Rankle & Reynolds
Works on paper
Available Works

Running from the House

Sarah Lloyd

Running from the House
Hans Alf Gallery Copenhagen, Denmark
6th Aug - 29th Aug 2009

Sitting at Alan Rankle’s studio table, overlooking the evening vista of the English Channel, we embark on an enormous conversation about drawing and gesture in contemporary painting, discussing issues of depth and surface, consciousness and context, and the significance of gesture as an expression of living creative thought in his own paintings. This conversation proves to hold some fascinating very personal insights into Rankle’s relationship to landscape, it’s meaning and the diverse lineages of painting.


We begin with the topic of painterly virtuosity, how depth and space are organised, imagined, created, revealing an underlying issue he has with art that is visually ‘spectacular’ but empty of depth. He objects to an existential and representational shallowness in some contemporary art practice, finding it complicit in framing human life as inevitably vacuous and banal. Rankle sees gesture in painting as necessarily multilayered. Meaning has to be found, not represented, and this calls for a deep emotional engagement with diverse evolving fields of significance.


‘Painting is unique in the sense that the intent of the mind comes directly through the gesture of the hand. In great paintings there is a totality of experience that transcends genre.’


This unfolds into a reflection on the contingent power politics of elites, the use of surface narratives that veil rather than reveal, that downplay violence, exploitation, inequality, cultural and ecological erasure to represent a ‘fixed image’ often of their own glory, power and significance. These surface narratives for Rankle give a socially acceptable veneer to manipulative instrumental exchange within an economy founded ethically on possession. They reiterate an ongoing deferral to a socially-constructed ‘Symbolic’ that is innately driven towards phallic dominance. Rankle’s work resonates more with contemporary ways of seeing that frame meaning as located amongst complex temporal and spatial relationships, within a matrix of centralised and asymmetric political, economic and technological power flows, beyond the rhetoric and cerebral cuts of ‘pure’ and spectacular authoritarian definitions. There is a world of difference between a boundary externally enforced and a limit internally understood. This is the territory that the paintings guide us towards. Rankle wants to affirm and highlight the need to resist shallow hierarchical methods of thinking, he urges us to search beneath fixed-image veneers and exchanges of manipulative outer representations, and go deeper to find a genuine responsive encounter with complex urgent issues of our globally degrading environments.


Rankle’s work reflects the fruits of this dynamic, passionate whole-body encounter with the values of the deep feminine. It affirms embodied meaning as found by traversing geographic, religious, philosophical and historical contexts receptively, and recognising them. He affirms the need to be attentive in moments of pain, pleasure, resonant suffering, memory, imagination, and especially in vivid confrontations with Nature. For him, these elements provide the mix and context for perceiving, framing and interacting with significance at the level that contemporary embodied complexity requires. This integration of lived and living experience, away from narratives loaded with exploitative political strategy and marketing ploys, holds the key for humane social, environmental and political transformation. His latest body of works including Fellini Positano, Endgame: Queen Fucks Knight, and Unfurl refer to this complex terrain of signification. To create painting mimetically within a context already defined and embedded symbolically, would avoid the key topos of creativity. How this emotionally charged moving energy, technically defined in psychoanalytic theory as ‘affect’, is evoked and layered into creative communicatory gesture is the real issue in painting for Rankle. Significance is more than highlighting gaps and clever mechanisms of deferral within pre-existent hierarchical structures of symbolic signs and inserting clever or ironic commentaries. Art can do more than this. These paintings do not allude to witty, spiritually arid theories of deconstructed appropriation for the postmodern intellectual connoisseur. Rankle’s challenge and invitation to the viewer goes deeper, he wants more from us, more emotional engagement, more consciousness, more aliveness, an altogether more passionate, generous humane and grounded political awareness. Rankle wants us to engage receptively and directly with meaning and gesture. For him the language of desire is not conceptual.


He describes the painting Fellini Positano as:

‘Reaching towards a new topography of feeling. Visiting Positano, a popular tourist place that is so completely, achingly beautiful, it reminded me of Fellini’s films, I wanted to try to create a topographical drawing of the experience of this place. I had left the photographs and drawings of Positano in England whilst I was working in Copenhagen, so I had to work from memory, and actually it was astonishing how accurate the end result was, but this process of working opened out a fresh creative space for me, the issue becoming to locate the tone-feeling of meaning within the landscape, not describe only the constructed surfaces.’


So, whilst Rankle’s paintings are about the language of landscape art, they are simultaneously engaged with other deeper aspects of language, the semiotics of feeling, memory and power. He tells a story about Marina Abramovic to conjure the terrain he’s alluding to. In her exhibition Balkan Baroque at the Venice Biennale in 1997, she dressed in the traditional folk costume of local Bosnian women, sat in a room with a bowl of water and an enormous pile of bloody meat bones. Throughout the exhibition she painstakingly cleaned all the bones back to white, leaving the cleaned bones in another enormous pile. Who could say what she meant by this action exactly, but certainly the feelings and memories evoked by her activity could only trigger deep reflection in those who saw her do this. Rankle tells a similarly evocative story about his own relationship with landscape. He describes how he would walk out on the Yorkshire moors alone at three in the morning and be terrified and constantly asking himself what is this about, why is this so compelling, what is going on for me here? He realised in a stream of consciousness moment that he was resonating with dissolution, the dissolution of contemporary belief systems that somehow is bringing forth a running river of anxiety, terror, threat, fear, destruction; that the landscape, the animals and human beings are all equally vulnerable to dominating faceless power; that it was somehow about recognising and being receptive to this, and that he was feeling and thinking all this whilst dwelling on a ball of vulnerable matter spinning in space. He says recent paintings refer even more directly to these kinds of deep associative recognitions.


