AN AUDIENCE WITH THE QUEEN, oil on canvas, 110 x 143 cm Winner of the Thames & Hudson Pictureworks Prize 2010

AN AUDIENCE WITH THE QUEEN, oil on canvas, 110 x 143 cm
Winner of the Thames & Hudson Pictureworks Prize 2010

My work has primarily focused on semitransparent figurative paintings and portraits,
often revolving around the motifs of nature and the sea. One of the things which has emerged
in my conversations with writers and artists is the importance of remaining curious and
challenging oneself to try new things, something I’ve always believed in.
So from time to time in the course of my career, I have followed my curiosity
and painted special series, often exploring the creative process.

–Mia Funk

An Audience with the Queen

The sharp satire of Funk’s work has now gone to a topic usually highly insulated  in terms of imagery. Royalty in Europe depends more and more on image to remain royal in the absence of more traditional means of power. This is like the effect of a museum on objects, it confers status as it removes them from the process and context of history.

The other taboo which is broken here is that around old age and the rituals of its decay.  The stagy setting and the banal activities including the palpable fleshiness of the couple, is as strong as the withering pictures of Hogarth, and is indeed stronger than caricature as it does not depend on exaggeration or distortion, but a precisely imagined reality which traditional image making kept very purposely at bay.

This suggests a strange pictorial iconoclasm, where pictures are used to attack imagery in favour of another communication.

–PATRICK E. HEALY

 

THE PRICE OF ART IS MURDER, oil on canvas, 109 x 155 cm / 42.9 x 61 in

THE PRICE OF ART IS MURDER, oil on canvas, 109 x 155 cm / 42.9 x 61 in

 

"...in looking at this painting, a fierce kind of empathy can arise. This is not the kind of empathy that stays on pause until we feel that we've understood the being that this meat belongs or once belonged to...”

– Maggie Nelson

excerpt from The Art of Cruelty - a Reckoning
courtesy of Maggie Nelson

 

Inside the Artist's Studio
Essay by Prof. Patrick E. Healy, TU Delft

Funk has created from the ground up a direct means of story telling - on the other side of this immediacy is an intricate even witty matrix of menace - where what initially might seem a homage to great artistic personalities - Bacon,and Freud - contains elements of Grand Guignol, morbid sensitivity, demonic decay and atmospheres of surreal mutation which all underscore the layered reference and pointed compositions by which she communicates as much horror as delight.

In one sense the picture plane has become the 4th wall of a traditional space; the black box of this space which we look into from our illuminated view-point also acts as a magnet drawing us into places which have often been only available to the artist and their secrets - secrets of process and inertia - but predominantly in this narrative of Funk, scopic cruelty.

This cruelty belongs to the first moment of sensation, and becomes distributed in every decision made by the artist. Pain is said to have no representational possibility - Funk makes of representation in fact the essence not only of pain but of suffering. The large canvas of Bacon and his studio captures perfectly her strategy one wing of her triptych - art as a scene of a crime, a laboratory and theatre where the vivisection of the gaze is the active wrenching from reality of the artist’s precise concerns; the first extraction and reduction. The second wing of Bacon in a suit is an almost emblematic figuring of the artist: as public salesman, a prostitute, the purveyor from his or her will of blue chip investment - and the central panel becomes the slaughterhouse - becomes the knacker’s yard of auction and sales pitch; a flawless theatre of the grotesque where the apotheosis of art and the artist is translated to the great abstraction - the great leveller, money which takes all of life, suffering, beauty, joy and soul, and says “how much”?

Karel Teige* states this latter situation perfectly in his Le Marché de l’Art, where the liberty of artists to deepen the question of human-existence in all its forms and where the artist is not simply to be considered in terms only of sales. In one sense the question of the artist's will and creation was not possible where the middle classes took control of style, production, evaluation and ultimately pushed artists to equate art = business.

