Painter as a Rag Doll
     Imagine an artist, a man of feeling and seriousness of intent; involved in a search for consistency and rigor of form through his need for expression. He unwinds the filaments of his experience, of his imagination, of his knowledge and with these configures his work: which is simultaneously a weaving and the display of how the pattern has come into being. A statement is made, “this is where I am now, this is my present self, and this is what I do and the new ground from which I expect to move on”.

It is irrelevant whether the threads the artist uses are reeled out from imagination, culture, memory, or experience. The action is always similar, one of creating a manner of public display existing in a living present. Thus the artist acquires something of the very shapes and qualities he has sought to fashion. This kind of relationship between action and meaning is what we often look for as artists and know that our public expects from us, as do our merchants and collectors, a living “image”, which will change and develop, as any physiognomy is bound to do. Steve Afif, as have most of us, has worked in this way before as his two previous shows in this gallery bear witness.

Now, imagine that at a given time in life, the artist, this man, loses faith in what he is and has done, in what is expected from him, in this whole strange business which is the production of art: the expectations we put on ourselves as artists as well as those which we feel others have placed on us.
On a given day, out of boredom or frustration, sheer melancholy, as he sits on his couch, Sunday evening falling over the city, the newspapers scattered around, he begins, say, to look at his hand, at how it is aging or a new slight tremor he hadn’t noticed before. Or it might be his heart he examines and feels how different its beat feels and realizes that his heart has changed and aged and has been scarred too. With some surprise he observes that his own present form is unlike that which he thought to have fashioned and seems disconnected to the form-making he has been engaged in, disconnected from the way in which it should have shaped both his appearance and consciousness as a man.

Looking at himself he becomes aware of a strange textile feel of his senses, and realizes that the tightly knit patterns that have made up his body and mind, his very substance, are fraying away. The ends of the threads are starting to stick out in places: form is fraying. And then with certain fastidiousness he attempts to even out those unseemly edges and keep the pattern in place.
Except that as he pulls at a string here, another there, his whole being begins to unravel and becomes undone, other knots appear, other strings, colors. This is not the man he knew himself to be! Could it be that he is nothing but a rag doll made up of knots of strings and colored threads?

But despite this yanking disfiguration, this rag doll is an artist; his mind and sensibility are at work. As he unravels these threads, he pulls out recent events intertwined with past pleasures, personal memories tangled up with newspaper headlines, images of death and fear as he walks in the Summer sun, the urgency for work and the seduction of idleness. And he realizes that this is the only work for him to do: to record this confusion, which is all he is.
The paintings in this show are the records of a man’s unmaking. Images, landscapes, the loves, the deceptions and fears, the unfulfilled hopes and the intensity of bliss, the past that refuses to stay put are all wound up and form the man himself. This artist’s declaration is no longer, “this is where I am now”, but rather “this is what I am made of, this is what has fashioned me thus.”

In the last few years, as if following some strange compulsion, Afif worked obsessively on sculptures, which seemed puzzling and even outright distasteful to many. They were huge masses of uneven copper ribbons, soldered together, almost shapeless, as if under the effect of some collision or compression, by-passing the tools his art had relied on before: balance, elegance of line, suggestive content flickering between the erotic and the perverse. Those sculptures were an act of revulsion towards these ideals, a kind of savage attempt at finding his own heart, of pulling all of his experience and force into one undecipherable mass. And these new paintings spring from that undecipherable mass: the true portrait of a lived and palpitating life. They are like someone examining the marks which time has scarred on his soul, his sense of how he stands, alone, as a man.

It is not given to us to ever see ourselves with the clarity and detachment that a perceptive stranger could have of us. We rely on fragments of vision, overheard stories, personal and collective narratives, our changing loves and disaffections, a snapshot, a blood test. These paintings are a gathering of contradictory, sometimes sequential, occasionally fantastic evidence of a person’s life; of the way a man has lived his life.
They are urgent in their making and despite the apparent multiplicity of strands and threads and their puzzling arbitrariness, they singly and intensely claim their space. Some strands develop long sequences, others are episodic or knots of contradictory feelings. Each opens up a vast array of associations and need space, as if the walls stood for the passing of time, and our looking from one to the other, back and forth, our inventing the passages and connections between them, was the necessary action through which we reconfigure the artist who has with pain and pleasure unmade himself before us. They simply show how time, like a loom, has woven the tapestry of one man’s life.

From Steve Afif, Galeria Altair, Palma de Mallorca, 2005