Duncan Wylie, Contemporary Metaphysical Painter, Philip Hautmann

Crossroads, 2011, oil on canvas, 157 x 202cm













Duncan Wylie, Contemporary Metaphysical Painter

With reference to Schopenhauer Nietzsche calls art „the highest task and the true metaphysical activity of this life“. – Metaphysics aims at discovering the true, comprehensive design of reality. The true, comprehensive design of reality is not given to us, only to a hypothetical omniscient being (and I doubt whether such a being can ever exist). The metaphysicist or ultimate truth-seeker – the true scientist, the true philosopher, the true artist, and the true saint ( = the ethical genius) – aims at breaking open another window, or to remove another brick in the wall, in order to establish a potent view, a fresh perspective on the fabric of reality and its (so-called) mysteries. The scientist, the philosopher, the artist, the saint, are avatars of the truth-seeker, and the higher the personal truth of the metaphysicist the more she will encircle all those aspects, respectively embrace them, establish familiarity with them; in her endeavours to establish a new, potent perspective upon reality, therein trying to imitate omnipotence, and omniscience.

Nevertheless the arts do not seem to be in a very good shape today. True metaphysical effort does not seem to actually be around; no omnipotence, no omniscience. We might attribute this to „the postmodern condition“, (playful) rejection of universalism, respectively the insight that the global perspective cannot effectively catch or pay tribute to the many perspectives that have legitimately been established or found their own voice in postmodern, post-colonial society from the 1970s onwards, in addition to the differentiation of art and the medias with which the expression of art became an increasing possibility, going hand in hand however with the notion that the display of true innovative power has become less and less possible in an age where, concerning modern art, all seems to already been said and done, only footnotes could be added or the perspectives upon modernity could be changed/challenged, multiplied or subverted – yet not revolutionized…

Indeed, the true metapysicist, who – in order to put it simple and in convenient terms – aims at revolution and establishing a revolutionary perspective upon the totality of reality, at first experiences herself to live in an ungrateful epoch, a non-epochal age nowadays. The non-epochal age does not seem to reveal comprehensive or ultimate truth, neither about itself nor about history in general. The grasp on „totality“, including the possibilities of establishing such a grasp, seems to be gone. Hence the depression of the true metapysicist in the postmodern age. 

However, after a while the true metaphysicist will realise that she will find truth and the possibilities of establishing views upon totality in every thing, notably in local aspects, in the unglamorous, in non-places. Apart from that, and foremost, metaphysical activity means exposing the essence of a thing, to reveal something about its inner core. The inner core might well be ambiguous, reveals itself to be embedded in a semi-darkness respectively extends into a seam which vanishes into, or amalgamates with, the „infinite“, or with the „primal ground“ – signifying the flexibility of meaning, of the multiple aspects of reality, and of any real thing. The signature of the truly metaphysical artwork is that you immediately realise someone has revealed, and is permanently revealing, the inner essence of a thing. In the case of some metaphysicists that may strike as that something, respectively the whole structure, seems to permanently emerge, to step out of itself. It fluctuates, it may even explode, it seems to process itself, it seems to live. The essence of something seemingly gets chased through its form, permanently, it seems to run over. It seems in the perception of the metaphysicist the inside of a thing is permanently turned out, and to permanently emerge out of this constellation, due to its own inner intensity.

Things of that order, of that kind, of that magnitude usually aren´t around in today´s art world. Therefore I was delighted to get acquainted to Duncan Wylie a while ago when he got featured in the Drome art magazine. When you look at his paintings it immediately arises that there is someone who actually has enhanced and refined painting, and the possibilities of painting – and that he obviously has established a deep perspective upon reality, respectively a perspective upon the deep structure of reality, from which new possibilities of painting – the deep structure of painting – arise. 

(What is the deep structure of reality? All aspects of that what is given, of what is actualised as well as the projections of the virtual. What is the deep structure of art, of writing, of science, philosophy, of any human effort to grasp reality? The Experimentierfeld, the field of experimentation of its own possibilities. That is the deep structure of painting.)