Turning to one part of the triptych of Funk’s narration it is helpful to see where this excoriating satire is heading. The parting is a phantasmagoria of the studio of Francis Bacon. This is no longer the studio of the romantic artist’s fantasy - a ‘cave of making’ in Auden’s words - full of memento mori - a private wunderkammer of the studious artist / collector / connoisseur - rather it is the exploded shell behind the fourth wall of a stage on which the fantasies and life of the artist have been projected. Funk creates literally a scene of pandemonium

- she references eerily the interior of the studio of Bacon, which has itself become a vast cult object installed in Hugh Lane Gallery of Contemporary Art - as the creative and chaotic cock-pit of the demented artist creator. And old myth is re-issued chaos/creation - the artist finally brings order to everything, and so all is well with the world and investments are safe.

Funk marries the precise, detached observer as artist with a cruel indifference - not only to the viewers outside the space - now in a darkened auditorium while the space is illuminated. Bacon is placed standing at the threshold where the passage of movement and change, that wrestle and dislocate nervous sensibility and feeling is most spatially marked - marked however as what is mobile and changing. The doorway is like an old arch in Augustan Rome - bifacial and allowing penetration - but the bulbousshape of the artist seems stuck like a large seal on wet basalt rocks - trapped as it were in the gaze of his own making. Only blindness could release an artist from such captivation.

In Funk’s painting of the studio of Freud the same arrested movement is given to the artist – the entry is soundless and has the sinister soft contrast of those marionettes who take over the life of the ventriloquist – as one would become only that which one mimics. After all if the object is of a value of fetish then the ‘sex-appeal of the inorganic’ results, as in Benjamin’s phrase, in a draining of all vitality - this is what the vampire extraction of blood suggests all circulation is removed - the body becomes a transparent sheath, not of bones or structure - but of an eternal, inanimate compulsion - when matter is so sexed it too becomes an escape from time.

THEATRE OF PANIC, oil on canvas, 118 x 158cm / 46.5 x 62.2 in

THEATRE OF PANIC, oil on canvas, 118 x 158cm / 46.5 x 62.2 in

The space of the picture also belongs to a triptychal organisation - the door akimbo and the back of the the stretched canvas on the left also function like theatre props. There is no doubt, as in old pictures of saints about the identity of the artist - he has brushes and rags in the right hand - and on the wall behind, Funk has placed small pictures, the Muybridge wrestlers - the source for the models in the centre and for the painting of the models behind the simple electric light. (This refers to Picasso or the electrical light in Van Gogh’s paintings.) We have here so many layers that the referencing becomes not an act of erudition, or canny awareness of art research - but a very complex ploy in which between figured source, referential artist - looking at the tangled wrestlers - which is re-represented in a painting framed by the emerald of a velvet curtain - the whole space seems to be tightly wrought - even a photographic moment of stasis but instead is spiralingout of control in the shifting thresholds that the whole illusion expresses. There is a mise en abîme, the looking that is figures, looks at the models that are represented and they are negated to the left third division of the canvas by the demonic decay of an inverted narcissus where theribcage of the body echoes the barrel shape of the twisted contraposto figures and receives in return the glare of a vampiric ghoul - worthy of German expressionist cinema, where the power of hypnosis – magic interiors, magic boxes was the vast self-protecting illusion of a middle class which sought to defend itself from mesmeric violence by retreating into fantasia and the unreal.

“In fact, in Bacon's cruxifictions, the onlookers typically have the more well-defined faces, yet they seem more horrific that the disasters of flesh and blood in the room with them.[...] There is no sacrifice. We do not have to understand or get to know Bacon's figures to feel their pain, nor do they need to represent the pitifully massacred children of God. They are animals on their way down, as are we; that's enough.”

