Saturday, February 12 I went down to San Diego to see new work from one of my favorite artists and friend, surrealist David Gough. He was showing two new paintings and three new sketches at Mosaic Gallery’s Drawing in Love group show.
Besides the breathtaking nature of the images and the superb technique displayed, David’s work speaks to me because it challenges the viewer to make sense of the images, and then rewards the viewer with epiphany that connects to his or her own experiences. As shy as I am, his work facilitated several in-depth discussions about love, addiction and sex with complete strangers at the gallery.
Each artwork operates on countless levels. Shadow above, is one of David’s most powerful paintings to date. It blends elements of abstract and figural art. The two main figures on the canvas have fine details including hair, defined muscles and feathers. In contrast the background is abstract. It represents no particular setting. Yet it is dark and forbidding. The dark red streaks on the background suggest blood.
While most images portray one moment, frozen in time, Shadow blurs time. Both the abstract smear of colors connecting the figures of the woman and the raven, and the double sets of the woman’s faces and the raven’s feet suggest two positions at two different times.
What is the relationship between the two figures? Is the bird even real or is it representative of the woman’s psyche? According to Psychologist Dr. Carl Jung (1875-1961) the raven is a symbol of the shadow self, the darker aspects of the psyche. While Jung did not subscribe to Freud’s characterizations of a repressed ego and a wild, animalistic id, he did believe that humans possessed dark and light sides that needed to be reconciled in order for an individual to lead a balanced life. In Shadow we see a figure struggling with the dual aspects of herself. She turns away from the monster within and holds herself protectively.
I’m still pinching myself that the drawing above, Osmosis, belongs to me. Two androgynous figures, with bald, masculine skulls (adams apples?) strong hands, but feminine curves, cling to each other so desperately that they seem to devour each other. The effect of the flesh and the mashed tangle of arms is erotic and provocative. I’ve never seen anything like it.
At the gallery, my new friends Kelly, Lauren and the bartender had a lengthy debate about the nature of that level of passion in a relationship. Kelly had a boyfriend of five years. Lauren was married to a man she’d been with for ten years. The bartender and I were single so we were able to look at the drawing from different perspectives. We all agreed that the drawing suggested a rare ardor that is present with new love. But Lauren said that the fire comes back, sometimes unexpectedly and is even stronger because of everything a couple has shared. Couples can grow together into one entity. Kelly said that that type of passion has to fade away because it would make the individuals sick and unable to function. I agreed that the drawing portrays a sick, obsessive love that is akin to insanity. The bartender said that that obsessive abandon can be shared during a finite encounter with a stranger and then exist as a memory.
The picture can also be interpreted as a meditation on self-love. The individuals are almost mirror images of each other and blend into one figure.