Dermot Punnett: The Distance Between

By Blake Daniels Monday, September 16th, 2013 Categories: Features, Updates
 

Borders are anxious, yet their lines of differentiation still stand strong, demarcating history, geography and body. As digital networks allow greater access past some, they reinforce isolation in others, quantifying the lines of distance one often experiences from themselves and whatever they consider their source. This is at the heart of Dermot Punnett’s soft and vagrant paintings. One becomes lost within a dreamy landscape; our world exponentially removed from its origin, clinging to the matrixes of architectural marks. Punnett’s honesty is startling, his genuine inquisition endearing. His relationship to source, to the miry landscapes of past and memory are equally dislocated and errant – appearing through one of the oldest, and often most contentious mediums of art, painting.

iso-tropic,  40x50cm, oil on board

iso-tropic, 40x50cm, oil on board. All images courtesy of Dermot Punnett

Employing source images derived from both the trenches of the Internet and personal collections captured by himself and family, it is fair to inquire as to what purpose is served through his translation from pixel to paint. In an age where new media is waved as the avant-garde, Punnett turns instead to the pigmented muds of past to explore his own sense of self and location.

Punnett is on an homage; a trek not seeking a final destination, nor following a unilateral direction. His complex conception of self and location can be followed throughout the last 5 years of his work, developing much as a body and mind enthralled in both the splendors and troubles of lived experience.

In his earlier work (2007-08), the physical presence of body haunts the placid landscapes. Here cabins are engulfed in the fractures of Earth, the roots of gardens eschewed into spatial orbit while the woodlands run wild. The metaphor is stark; the comforts of home, the familiar and banal, are blurred under the terms of contemporary social constructs. These paintings divert between a lingering hope and lamentation as Punnett seeks to reclaim a notion of home, or dwelling, as it becomes swallowed in the fractures that lay within his source imagery. The foundations of location and belonging become unraveled by the very landscapes from which they were meant to be fixed within.

arawak, 70x100cm, oil on canvas

arawak, 70x100cm, oil on canvas

smoker

smoker, 70x100cm, oil on canvas

These haunting, ghosted memories fade into alien landscapes as the familiar dissolves into abstract sourced notions to be observed, marketed and traded across the now vast digital networks. What emerges out of Punnett’s early work is a manifestation of the conditions that haunt the subject of migration and communities of the diaspora in the twenty first century. Being born in St. Vincent, raised in Barbados and currently residing in the United Kingdom, Punnett himself is no stranger to ideas of movement, location and home. These tensions become extrapolated even further by the presence of digital media, recreating the myth of ‘home’ through vast image banks while congruently fixing complex identities into a single vernacular of digital commodity. Painting for Punnett becomes the source of potential and surprise, imbuing a sense of wonder once more into his voyage of self-inquiry. It finds a way to constantly restructure its own complex history; not for means of wry critique, but to serve as a foundation from which a wholly new un-fixed narrative may develop.

A shift occurs in Punnett’s following work (2009-11), seeking an enigma within the ageing structures of modernism, as apparent in his employment of abstraction within painting. Allowing the material to work unfettered from idealised images of home, his source material, often bereft and overly familiar photos of industrial wreckage and absent landscapes, now becomes hinterlands privileged by their sense of mystery and dislocation. Melanie Archer stated quite well in her essay ‘A Patterned Language’ that “You – the viewer – search for a while but find no meaning in the scene, so you move on to something more immediately accessible and stimulating. At this point, however, artist Dermot Punnett is still looking – mining the banal and imperfect for a sense of something unrealised.”[i] With the push and pull of the brush, the surface gives way into its true nature, paint, and not the illusionary image of which it recapitulates. Instead of reclaiming the source, the paintings become ardent in revealing a milieu of imaginative possibilities. It is the blunt nature of the medium, and its pull towards abstraction that Punnett evokes. Narrative relinquishes dominion over the work; they are ‘Our’ spaces, locations not to be colonised, but instead continuously unlocked through the eyes that unravel them.

