Text by Annie O’Donnell
The eight works of Rick Copsey’s solo exhibition, A Sublime Confluence, at Platform A Gallery in Middlesbrough, are all precisely 50.8 x 50.8cms. So far, so real. As recent extensions to his Paintscapes’ series, begun in 2010, the digital c-type prints mounted on aluminium appear, at first sight, to be black and white photographs of seascapes. Or are they black and white? Perhaps not. Lacking clear referents, are they even seascapes? We can see our faces reflected in their shiny surfaces and the gallery around us looms into sight within them.
The works are, in fact, hybrids, meeting in a confluence between painting and photography, between art history and the contemporary. Using the materiality of paint itself as their source, the Paintscapes disrupt processes from Copsey’s practice as a painter, and mirror his research into alternatives to Modernism’s treatment of the pictorial form as finite. This talk of the finite leads to thoughts of the Kantian ‘formless and shapeless sublime’ and to ideas of mapping the infinite and the terrible. The works may resemble romantic seascapes from history paintings, with paint becoming sky or sea, yet they are actually macro images of 3mm diameter sections of paint drying. Yes, paint drying. They are fictions about gesture, technique and the artist as genius, and as such, reform possibilities around image making and image meaning. Their scale is not that of much fine art photography however – they are not huge. As we stand in front of them, we could be looking out of, or into, a small, square window or screen at head height.
Copsey used to photograph tiny sections of paintings he was working on, but now the source ‘paintings’ exist purely for the photograph. He approaches photography, and its apparatus, as a painter however: as a voyager in new seductive territory. This exploration both questions and utilises the camera as a documenter of ‘truth’. While presenting one thing as a possible other, the process also homes in ‘autopsy-fashion’ to examine the volatile nature at micro-level of the objects that surround us. The gallery seems less real/more real/ hyperreal? This hyperreality, ‘a real without origin or reality’ (Baudrillard, Simulacra, 1981) is emphasised by the serial nature of the photographs, with their numbered titles, which appear as accumulations, a system of objects, ranked according to a subjective principle. As we compare the turbulent images to one another, we also compare them to the sublime real and to the sublime void. What is the image missing from the series that makes it seem alive? It is reflected back at us – it is ourselves.
Works are courtesy of the artist and Untitled Gallery, Manchester.
Annie O’Donnell is an artist based on Teesside.