|Paul Emmanuel - Cefn Coed Isaf - Photo: Paul Emmanuel|
The new show at Oriel Myrddin Gallery, Paul Emmanuel - Fleece painting opened last Friday evening. Paul was with us to hang the show and it has been a pleasure to talk with him and watch the show unfold in the gallery space.
All the works are made using raw sheep fleeces gathered locally to the artist's home and studio in the Brecon Beacons. Each piece is treated with a process involving oil paints and other media along with human hairstyling products and techniques, and then named after the farm from which it was sourced. The catalogue essay for the show has been written by Karen MacKinnon, Exhibitions Officer at The Glynn Vivian Gallery in Swansea who has watched the working process of the series develop.
Although I had seen some of the fleece works in the flesh as part of Oriel Mostyn's post refurbishment show, We have the mirrors, we have the plans... , I had mostly encountered them through photographs and had developed a particular expectation of the finished pieces which was very much confounded by the actual objects. I have been working on publicity with the lead image for the show Cefn Coed Isaf, a particularly powerful image. There are overtones of blood, violence, sex in this piece that are not necessarily typical. I was surprised that generally, I found the work light and funny alongside its many other conceptual layers.
Perhaps the first interpretation of this body of work addresses Emmanuel's role as an artist in a farming community, and specifically in Wales with its ever-present sheep farming stereotypes and jokes. Beyond that and an initial association with landscape and place there are complex issues at play. An investigation around 'nature versus culture', where do these two states and their particular languages meet, where do they cross over? Personally, I am reminded again of the philosopher John Gray's book, Straw Dogs: On humans and other animals. In a post-Darwinian age of evolutionary theories and genetic mapping, what distinguishes human and animal? What claim can human beings have to a unique position in the world?
Emmanuel's past work has questioned the idea of the 'painter' and the business of painting and that is also an important element in the work, he is playing with the boundaries of the discipline. The identifying dyes and markings which farmers apply to the fleece are still visible in some of the pieces and that is also part on the conversation. Bringing these works out from the studio, away from their natural environment and into a white space gallery demands another layer of conceptual interpretation, Paul mentioned that even the journey to bring the pieces into the gallery had been part of his ongoing dialogue with the work.
With its references to the human body and allusions to pubic hair there is an unsettling psychological aspect to the work, it challenges ideas about our sexuality and the overlays of romance and refinement we bring to it.
I'm looking forward to having the works in the gallery for the next six weeks and continuing to think about what they might mean and how they effect me.
The show continues until 26 February.