Ramon Kassam’s paintings exhibit a Neo-Expressionist temperament. This is not to suggest they are built on layers of testosterone-induced extinction bursts, or the maladjusted manhood phantasies of “honour, power, and the love of women” (Freud). At first sight, however, they do butt heads with the spectator by over-performing equal measures of butch and butchery. That is, until narrative suddenly takes shape to soften the blow of the crudely applied formalism, through a tactical relay between image and title in the seven paintings on display at Pallas Projects, Dublin.


Subtexts of self and place are explicitly portrayed in Kassam’s Eyeing drawings taped to a window with a great Limerick sky. You would expect any Neo-Expressionist worth his salt to paint himself spreadeagled in Y-fronts amid an urban safari decked out in naked iron girders and cavity cement blocks – the scars of economic speculation and accidental monuments to broken capitalism. What you get, however, is Kassam’s phallocentric head and shoulders scumbled-in with a deep Yves Kline blue, as the artist-oracle gazes beyond the stalemates of economy and politics, towards the future – a trope of Romanticism, from Casper David Friedrich to Ed Atkins. Pasted between Kassam and a hot Turnersesque sky are three blank A4 pages that overlap into an origami skyline. Everything is painted translucent, except for Kassam’s tightly shaven masculine skull and compressed shoulders – the only solids amidst the artist’s watery vision.


Premeditated or improvised? Couple arguing over a rotated landscape performs a playful dialectic between form and content. Presented as a diptych, on the left panel the arguing couple is suggested by a ménage à deux of roughly painted contours that fight over fore and background. To the right the rotated landscape exhibits the rough-and-ready application of a dreamt up Géricault. The argument is not contained, however, as the suggestion of a shoulder edges into the landscape. On the whole the artwork conveys the argy-bargy of being caught in a turnstile in the rush to catch the last train.


Inserted tape posing as a nude is another constellation of half-committed forms, in which a leggy studio table is placed dead centre on a canary yellow floor, with a length of tape reclining on top like a work-in-progress möbius strip. While Discarded paintings is a portrait of the artist’s frustration and its eventual aftermath, wherein wrinkled skins of paint have been mashed into a patch of grass that is nestled beside a plaza of raw canvas with ecological residues: pastoral it is not.


Two paintings standout at Pallas Projects as the shy couple in a schoolyard of bullies. With the controlled direction of a daydream, Incomplete plein air painting in the dark suggests the merest glimpse of a stretchered canvas within a sharp polygon of shadow, that is shoehorned into a diaphanous pink backdrop. Embedded paper tells me you’re awake is a ‘Josef Albers’ rattled out of symmetry. An awkward composition of rectangles creates a Gestalt effect, registering first as a nighttime scene populated by a high-rise building with two postage stamp windows filled with light; then, two peeled eyes peering from an oxblood duvet; one vision sleepy, the next creepy.


Sharing the title of the exhibition, but more fitting as an epilogue, Portrait Cuts Itself Out On The Floor is the only painting that veers away from Neo-Expressionist tendencies, wherein a Cubist interplay of forms is delivered with postmodernist irony. With the imprecision of a self-surgery, fillets of canvas have been cut and pasted to form a clumsy portrait against a cater-cornered linoleum floor: humanity is displayed with the inhumanity of a marionette.


Some say you shouldn’t shit where you eat. The critical consensus regarding the Neo-Expressionists was they habitually shat where they ate, and repeatedly exhibited the resulting ‘lipstick collar’ as a theatrically staged confessional. The dumb opera of Neo-Expressionism heralded the end of modernity’s will-to-progress and the beginnings of postmodernity’s mishmash of the present with an ‘anything goes’ plundering of the past. More community theatre than high opera, Ramon Kassam’s paintings are not just formalist salutes to a generation of artists who wet the bed and stretchered it, but good paintings with great lyrics.


See more of Ramon Kassam’s paintings here

OCTOBER_2013_


Painting with Lyrics

Ramon Kassam
‘Portrait Cuts Itself Out On The Floor’

Pallas Projects, Dublin
26 – 30 June, 2013.

Ramon Kassam, Couple argue over rotated landscape

Acrylic on canvas, 106 x 71cm, 2013; image: ramonkassam.com/

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