Duncan Wylie by Frances Marks for Gallery Magazine

Gallery Magazine, the art magazine from Gallery Delta, Zimbabwe


Text by Frances Marks on a solo exhibition,  Rupture at Gallery Delta, in parallel with Psychosis by Marc Standing.


Duncan Wylie is also concerned with perceptual perplexities, and has been since graduating from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, but he has adopted a very different standpoint.  His paintings depend much more on theory and the intellect than on the machinations of memory and emotional recognisance that dominate Standing’s oeuvre.  This is of little significance to the passive viewer whose enjoyment of any work is purely formal, but for those who engage more closely with a work of art the effect is quite striking.  Contrary to first impressions, Wylie comes off as the more private painter of the two in that the viewer is more closed off from his paintings, even in the case of Africa Unity Square 2, which offers an observable narrative element that is close to us all.

In terms of narrative, Wylie reworks the established and highly classical tradition of episodic history painting, with its dramatic action and story revealed, in book-like fashion, across the canvas from left to right.  By purposely omitting one of the sequential moments Wylie does not so much tell us a story as alert us to the nature of the time and space in which it takes place.  They key narrative element is rendered invisible and resides in this, his self-styled ‘rupture’.

This manipulation of time is most readily appreciated in Seated 1 and Seated 2, where its passage is clearly demarcated by the ‘splitting’ of the canvas into two distinct but contiguous areas.  In both, our attention is drawn to reconstructing the movements of the observed and the observer, mentally recreating the ‘b’ necessary to join ‘a’ and ‘c’ together. Readily admitting to an interest in Cubism, Photo-Cubism in particular, Wylie has found a simple solution to the problem of admitting a fourth dimension into the canvas.

The scale of these focal lapses and omissions is intensified in ‘’150 x 170’’ (stop and) which for me brings home the dislocated worlds of the daydreamer, the overly-preoccupied and the short-term amnesiac.  ‘Before’ and ‘after’ are themselves interchangeable and thus ‘during’ assumes a dual character.  This canvas is more than a matter of spotting and establishing the temporal differences;  it also plays with our psychology of perception.  By rotating the imagery through 90 degrees in relation to the well-known subject it depicts, we are made acutely aware of the picture plane and the spatial relationship of inanimate objects to it.

Africa Unity Square 1 amplifies and further complicates this issue of ‘before’, ‘during’ and ‘after’.  None of its four panels, each in delicious ‘WineGum’ colours, have any static element in common.  Though each of the ‘players’ has a role in all four, not one of their gestures, positions, or situations remains unchanged.  Our innate visual tendency to organise and rationalise is almost confounded, time - the binding compositional element - having been so cannily distorted.

Which brings me back to Africa Unity Square 2 and the consequences of an intellectual appreciation of its content.  One of the questions it poses is:  whose passage of time is being marked - hers or ours?  Or, put more simply: who is moving - she or we?  In this area Wylie pays his own particular homage to Suprematism, an early twentieth century Russian approach to art, characterised by the use of geometrical shapes and a narrow range of colours, that was determined to offer the viewer a different but equally valid view of reality.  Though the forms Wylie uses have little in common with Malevich’s elementary prototypes, his concept and manner of abstraction - the removal of the familiar from the known environment - do meet with the finicky suprematist argument about the artist as creator not imitator.

Time, space and the connections with the architectural form are as important to Wylie as are connections with the figure.  In many ways, the building offers him more room for manoeuvre, as its inherent static quality can perhaps be more readily subjected to an exercise in the ‘misorganisation’ of space.  In ‘’110 x 150’’ (2nd State) and, to a greater extent, in ‘’172 x 150’’ (1st State), Wylie first establishes a level of ambiguity as to the precise position of the picture plane by repeating the same motif twice over and literally altering its perspective.  He then plays with the depth of field by pulling the ‘wrong’ areas into focus.  Only the skies are seen as if from a fixed spatial point, finalising the impossibility of such a view but only if the composition is considered as representative of a single glance.  The overall effect is one of entertaining upset.

Wylie’s architectural and figurative compositions are more than just natty perspectival rearrangements;  he uses them to quietly draw our attention to the importance of the negative in art. His use of negative space and negative time, or their absences, serves to subvert our vision.

It is in this area - the consideration of that which is not shown - that Wylie and Standing seem to be at their closest in this exhibition.  Standing’s desolate rooms and stark backgrounds are no less lacking in content that are Wylie’s ethereal elements.  For both of them, ‘empty’ is in fact ‘full’.


Francis Marks