice of handicrafts that is summoned, the one of lace in the repetition of motifs, in the games of symmetries and variations of which it is the object …(1) Combination of imagination, know how, popular culture and learned techniques, of bodies and their organs, of motifs and variations, of visions, of dreams of symbols…it is to the luxuriance of signs that finally the work of Jim Coverley recalls. Signs which, by their abundance their wealth and their contradictions, become technical and esthetic chimaeras –this term to be understood as much in a genetic sense as in a mythological sense; signs as fabulous monster whose body would come out of the adjunction of different bodies, organisms composed of two or many varieties of cells having different genetic origins…
Translated from French by Keja Kramer
Collage, drawing, sculpture, mixed media
Artist born in 1976 in the United Kingdom.
- Anatomie , assemblage / accumulation, corps, empreinte, hybrides