Are Blytt,Grey I, 2011, oil on paper, framed
Erasure is as much the construction of a surface as it is the removal. The truth of this statement has never been made more apparent than in Robert Rauschenberg's Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953). It is one of few contemporary works that resonates with exacting authority and where material and concept are inextricably entwined. It was a moment that Rauschenberg referred to as 'poetry', and a moment that all other commentaries could only describe as gesture, protest, irreverence and vandalism. It marks time as material truth.
In turn, the work of Are Blytt does not strive for the immaterial but instead to articulate the material, and it chooses objects and design as its means. Set against the fast moving speed of the present Blytt's work revels in moments of pause and intermission, and in objects and articulations that are intimate, personal, close at hand and recurring. He is fanatical to sustained 'absorbing' activities of reading, listening to music and watching film, and to the design and origin of these creative abstracts. He is drawn to objects that can be picked up and handled, books, manuscripts and till receipts, and to objects that implicitly contain, carry or suppose narrative. He is further drawn to the peripheries and exteriors of these objects, to their covers, cases, and acted upon surfaces, and to the graphics, images and hastily scrawled notes that mark and mar them. These superfluous scribblings are disclosures of fleeting thought, calculations or reminders, symbols that disconnect from the world as the moment of their manufacture or reiteration passes, and which in their displacement simply become numeric and typographic abstractions.
It is these disconnected marks and articulations that Blytt replicated in earlier works such as 950 (2009) and 15/100 (2009), often enlarging their scale, and paying over-exacting attention to their transcription (as purposeful conceit) far beyond merit or worth. In these works Blytt presented a complete and partial encounter with an object, dramatising it through closely cropped frames that not only displaced its already displaced subject but further offset the structural frame of the works (as paintings) with iterations of time, speed and sequence that more readily draw inference from photography, cinema and film.
Film has played a central role in the latest body of work produced by Blytt, an ongoing series based on Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975), a film that charts the life journey of the fictional Barry Lyndon from a social position of little, that of broken Irish gentry, to something, that of English aristocracy, and back to little, that of destitute outcast. Blytt's attachment to Kubrick's film is both curious and revealing. Barry Lyndon is lesser known amongst Kubrick's films and appears on the surface markedly different from those that most readily define the director. Yet it defines Kubrick's principal of using natural light and contains like many of his films a moral code that is exposed through a linear circularity of life odyssey (in this case that of Barry Lyndon). Kubrick's film is also built on conceit and this plays to the advantage of Blytt. It is a film based on a novel, that of William Thackeray's The Luck of Barry Lyndon (1844), which itself was first and foremost not a novel but a serialised story written for magazine publication. Added to this Thackeray's text was written with contradictions and inaccuracies specifically designed to undermine (in the eyes of the reader) its central character, Barry Lyndon. In Thackeray's novel Barry Lyndon is for this purpose the (unreliable) narrator of his own story. As final twist and conceit Thackeray's novel (while fictional) is based on truth, on tales that circulated around the life of a known English-Irish rogue, Andrew Robinson Stoney (1747-1810), who like the character of Barry Lyndon married dubiously into the high social class of the Landed Gentry. Barry Lyndon is an abstraction prior to Blytt's intervention.
The Abstraction of Barry Lyndon (2011) is the first of a series of works by Blytt to draw reference from Kubrick's film and to test its truths and half-truths. It is a set of four small-scale works that chart the narrative cycle of the life of Barry Lyndon using the narrational text plates that appear at the beginning and the end of Kubrick's film. By marking these peripheral points Blytt constructs in shorthand, through speed, synopsis and abstract, a stand-in and substitutive narrative that describes in literal terms (without visual abstract) the story of Barry Lyndon.
In contrast to this shorthand speed there is a very real slowness and meticulousness of making that is manifestly present within Blytt's works. Such a mapping and invoking of objects draws curious parallel with the narrative of Funes, the protagonist of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges' story, Funes, His Memory (1954). Following an accident Ireneo Funes, a young and ill-educated Uruguayan boy, acquires the exacting ability to recall everything. His memory is faultless and unlimited, he retains every detail of every moment that passes, and as such there is no erasure to his memory only accumulation. Through this Funes finds himself inextricably linked to the present. Every moment proposes a new set of relations that by virtue of their difference require new language and new description. Within Borges' story time emerges as the mechanism through which objects take form, ' ...he [Funes] was disturbed by the fact that a dog at three-fourteen (seen in profile) should have the same name as the dog at three-fifteen (seen from the front). ' Blytt appears sensitive to the fragility that underlies Funes' condition, aware that what is seen or understood in one moment is different (except when considered as abstract) from what is seen and understood in another. Blytt therefore adopts positions of summary, of abstract, as structural forms of reduction that are themselves additive (enabling of narrative) rather than as they might logically appear (restrictive of it) through reduction and replication. Funes' only point of release is his attempt to slow his engagement with the world down, and by so doing limit the paralysing overload that his awareness and memory of everything causes him. Blytt likewise attempts to slow things down, but not as a way to be alleviated from the networks of the modern world and the images it contains, but as a way to fetishise abstraction and extract supposed truths from surrogate objects and latent memories.