What you seem to look at and gaze into when you get exposed to Duncan Wylie´s paintings is – the multiverse, the multi-layeredness of reality. They give impression of the density of the world, of the richness of the world. In the works of the art genius a typical signature is that behind the „given“ world, as presented via the object that is portrayed, a second, a hidden and a subtle world seems to emerge, where enigmatic though profound meanings seem to be located, including the possibility that they are only illusory, deceptive, unimportant, a wrong path, or a kind of Bedeutungsrest, leftovers of meaning in a twilight zone… When both of these worlds are given, presented, illustrated, you have, so to say, the totality of reality. You have an indication of the thing and the thing in itself. You have metaphysics. That is how it has always been in great art, in great painting. In an age like ours, via the seemingly infinite layers that you have in the works of Duncan Wylie you have the metaphysical painting of our post-postmodern age.

Duncan Wylie, a nomad and a white deviant from Zimbabwe who has been living in a number of countries, has his eccentricity somehow rooted in his origins and in his biography. His early paintings through which he has developed his peculiar style are revolving around the traumatic experience of the danger of having his house destroyed, his home, his shelter, by the government. His early works indicate violence and destruction and especially in the mechanical, semi-anonymous way the acts of destruction are undertaken, they seem to expose the direness of reality, respectively that at the core of reality there is no shelter, no possibility of a refuge, that the core of reality is not meaningful architecture but a meaningless ruin, exposed in a scenery where there is no actual communion, no participation, no commiseration. But what also is indicated seems to be that violence, destruction and the ruins do not have the final say. The scenery isn´t empty. The density of reality announces itself.  – Duncan Wylie, at that time, was interested in capturing the moment, via the expression of impact. His paintings seem to indicate that while the impact within the moment originates from the past, the future is already/virtually there as well. The past is closure, the future is openness. The moment is transition as well as totality. In order to understand the world you have to understand the past as well as the future as well as the moment. Embrace the moment and you embrace the universe. In Duncan Wylie´s paintings you see the the plethora of the moment. (And maybe, Duncan Wylie indicates, what you may sense in this approach to painting is that you must destroy your old identity and way of making an image/painting (which was the symbol of the house), while making a new one at the same time. Again, you have a kind of density of the moment, as containing and enabling transition.)

Duncan Wylie says: „My paintings are composed of many opposing forces, and must be understood from a very paradoxical viewpoint. The inherent contradictive nature, on all levels: real/abstract, local/global, individual/universal, emptiness/fullness, city/ nature, instantaneous/perpetual, order/chaos, mental/physical, create for me a fertile ground to explore the possibilities of paint. Thus I can say that these are not ruins or disasters, but constructions.“ And: „There’s always an interplay of contrast between the real and the abstract, and this involves overlaying as much as it does dovetailing.“ And yes, you can say you both seem to have the playfulness and the seriousness of the world, the ephemeral and the sublime in his paintings – indicating that both are different avatars of the same quality. Is it actually the Tao, respectively the immediate emanations of the Tao, respectively the fluctuating interchange of the material world and the Tao, that is presented to us in his paintings? In my humble opinion I am inclined to say yes. In this respect, Duncan Wylie´s world, both seemingly exploding as well as imploding, stabilises itself into and onto itself, via its own inherent competence.

Duncan Wylie´s paintings reveal the metaphysical design of objective reality, the glamour/clamour of being. The purpose of art is to reveal the metaphysical design of reality. – One can, however, say, that the highest point of art is when not the true metaphysical design of objective reality is displayed, but of subjective reality, i.e. the embeddedness of man in objective reality. Duncan Wylie´s paintings display, in their majority, an inanimated scenery (inanimated by man, though the scenery is full of vibrant life itself). If anything, humans are kind of semi-covered by and within the multiple layers of objective reality, they do not seem to be able to transgress material reality, rather they seem to be spilled by and submerged to it. Yet more recently as a prominent figure in Duncan Wylie´s paintings emerges a tightrope walker. The tightrope walker cautiously, yet with increasing competence, seems to walk the thin line between cosmos and chaos. The thin line between cosmos and chaos is where true art happens, and all constructive human endeavour. It is where the actual human condition is situated, and the creative process itself.

What will become of the cautious tightrope walker? Duncan Wylie´s art is an art of that kind that will come up with new solutions/revelations to those questions situated at the core of the human question also in the future (I guess). And maybe we can say that the ethics that derives from his art is the call for a flexible adaption to circumstances. And somehow within the physical and the metaphysical insecurity, the rootlessness, the Unbehaustheit of man the possibility of concealment seems to indicate itself and be guaranteed via the density and playful stability of the world, seen through the mind of Duncan Wylie. That may account for the religious aspects of Duncan Wylie´s art.


Philip Hautmann