David West — Paradis Parfumé
Past: June 7 → July 31, 2013
At the heart of the debate about the function of painting of his time, David West grows away from morality, proclaims it entirely, intends to use it as beauty and not as truth. As suggested in the title of the exhibition Paradis Parfumé, the artist tries to find links between happiness and inaccessible ideal, violence and sensuality, the painter and his painting. David prefers to free himself from any artistic movement and is more than anything passionate about painting as a medium, about the pleasure of its pure gesture. The style is edgy, dry, sometimes tortured, it is not about embellishment. His paintbrush is vivid and biting. It brings us to a contemporary garden of Eden, dealing with subject as the city, the women, the music, the night. David West explodes the space, makes bodies and narration vibrate, making room for the subjectivity of anybody. Every composition is an ambiguous vision and a testament of our time.
“David West is the kind of artist, that they used to call in New York “a Painter”. This was once a very high accolade and hard earned- De Kooning was a Painter, Franz Kline was maybe not, Rothko was a Painter, Barnett Newman was a conceptualist working in paint. It’s an almost indefinable edge, but you know it without me having to explain it too much, cos you can just see it and feel it yourself.
Still, I have known David West for the best part of a decade, and he just last summer had a major breakthrough after 30 years of painting- the kind of breakthrough you have if you dedicate yourself to a medium and listen to it, let it get inside your bones.
Luckily being an artist is not like being in a rock band and it’s what Dave Hickey would call a «contemporary kink» to look for art stars amongst people in their 20s. Its logical that good artists will make their best work in their 50s and that is the case with the great figures of the 1960s- Rothko is on another level between 60 and 70 years old, Phillip Guston re-invents his whole language at 57, and I would bet you there is not a Donald Judd you know that he made before he was 40.
So I liked David West’s earlier work but I knew it had another level. He flitted between illustration and figurative painting in the 90s and 2000s and I thought his paintings were like a kind of contemporary Neue Sachlichkeit- Otto Dix’s or George Grosz’s about the hipster bars of New York and Paris, and I liked them a lot but I knew I was waiting for something.
And then last summer it happened. Suddenly new layers appeared- primarily a layer of psychological abstraction, and the echoes of new ghosts. It was like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Henri Matisse were painting on the same canvas. As soon as I saw “Loup Garou” I knew I wanted to show these paintings, I knew it was it a breakthrough series and I’m really happy that Jenny Mannerheim and Judith Grynszpan saw what I saw in them and they are now on the walls of Nuke.I think it’s only a painter like David West, so steeped in the neo-Avant Garde of New York in the 1980s, where he was a contemporary and friend of Raymond Pettibon and Mike Kelley who could make these paintings, because in some way their roots and attitude are rooted in the new figuration of Basquiat’s New York, but at the same time these paintings could only have been made in Europe, because they channel the alphabets of different kinds of twentieth century European painting- Matisse in the case of “Loup Garou”, Dix in the case of “People With Secrets”, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner almost everywhere because David West sees the human form as 99% character and emotion, and had little patience or time for our mundane Darwinian physicality, and he draws a lot like Kirchner.
West’s closest near contemporary is probably Jörg Immendorff. West and Immendorff are the heirs to a hardcore tradition of physiological European Expressionist painting that has been pushed to the side and almost occluded recently by the hegemony of the last plays of cynical ironic post-Duchampianism that is polished by the neo-Avant Garde of the 1980s — Sherrie Levine, Jeff Koons etc — and perfected by the YBAs. While I respect a lot of those artists, the moment of ironic Post-Duchampianism is over. Ironic Post-Duchampianism ends in the 5 months between September 2011 when Maurizio Cattelan announces his retirement and February 1st 2012 when Mike Kelley kills himself. When the big hitters of a hegemonic discourse, the ones with the championship rings, the country houses and the Oscars on their mantlepiece are bailing out so spectacularly you know the discourse is over. And I wonder what that is, and how it will be remembered, an art historical moment so obsessed with the ironic gesture and so paranoid against any search for genuine emotion or Spirituality that even the winners feel they have lost.
Because that moment is over we need to look at the occluded traditions of the Avant Garde, the ones not really given a voice really over the last 30 years but are on the rise again and seem refreshing- the post-Beuysian tradition and Arte Povera, which if you look at a big show like the Kochi-Muzuris Biennale this year seems have taken fresh roots in a new generation of international artists in a pan-global way that defies the idea that New York, London or for that matter Paris or any one city has a pre-ordained right to be the centre of the Avant Garde. And just as that biennale unveiled a return of Beuysian sincerity, this show is the return for me of the Grand Tradition of existentialist, socially critical, emotional and stylistic European Expressionist painting, and I mean that with a capital E and capital E- the grand old stuff, the real stuff, the kind of Expressionist painting that is not afraid, and has high ambitions- which wants to explain our malaise, and which at once sympathizes with the characters in the pictures and criticizes the surrounding cruelty of the culture in which they are civilized. It’s a sophisticated and deep rooted project which might have looked like it ended with Francis Bacon, but it never really went away, it just went out of the art magazines for a bit and like post-Arte Povera it is coming back this year. And in its second coming it doesn’t have to be made by Europeans and might be much more interesting filtered through the eyes of a serious rock and roll intellectual from Detroit."
— Robert Montgomery.