‘You see a stag in the forest and in an instant it’s gone, it’s a disappearing thing, like a phantom, a ghost image, or the moment when, as Lou Reed put it, “Something flickered for an instant, and then vanished and was gone”. These paintings are also about how images combine in the mind. I might be staring at the sea, but thinking about my Mother. The physicality of paint embodies these ideas, painting can become an emblem of thought and memory as figurative elements disappear and reappear until they hold meaning. It’s one thing if the stag is running from a hunter, or a forest-fire or a loud noise, but now when Nature itself is on the run, this is fear of another order, the stag is running, but the air and trees and snow are also running too.’

    So in homage to Abramovic’s piece Cleaning the House, he called the painting Running from the House.

Rankle’s paintings have a prescient capacity to conjure active insight from gestural and existential complexity, to immerse the viewer in a creative crucible of chaos. They implore struggle and ask for deep integrity and vital discrimination in our reading of significance. They are a challenge for the very logical. They frame and contain deep questions about how power is embedded and embodied amongst the rhetoric and mirrors of surface perception and conceptual masquerade. Rankle is like the Zen teacher who breaks up the mundane fixedness of apparently rational possessive knowing and makes you aware suddenly of the vast expanses of ‘not-knowing’, and all the magnificence of being genuinely present, genuinely engaged with life, not only through consuming eyes or greedy fantasy, but with soul, heart and empathic body-mind. Rational process is so absolutely destructive when it takes no account of living reality, the desire to order becomes a brutalising totality. Seeking to render a ‘totality of experience’ into a series of gestures is the context for totality in Rankle’s thinking, not the foreclosure of experience into the disembodied fixed logic of rational, statistical or theological representation. The paintings are entered emotionally by engagement with complex interdependent issues, those of view and surface, space and location, depth and illusion, erasure and memory, containment and boundaries, and then suddenly a rejection of all concepts. Gesture sweeps all the meanings aside and leaves naked presence.


The paintings then, emanate and emote contextual and affective signifiers, consequently speaking directly to many contemporary political, social and psychoanalytic debates. The fragmented gaze, the marginalised body, the sovereign-appropriation of rights, lands and territories, the ethics of the specular construct, the socially-constructed hierarchies of cosmopolitan society, the illusory projected outer image that screens and censors inner emotional and ecological degradation. Rankle’s works highlight these issues of context specific seeing, privileged objectivity, elite possession, corporate sponsored vision. Who has the right, the power, to possess a sublime vista, to obliterate an ancient valley, to erase an embedded community, a history, a culture? Who decides the just context for the use of power, who frames the significance and worth of space, identity, land and for what reasoned purpose, profit and motivation?


These are paintings as much about seeing through the embedded sovereign myths of reality-construction, the parasitic economy of image manipulation, as they are elegiac moments of sublime gazing on the natural world. Confronted with the gestural construct of an elegiac moment, always potential and not quite manifest, hovering just out of reach, we encounter longing, nostalgia, fear, greed, appropriation, as embedded states of culture and being in relation to the landscape. In some recent paintings, airraid- like gestures in this reflective reverie, suddenly rip everything apart, powerful violent red and white gestures scour, lash, gouge the picture plane, there is corrosive blasphemy in Arcadia. And blasphemy is relevant here somehow. The nostalgic, displaced authoritarian mind, in the longing for it’s ideal, misses the value and potential of the embodied now. The notion of ‘word made flesh’, proceeds without respect for in-dwelling, corporeality, missing the value of matter itself, of flesh, sensation, warm relational connection, all this is sacrificed to the logos of power. The Earth abides unseen when we do this, Rankle tells us. His profound method is to communicate directly from within the field of mobile relational signifiers. The paintings are passionate responses to Western civilisation’s dirty secret, the burgeoning effects of it’s co-dependence with arbitrary hierarchical constructs, virtual economic and elite enclave values, instrumental disembodied indifference. The paintings are a wail of living distress in response to this, an insight into catastrophic narcissism, a contour map of corrupted passions and hard body power struggles. They are the insights of recognition after damage done, after it’s too late to go back to how it was. Rankle offers vivid glimpses into the contexts and rhythms of manipulated meaning and power, the life-worlds in which this maelstrom of strategic representation plays out. He speaks from that empathic resonance with vital living matter that it’s possible to feel in a wilderness or a forest, those sublime grounded moments of exquisite soulful tenderness that can be felt towards a simple leaf caught momentarily in an ecstatic fall of light. For Rankle this is the terrain of shared ground, the affectively charged corporal domain of human life. Simultaneously he reminds with extreme gestures of the potent destructive unspeakable cruelty of arbitrarily imposed conceptual authority, the fragmented urges for power over every objectified thing, the censoring gaze and censored surface, all the elements of solipsistic Sovereign possession.


