Appearances and Faint Revelations - Thom Puckey at Annie Gentils Gallery, 03 February - 28 April 2019
Influenced early on by the Viennese Actionism movement, Puckey was intensely active as a performance artist in the middle and late 1970s with the performance art duo Reindeer Werk as well as solo; this trained him in the expressive possibilities of the body, in its relational abilities and in how to render these as a sculptural image. This early work, very much in the context of the then avant garde and punk semi-underground, can still be seen in the artwork he produces today and, especially, in his use of live models for his sculpture and photography. The anatomical detail in his marble sculptures, the sometimes aggressive poses featuring firearms of potential deadly effect, refer obliquely to classical sculpture, but the diverse contrasting languages of high and low culture disorientate as much as they they fascinate. Indeed the choice of a 'noble' material like Carrara marble is almost subversive with respect to the various connotations of Puckey's content.
Many long posing sessions are required to determine and establish the position of a figure and during these a great many photographs are taken, snapped from every angle and of every detail, to establish the bodily expression and to assist in the course of the making process. So it follows that the artist treats each model as a true performer in two senses: in that, with her body, she incarnates a living, unexpected form constituting an expressive possibility, and in that she is an actress playing a role, lending her face and body to an otherwise abstract idea. This is followed through in the black and white analog photos, where the model acts as a démonstratrice in complex long-exposure takes.
For this exhibition Puckey has produced three new sculptures, the largest of which, in Carrara marble, is both a summing-up of his fascination with the female body, aggressivity/vunerability, optics and photography, and at the same time a step into new territory. The references are as wide as they are many, and his deep interest in the work of Marcel Duchamp, Henri Bergson and WB Yeats is always hovering there, just below the surface.
In many senses Thom Puckey feels this exhibition to be a return to Antwerp, the city which saw not only many of his earlier performances, but, in the 1980s, his movement into a real sculptural practice.