‘Future Perfect’ was born out of a need to find a means of expression which enabled me to explore those areas of life which are intangible but wholly human. I have always drawn an imaginary world but lately found I was perfecting my skills as a painter to the detriment of my ideas.
‘Future Perfect’ began by exploring themes of body image, using images of heads on trees. Some are wild and some are cultivated, to be harvested for an insatiable world. The cultivated heads would be harvested and used for transplants. The first paintings were as follows.
An image of a stunted tree and a flower head. The tree is 'natural' and wild and has grown over many years. The tree is yet to be discovered but on one level exists. It is real in terms of my consciousness. The image taps into the ideas of virtual reality worlds, their validity compared to the concrete world. The tree itself is beautiful but at the same time repulsive.
'Drying Faces' and 'Espalier Tree with Nine Heads'
In these paintings, I am concerned with cultivation and production. Will we one day develop heads and faces to be traded in the pursuit of perfection? These paintings are a visceral response to the possibilities of pioneering genetic engineering.
I soon encountered the exciting possibilities thrown up by using trees as a fluid and flexible form on which to hang all sorts of comment on the human condition. I painted two headed trees which represented relationships, to which I could then add another head to suggest a threat or an infidelity. I found I could represent children and the tangle of complex lives. The device has endless possibilities.
In the same vein as the cultivation of body parts, the process of cultivation itself implies exploitation. One way the trees are exploited is for their sap or blood which is collected in a routine blood-letting procedure. Some of these blood-letting paintings echo images found in the Christian tradition. In the same way, I wanted to portray a sacred tree, which I named ‘The Votive Tree’. This tree is more reminiscent of a Hindu shrine, where significant offerings and images or prayers are attached to the tree. Memorial candles also adorn the tree. The human face is a conduit for deeper understanding of the intangible.
I hope my paintings can work on an emotional level which leaves more rational analysis behind. After many years endeavouring to paint accurately from life, I have concluded that the most profound comments on life are not capable of resolution with logic, philosophy and rational thought alone. The human condition is an emotional soup. These paintings celebrate the power of the image over words.
The joy of this project is that I can introduce an idea as a starting point, from a small drawing, perhaps, and then develop the idea in paint, letting colour reinforce a visceral response to the image. In this way, I bring together my recent interest in colour theory and my obsession with portraits. Some of the faces used are real people and others are imagined.
I recently met a Japanese mother with her young daughter, who hid from view behind her mother. I was able to portray this image using the tree forms and felt I had captured the essence of what I had witnessed better than a straightforward portrait from life.
The paintings can also be connected, with parts of the imagined landscape appearing in different paintings, to create a cogent and consistent visual language with which to develop meaning.
‘Future Perfect’ is now more of an umbrella term for these works. It taps into the way we strive for a better world yet progress is accompanied with great tragedy and there is no reason to believe that the future will be any different. ‘Future Perfect’ is therefore full of irony in its over-optimism. Utopia or distopia?
Mark Fielding 2011