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Alan Rankle

Riverfall and other works

Roger Woods

Art Line International, Winter 1993
 

IN The Goncourt Journals, Chardin is quoted as saying:

"But who told you one paints with colours? One uses colour, but one paints with feelings".
 


Study for New Year Paintng #3  1997
oil on canvas
20 x 30.5cm
 

All painters are aware of the mysterious judgements - one might say inner demands which determine, quite independently of any consideration of actual representation, the sense of 'rightness' of the painterly gesture as the work proceeds from moment to moment.

Alan Rankle's paintings engage in the dialectic between the means of art and the sensations before the subject in a particularly acute way. He seeks to suspend the painting at that balanced point just before the mark, in all its expressiveness, dissolves into the illusion of the image.
 


Study for New Year Paintng #12  1997
oil on canvas
20 x 30.5cm
 

Rankle's work falls, at first sight at least, into that modernist genre the abstract landscape, which appears after the first wave of abstract expressionism. Landscape has always demanded abstraction because its overwhelming complexity and scale necessitate generalisation, and this is as true of Ruisdael or Poussin as much as De Kooning. Rankle is fully aware of this, and exploits all the historical possibilities of the landscape tradition by entering into a complex dialogue with the representational codes of landscape art from several periods and cultures. He disrupts the unity of a single code in order to extend the possibilities of the genre, not in an ironic or mocking way, but affirmatively, to express continuity and development. Thus, in Memo from Turner or Landscape of the Fall II a 'naturalistic' tree is interrupted and surrounded by strongly gestural swathes of thick paint and dribbling glazes, not depictive of but 'like' a landscape, which yet give, paradoxically, the exact sensation of the golden twilight of the 'Picturesque' manner. In other works, calligraphic marks and areas of gold leaf refer to the language of Chinese painting. Rankle studied Chinese monochrome brush painting and the martial art T'ai Chi Ch'uan (the latter is an integral part of the former) after his 'Western' art education at Goldsmith's College. The practise of T'ai Chi, the discipline and contemplation, the harmonisation and balance of the energies of the body, prepare for the moment of enlightened response with brush in hand the 'right' mark or gesture, made by the body without the hesitation which might come from the intervention of the brain. One might note in this context the interest of the abstract expressionists in oriental art, particularly calligraphy, where what was originally pictographic takes on an independent life of its own as an expressive gesture.

Pierce identifies three kinds of sign: the Iconic, the Symbolic and the Indexical, Rankle would like to have all three in play. Any figurative work employs iconicity insofar as the configuration of marks forms a visual equivalent or likeness to the objects represented. Symbolic signs are usually iconic as well, and refer to the conventional or allegorical meaning of images, but could, in Rankle's work, be equivalent to historical styles or conventions, in that they refer to the cultural and historical developments of a particular period in the history of art. The most elusive kind of sign is the indexical, in that it is metonymic, the trace or imprint of the object. At the most simple level, this could be a footprint as a sign of the human presence, but beyond this perhaps lies the possibility of finding some metaphorical equivalent for the language of 'feelings' inscribed in the painters' work.
 


Sometime in the 19th Century
(Dog by Fronth)  2002
oil on canvas
20.5 x 30.5cm
 

In psychoanalytic terms, the ego is originally a bodily ego, formed from the id, itself a borderline concept, marking the point where the experience of the body achieves representation in the mind in the form of desire. Signs used for thinking about the creative process, which result in the symbol for feeling which is art, are derived, variously, from the stages of interest in different aspects of somatic experience. The inner life can only be made knowable in terms of the outer life, which is the life of the body expressed in terms of a sensuous medium and language, with all its complexities of tensions and releases, balances and spatiality. These signs in art, show in their formal patterning, similar qualities and themes. Though no language can encompass the unconscious determinants of the painter's response whilst working one might use the bodily analogy to intuit the character of the painterly gesture: its speed, direction, scale, pressure, tenderness or aggression, the texture of paint, fluid, dry, crumbly, enamelled or translucent. Nor is this just a matter of character. Francis Bacon said:

"Real imagination is technical imagination. It is the search for the technique to trap the object at a given moment. Then the technique and the object become inseparable. Art lies in the continuous struggle to come near to the sensory side of objects".

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