Ongoing: Most of this year was taken up with ‘Odysseus’, a project started in Nov. 2009 which follows the events of Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ in a series of objects and images that will eventually become a museum installation and publication.
It was not Homer who introduced me to Odysseus but James Joyce, and I think it was because Joyce was more interested in the man than in his deeds that ‘Ulysses’ started to speak to me in my Stephen Dedalus years. It was also Joyce who taught me about layers of meaning in art; how the quotidian can play a role in the epic and how superficial events can have earth-shaking consequences. When I eventually came to read Homer I found something that could be an adventure story to a schoolboy, a set of case studies for a risk analyst, or a handbook for a man going through a mid-life crisis.
While in the past I have made several individual works based on Odyssean scenes, I have only recently considered taking on the whole epic. To do this I have started to use a format that I might call; ‘the museum as medium’ where a disparate collection of images and objects are brought together to construct an overall picture. Although painting on canvas is now the gold standard for collectors of ‘blue chip’ art, it was not always so; canvas was once the poor relation of the more prestigious paintings on wooden panels. Always interested in tinkering with the meanings and hierarchies of materials, I also find a series of connections with fabrics in ‘The Odyssey’.
Canvas can also be sailcloth, Nausicaa rescues Odysseus while doing her laundry, and apart from Penelope’s famous weaving and unraveling strategy, Circe and Calypso are weavers of great skill. So far I have used canvas like a tarpaulin, hemmed and fitted with eyelets. I have also taken linen aprons and undergarments and painted on them directly with thin acrylic, when these are ironed the colours ‘fix’ creating a robust flexible object.
Looking at the vernacular art of ‘Scrimshaw’ work – the engraving of bones and whale ivory by sailors in whaling fleets – I have started to apply this technique to contemporary domestic objects beginning with a toilet seat, which has the smoothness and some of the organic quality of the traditional substrates.