Rankle is addressing this erasure and marginalisation of the values of deep living complexity in Bargain Buddha at Chadderton Asda. The 17th century landscape elements are obliterated with greenish brush strokes, which seem to conjure up a world polluted by industrial slurry. Rankle’s ironic title clearly relates to the pointless manufacture and sale of plastic deities.


‘These absurd objects are used to imply reverence, and yet if the Buddha has any meaning today it’s about the human experience of the whole fabric of the universe.’


It is this recognition of the ‘whole fabric of the universe’ that Rankle wants to draw our attention towards. His work reminds us of the immanent explosions of uncontained egoistic violence in perversecontrolling objectifying desire schemas and of our ongoing monumental passivity in the face of these violent ethical and economic extremisms. We are confronted with our collective tolerance for indifference, towards Nature and corporality in phallic, fiscal, fundamentalist and transcendental visions. We are encouraged to brood on the ongoing abject stupidity of this ruthless imposition of abstract disembodied value-agendas on diverse shared interdependent living systems. For Rankle this notion of shared grounds and life-world systems needs to be negotiated from a long-term perspective of safe-guarding duration, continuity, intergenerational time, not from the shortterm vantage point of power-politics, cold legal rights and strategic maximisation of sovereign-state assets. This is where the problem of phallic-libidinal power and the relationship to the deep feminine become most apparent. Rankle’s work invites us to reflect upon difference and responseability from an embodied sense of self, not from the cold rhetoric of dominating power orders, be they political, economic, psycho-analytic or religious. This might be framed as a shift from historical, colonial, masculinist and imperial power that has it’s roots in the dominating, punitive conquest politics. We now need to find empowerment within co-operative global networks that is not imagined through this type of competitive drive, but which is generatively response-able, to the containment and continuity of human and ecological life. Rankle’s involvement with Tai Chi and appreciation of Chinese Buddhist philosophy has given him certain insights about this. In the notion of ‘Genesis’, there is a sense of creation being something that happened once, long ago, but in Taoism and Buddhism there is a notion of ‘Wu chi’, the formless out of which forms are continuously arising. ‘Wu chi’ is sometimes translated as ‘the void’ or ‘emptiness’, but this emptiness is not at all nothing, it is the great feminine, the energising matrix. In Rankle’s best works there is an apprehension of this deep ground of reality, completely surpassing all the narratives of surface, conquering glory and referring us back to deep potentials, not arbitrarily exploited capacities.


Rankle speaks about his admiration for Francis Bacon’s work and the Zen painters of the 17th century, artists who somehow make the invisible visible and reveal the mysterious pulsing rhythm and complexity beneath the surface of things. Rhythm is such a key element to gesture, if desire has a rhythm, the gesture reveals the quality of openness present in the movement of that desire. This is certainly not the desire that compels us to consume and compete, this is desire that reveres the formless, that refers back to the living mysterious ground beneath the imagesaturated economies of power and status in global materialism.


Two recent small paintings, Unfurl and Lost Horizon, speak directly about this metaphorical framing of deep existential space as feminine, the feminine as naked, vibrant responsive presence. We can veil it, but this too is an artifice if there is no genuine reverence for it’s integrity. The consequences of our disrespectful appropriation will still become visible, will still have an effect over time. Rankle seems in sympathy with some contemporary analyses that see a potentially distorted reading in the approach to transcendence and the feminine of the Abrahamic religions. In Christianity, the feminine, represented by woman, the corporal body and the Earth are to be constrained and possessed by the hero, for the glory of God the Father. In some Islamic accounts, the feminine is to be veiled, hidden and kept for pure private enjoyment, in the pure sovereign realm of the pure manifest Patriarch, thereby avoiding the issue of having to negotiate as an equal with a noncompliant worldly feminine energy. Rankle asks us to pay attention, read between the lines of these binary economies of transformatory and transcendental representation.


With regard to the evolution of the beautiful painting Lost Horizon, Rankle tells a story, from Greek mythology, of the hero’s return, his beloved waiting on the cliff top to see if the sails on the approaching fleet are black or white, white sails denoting his victory and survival, black his defeat and death. In the confusion and exhaustion, somehow the sails are forgotten and not hoisted to white, and she is confronted with an appalling approaching vista of black sails. Heart-broken she throws herself from the cliff-top to her death, just as her longawaited lover embarks to land. This is a seminal warning of the deceptive dangers inherent in relying on a fixed-image language-based power order, solely on the exchange of surface representations. Rankle would have us comprehend that there is nothing of lasting ethical substance in images and concepts of progress, victory, transcendental power and economic success that are founded on an omnipotent or secular brutalising of the feminine itself. He would have us admit to ourselves, that if we continue to frame meaning this way, there will come a time when, with no place left to peacefully dwell, we will all be running from the house.

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