Blytt's use of the title The Abstraction of Barry Lyndon is a playful paradox, descriptive and literal in two senses, both prior to and post his involvement. This literalness to wordplay is matched by the directness of Blytt's approach to the work. In the work Blytt isolates the text plates (titles) from Kubrick's film, printing these onto paper before transforming them back to the blankness of the original paper. The Abstraction of Barry Lyndon is a formal exercise but it is also a metaphorical one, replicating the cyclical but linear trajectory of the life of the protagonist in the returning palimpsest of the paper. But as Blytt's work implies the match is never perfect, the memory and the mapping can only function as approximations and partial accounts, and unlike Funes there is no perfect memory that renders logic and reason void, and 'blankness' blank. It is here that marks that appear as erasures, obliterations, obstructions or smudges, are instead more accurately depositories of material accumulated around, and parasitic to, articulations of concrete surface, image and object. Here time becomes the determinate of form, and as such the material depositories of Blytt's action marks the constant flicker and changing aspect of that which is observed and considered stable, like the variance of the dog that Funes watches. These are the slippages of image outwards and sideways from themselves, the scars and residues that are persistent, active and resident.
The Barry Lyndon works like much of Blytt's output are deceptively empty in their appearance. Blytt utilises pictorial emptiness not as an end in itself but as play to provoke, mask and destablise the structural conceits that he brings to the works through their manufacture. He contests the idea that the 'barely visible' instinctively informs the contemplation of nothingness, resisting transcendental theology by resolutely grounding his work in the material world, in objects and narratives, and more so in those of fictive, partial and flawed relation. By building conceit upon conceit and setting these against others, most readily those of erasure (as an amassing of material) and labour (as that of protracted manufacture), Blytt ensures that he constructs an unstable, unsettling and uncertain ground for the work. The works hover in contrivance offering only the barest of bones as narrative guidance. Through this Blytt entices a stretching of language that tests the linguistic and material properties of abstraction, proposing belief and alchemy of the kind where light cast through a prism splits into colour.
Added to this Blytt's works are largely moderate and intimate in size, they resist perceptual encounter, and remain instead reciprocal in scale to the objects from which they emerge. And even where Blytt's works tend toward unambiguous emptiness, as monochromatic articulations, in works such as Die Jahreszeiten/Abstraktionen des Henle Verlags (2010), they are not fully relinquished to Suprematist will, but instead are retained and held back (grounded to the world) if only by their titles. Die Jahreszeiten/Abstraktionen des Henle Verlags (2010) is a series of four canvases that colour match through saturated fabric the iconic branded grey-blue colour of the Henle classical musical scores. These are the most complete orchestrations of original musical text, and while as saturated or mechanised monochromes the works might suggest a refusal to paint, a refusal to break or mark the picture plane, they also affirm a fundamental truth of painting, that of surface and interface.
Blytt's newest works Skin (2011) extend from this and propose wordplay of a different order, matching linguistic duality with material doubling. These are canvases in which material linen (both dyed and bleached) is stretched in literalness and synthesis of both canvas and skin (as informed by their title). The dyed and bleached processes of the works manufacture compound its wordplay and conceit by drawing it into the colour range, visual appearance and surface opacity of light skin tone. Skin is a curious measure to preoccupy Blytt as it returns a different aspect and cogency of surface than that which has predominated his works to date, that of receipts, book covers and manuscripts. The precise musing of this latest synthesis of material is yet to be disclosed but it may not be so far removed from the bodily that it implies. From something romantic or deeply personal, as throughout his works Blytt retains a fundamental and strict attachment to the real world, to the objects that surround and captivate him, and to the people and things that he connects with, even when these are bound in memories, musical scores or abstracted lyrical affiliations.
This poetic leads Blytt's works in places to reach out and to breach the boundaries and physical borders that mark and retain them. The four fragments that make up The Abstraction of Barry Lyndon (2010) are for example presented not on the wall but instead propped on the floor. But what is the cloth trapped under the framed drawing if not an aspect or glimpse of the dematerialized canvas that the work is not (as drawing), and at the same time the scarf, the garter or personal keepsake passed between lovers (marking period and class within British and European society in the time of Barry Lyndon). Such keepsakes are reiterations and triggers (of time spent and words spoken), an embodiment of sentiment or abstracted thought (that of love), transformed into object. Blytt's works appear to reverse such transformation, extracting sentiment from objects and offering this as depository, a new type of mark and a new description. It is a watchful erasure that amasses in its connection to all things present and material.
Charles Danby 2011
Charles Danby, 2011