Saturday, December 15, 2018

Wavelength: The Uncanny Work of Dénesh Ghyczy

When the Real Day Breaks, by Dénesh Ghyczy, 2018, 130 x 170 cm.

“The painter should paint not only what he has in front of him, but also what he sees inside himself. If he sees nothing within, then he should stop painting what is in front of him.”
– Caspar David Friedrich

We live in a world of binary elements, each competing for our attention, not so much in a conflict of opposites as in a dance, a conversation between components of a single whole which has been fragmented by our own dualistic perceptions. At the beating heart of the work of Dénesh Ghyczy is a basic dichotomy between the built and the unbuilt environment: the natural world of sleek proportional harmonies resulting from the reconciliation of opposing forces into inherent organic designs, and the human habitation world of gridded proportional harmonies resulting from our recognition of certain embedded ratios and balances as we build our dwelling places.

The fact that there is a window in almost every painting can make it easy to forget that every painting already is a window: one differentiating the viewer and the view by only the slenderest of threads, an experiential thread that also unites us all in the viewing. Windows within windows: looking in, opening out. A slightly voyeuristic frisson accompanies our watching Boy in a Window and When Real Day Breaks, for instance, since we are watching people who are watching. Perhaps someone else is also watching us watching them watching: we can all practically hear the day breaking.

It is reassuring for a critic or commentator to know that he is on the right track while searching through the forest of images for a meaningful metaphor. Ghyczy provides that stability of intention in his own assessment of his principal themes and subjects, and his adherence to what the great German critic Walter Benjamin called images, my great and primitive passion. He expresses himself about his image-archive in words as clear and concise as his brushstrokes are wavy and curved.

Boy in a Window, by Dénesh Ghyczy, 2018, 110 x 80 cm.

“What does it mean to be inside or outside? What is the layer we are looking through? For a long time I have been interested in the idea of fragmentation. To see more than one level of reality and/or to reveal the illusion of our superficial perceptions. We constructed our fragmented reality, leaving many with a longing to go back to the source, dissolving into nature.” Ghyczy achieves this aesthetic agenda with artful ease and a high degree of graphic skill, largely by juxtaposing his flowing intuitive brushstrokes (which we are invited to celebrate as brushstrokes) with the more rigid and controlled spaces defined by geometric forces and the modernist grid.

This conscious collision is both a charmed and a charming one. It blinks back at us: the more we stare into his poetic spaces, the more they tremble under the weight of our vision. When the poet Wallace Stevens managed to poetically define poetry as the search for the inexplicable, he neglected to explain that the search is not necessarily conducted so very far afield and can be executed every single morning by going to your front window and staring outside. There, as if hiding in plain sight, the inexplicable nature of everyday life is waiting for those with enough power of attention to recognize it. The magical is surrounding us in its many mundane disguises and only waits for the focused gaze of an educated onlooker to engage it in conversation.

Artists are educated onlookers, and a painter such as Berlin-based Ghyczy is possessed of precisely the kind of careful gaze required by both the magical realm and the inexplicable domain to be freely accessed. In other words, he stares at the same things as we all do, an urban street down below a building occupied by the gaze, a window frame which automatically contextualizes the environment quietly hovering between exterior and interior, a person’s head and shoulders in the act of a poised pause. He stares the way we all do, but he sees, truly sees, as few others can.

A large painting (at a roughly human scale of five by seven feet) with the pulsating, vibrating, rippling, almost buzzing tones of his Daylight Studio, for example, is a veritable document of what a painter is and does. He is a transmission device for electromagnetic currents and flowing wavelengths that temporarily take on the shifting shape of our surroundings: fractured surfaces with floating brushstrokes reminding us that we are indeed looking at a painting of a place or person. It is a depiction not just of the built or unbuilt but of the unbuildable. That is where the inexplicable zone of poetry commences, especially in the alluring context of the architectural uncanny: seduced by the familiar, we are bewildered by the obvious.

Daylight Studio, by Dénesh Ghyczy, 2018, 200 x 180 cm.