– Maggie Nelson

excerpt from The Art of Cruelty - a Reckoning
courtesy of Maggie Nelson

 

FREUD CARRYING MODEL, oil on canvas, 118.7x163 / 46.7 x 64.2 in

FREUD CARRYING MODEL, oil on canvas, 118.7x163 / 46.7 x 64.2 in

Every mise-en-scène is a mise en abîme. The satire itself feeds on what it depicts. This is not an external scripture of Bacon as an artist - the satirist is primarily one who absorbs by ingestion. The object of satire to a glance where the holes of the self presentation have grown larger and larger. This we can sense is where the look of Bacon has been directed - almost through the hollows and voids of all the figurations which saturate the work - in the bulb of his left eye a glimmer of recognition seems no more than a twitch of intelligence - like a nervous tick which joins the emptiness and anguish. This may very well be what Funk meant in interview when she spoke of an “existentialist crime scene”.2

Even being aware of the void - or the weight of just being there as a pressure or weight - another force among forces - seems to belong to nothing - an abyss where things show themselves as being - there - but with only the necessity that the ground of that appearance is at least in this work no-thing -- it is no-thing because the artist has loosened even the most rigorous and contrived composition into two significant vectors - one the disappearance of viewing of the figure into a virtual suspension - and secondly the mutant anatomy of a flesh dripping in formaldehyde - which looks back into the olive green stare of melancholy. Here instead of the + cruciform composition, or the triptych arrangement - like boxes within boxes - the incontestable presences of something unheimlich –which Freud read in stories of Kleist and Hoffmann – the ‘uncanny’ occurs as an event in the transversal of two gazes that do not meet or interpret but are sovereign and thus indifferent to each other. From this, the flos oculi of Bacon to the carnal narcissism of a living death – a threshold which only the inorganic organisation of material; woven linen, pigments, paints, dust could fully communicate. Subtending the organisation is a precise narrative of belief - although it too is a fiction. Funk uses the metaphor literally - it is an act of analogy and mutation - a metamorphosis - and just as experience for Bacon lies in the passage, the threshold even of body crushing on body – what is emphasised is a kind of ascetic withdrawal - the artist is only naked in the hands and face– the layers of oily clothing however seems like fleshy outcrops taking on some sluggish, dense, viscous flow – the moment is disarticulated and meshed in a hollowmannerist look where the looming musculature and hula hoop swirl into a high resolve varnish and ropey erotic. The bodies have been skewed from perspective and return like anamorphic negatives back to the single source of light – as if the naked bulb is the only condition of exposure and lighting condition of illumination where everything is seen in a homogenous way.

...art as a scene of a crime, a laboratory and theatre where the vivisection of the gaze is the active wrenching from reality of the artist’s precise concerns; the first extraction and reduction.

The brushes have the blue of this painting - it may well be that the artist is drained - and what is read as an entrance is a last look before his own disappearance - after all the eyes of the figure of melancholia look out into the space of the viewer - shrouded by the weighty green that gives the figure a demonic viridian slightly poisonous shadow - and the upturned eyeballs look like the sockets of antique marble - such a gaze is made of stone and places the viewer who will be turned also in a moment of arrest and capture.

That the force comes from Fuseli or Fritz Lang is as irrelevant as the fact that Muybridge uses a pair of wrestlers thought in the Renaissance to be a work based on a copy of a Greek original. After all, this art history is also a game of – traces - a bad detective in search of an unknown crime.

Here again we can see the way in which the composition and all the references become themselves like the bands that encage the figures - where the erotic seizure is properly the love bite of the vampire - the torsion of the lower figure draining out in surrender - the body image is not in the bodies but in the vestigia of the painter’s rags on the floor. The erotic charge is hinted as in the dense symbolism of Dutch still lifes by further photographs from Muybridge on the floor.

Turning to the work with Lucian Freud as its apparent main subject - we find again the use of knowing detail to disarticulate the way the propaganda of the market – relying so much on the image of the artist - fails to understand the problem of creative liberty and intelligence and even what Funk once entitled for her novel ‘Beauty and Cunning’. Degas once suggested that a well made picture is a crime. What Funk emphasises through the composition is the detailed planning in the whole work. It is clear that she wants to break with what in fact was always an ideological invention ‘creation out of nothing’ - instead her work delights in making it clear that creating comes from creating - the will of the maker is paramount, only these traces, gestures, make the work. The criminal is only a trope of free intelligence – this takes on a vast romantic repertory - but Freud is neither a robber baron or a Robin Hood. He is a crafty manipulator of energy and material, and in some way the primal predator with paint - who drains the life of the model to create illusion.