This sense of infinite potential transpired into an acute interest in geometrical forms, with a close focus on those present within the world of Islam. They are the metaphysical building blocks, manifestations of internal structures that beget something greater than the form they represent. Home is not an apprehension of space, but a becoming of it; dwelling is not reclaimed, it is understood. Punnett’s homage is one of the mind, intimately mapping his psychology as another permeation of the physical source. As digital reproduction has flattened time and space, Punnett re-inflates it, reimagining ideas of self and location no longer tethered to their source. Idealistic, yet inspiring, the artist’s world sees landscapes and structures that can accommodate a sense of belonging and consciousness regardless of race, nationality, gender, class and language.

clamour, 70x100cm, oil on canvas

clamour, 70x100cm, oil on canvas

terra preta, 70x100cm, oil on canvas

terra preta, 70x100cm, oil on canvas

That is not to say that the work has fully realized a world ridden of social injustice, nor that such a goal was Punnett’s intent; but that in seeking self-inquiry, translated through the medium of paint, the artist has provided us access to ourselves. A reminder that even within the fixed structures of contemporary society one maintains agency, and a creative capacity to understand and draft their own sense of self.

Punnett is bringing this self-perceptive reality into full realization with his current body of work. Looking at sources ranging from network theory (ex. Automata Theory) to underwater sea vents, complex geometric matrixes and galactic nebulae; Dermot Punnett is truly weaving a system of image, metaphor and pattern that evoke a human spiritual lineage fettered around his personal imagination. The images of earth’s own history, from the building blocks of oceanic cells to the universe’s chemical composition, serve much as a visual binder of the links that exist between humanity, the physical and psychological world. The geometrical forms act as visual representations of these complex social webs, and these webs as the digital social networks that now serve to link, or disconnect us in this contemporary moment. It is in his tracings of paint that the energy of inception is collapsed into the ossuary, the fractured lineage of art history pulped into a single nebulous form, one which is composed of a malleable surface able to account for a narrative that has no derivative nor outcome. One that accounts for the distance between.

chrysopoiea. 51x61cm each, oil on canvas

chrysopoiea. 51x61cm each, oil on canvas

Dermot Punnett seeks to internalize his outward experiences. In this he accesses his inward perception, evoking the history of abstraction in painting to intimately personalize his sense of being while mapping and constructing a much greater network. This creates a deeper overall awareness than what is merely apparent on the surface, serving to provide a much more complex and accurate sense of self, location and home within the context of the diaspora and the migratory conditions of the twenty first century.

 


[i] Melanie Archer, “A Patterned Language” in, ARC Magazine ( St. Vincent & the Grenadines: ARC Magazine, Vol. 7, 2013) 8-15.

 

See more of Punnett’s work here.

Au. 51x61cm each, oil on canvas

Au. 51x61cm each, oil on canvas

harness. 51x61cm each, oil on canvas

harness. 51x61cm each, oil on canvas

skull, 34x42cm, oil on canvas

skull, 34x42cm, oil on canvas

 

Artist Statement:

Dermot’s work oscillates between painting as image and painting as a material process. He is concerned with the tension that exists between the illusion and the surface. Working from personal photography and found images, Punnett utilises the effects of reproduction and pixilation on a painterly aesthetic.

He starts by painting the image in a representational manner, then apply dragging techniques, pushing and pulling the paint and causing ruptures in the image. Within this he use geometrical abstractions, playing on a sense of entropy and order; the impermanence of form, but also the crystalline nature of its emergence. Through this process the artist tries to understand and internalise perception and experience, whilst reflecting on a sense of modern day anxiety.

Blake Daniels
Blake Daniels

Blake Daniels (b. 1990 Cincinnati, USA) is an American artist living and working in Savannah and Johannesburg. His paintings depict bodies and spaces that are constantly being altered, dislocated, and fragmented through the internalization of the socially built history they experience. Reconfiguring figure and ground relations on the painting surface, Daniels is able to account for the inherent hybridism that has arisen between representation and abstraction. This shift within Daniels paintings speaks to larger postcolonial conditions, contesting notions of pure race, gender, language and nationality. Daniels employs a number of historic painting process to reconfigure the history they document, inventing a wild and playful, yet astutely dark conception of his observed world.