The uncanny is originally a Freudian concept (unheimlich) of an instance where something can be familiar yet also foreign at the same time, resulting in a feeling of its being somewhat unsettling. There is a parallel cognitive dissonance at work in the paintings of Dhyczy, where a seemingly ordinary setting such as an interior wall or a shimmering window suddenly takes on a profoundly extraordinary aspect.

The psyche and the dwelling, as explored so beautifully by Gaston Bachelard in his several books on reverie, are a primary focal point for our shared appreciation of the domestic and private versus the collective and public. Dhyczy is absorbed by the way our built spaces tend to define not only the parameters of our communal lives but the very ingredients of our consciousness itself. Some of his interior spaces appear to be uninhabited (except by us, the visiting viewer), others have a solitary figure coming or going, leaning or looking away. When a close-up portrait of a person is presented to us, they can feel equally elusive and impossible to situate, perhaps due to the rippling energy fields, almost aura-like, which often envelop their figure.

The intersection between the ideas of space and place, where space turns into place, or into a person, appears to be the primary mode for pictorial meditation in his graceful practice as a visual storyteller. His uncanny portraits are still, in fact, also interiors, and they also divulge their characters like stories. The portraits in Wound and Cure and Boy in a Hood, each tell a story, but one whose plot is withheld by the characters in that story. Here too, in the landscape of the human face, the inscape, perhaps, each portrait shows us another kind of sealed room, one which we enter only with the distant permission of the subject being portrayed.

Look at Me is even more tantalizing, since we can’t do so, and a woman in glasses appears to implore her interlocutor to return her gaze, something we feel almost guilty about doing from our hiding spot. Memory Lounge and Villa Savoye are likewise almost but not quite empty spaces again elaborating the magic language of windows in which the very air itself seems to crackle with a Morse code of meaning. Lake, however, is, for me, the stunning gem in the entire group. A smallish and more intimate work of roughly thirty six inches, its trees are literally melting into the thick air of a dream-like body of water.

Memory Lounge, by Dénesh Ghyczy, 150 x 250 cm.

The sublime is easily registered in classical pictures produced by the German painter Caspar David Friedrich, he of the wanderer above the mists. But in the deft hands of a contemporary artist such as Ghyczy, we are invited into the unexpected realm of the everyday, the seemingly ordinary, quotidian zone of our own dwellings and nearby nature. In this respect Ghyczy is a master of the anti-sublime. His painted settings, at first glance at least, appear to be ordinary locations, and yet they immediately reveal their uncanny layers of undisclosed multiple meanings upon closer inspection.

Enigmatic diagrams of energy in the process of coalescing into matter and form, they are charged with electric currents and patterns, pulsations of that pure magnetic power associated with our own sensual embodiment. The remarkable Membrane is perhaps the most emblematic of this unique epi-phenomenon of portrayal. The facial gaze in many of Gyzczy’s portraits is averted, obstructed or hidden, thus rendering them a mysterious space we are left to imagine. The girl in the painting appears to be taking the pulse of a window, while we take the pulse of the painting.

Our own gaze is utterly free to roam across the glistening spaces of these uncanny works. Hallucinatory, surreal, almost psychedelic evocations of the palpable world around us, they proffer the daily promise of the inexplicable. All we have to do is open our windows.

DÉNESH GHYCZY | wavelength ran at Odon Wagner Gallery, in Toronto, until December 8, 2018.

Donald Brackett is a Vancouver-based popular culture journalist and curator who writes about music, art and films. He has been the Executive Director of both the Professional Art Dealers Association of Canada and The Ontario Association of Art Galleries. He is the author of the book Back to Black: Amy Winehouse’s Only Masterpiece (Backbeat Books, 2016). In addition to numerous essays, articles and radio broadcasts, he is also the author of two books on creative collaboration in pop music: Fleetwood Mac: 40 Years of Creative Chaos, 2007, and Dark Mirror: The Pathology of the Singer-Songwriter, 2008, and is a frequent curator of film programs for Pacific Cinematheque. His latest book was Long Slow Train: The Soul Music of Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, published in November 2018. He is currently trying to complete a book on the life and work of Yoko Ono.

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