Split Personality - Alan Michael (4 stars)

Split Personality - Alan Michael

Rosie Lesso creates an imaginative map of associations as she considers the work of painter Alan Michael

Like many artists before him, Alan Michael’s first point of reference is the sea of visual information we encounter as by-products of contemporary living. And, like many contemporary artists, he avoids painting in any one particular style. Instead, he makes paintings which reference ‘high’ and ‘low’ sources as diverse as the new BMW mini, Robert Rauschenberg, films by Jean Eustache and Jean Luc Godard along with personal encounters based on Glasgow city life, where he studied and now works.

Michael’s paintings retain something of Warhol’s detachment. ‘Someone once said to me, “Why would you put something you’re interested in into your work?” and I kind of agree with that.’ Yet, his art is also an attempt to take everyday pastiche or quotation beyond pop art banality and postmodern coolness.
The artist is willing to tell us in reference to the works displayed here at Talbot Rice that ‘paintings of the angular modernist detailing in a restaurant interior share the space with street views and text paintings announcing fugitive titles and car models’. Yet, by way of encouraging an imaginative interpretation of this imagery, Morton deliberately gives us no direct explanations. Meanwhile, Jean Eustache’s film ‘The Mother and the Whore’, which explores ideas around sex without love, runs in the round room. With all this information thrown our way it is up to the viewer to create a convoluted map of associations as opposed to a direct uninterrupted dialogue with a singular working method. Schizophrenic it may be, but, given that we are so often force-fed answers there is a curious pleasure in this potentially futile unravelling.

As expected, the paintings themselves range in style from light screenprints on canvas alongside densely worked photorealist paintings and flat text works. Yet, all are linked by a process of layering. The text works, ‘It’s a British Sound’ and ‘It’s Positive’ are composed of white letters on a blue background, but the edges of the paintings seem to reveal processes of indecision, where traces of green or orange paint underneath the final colour are just visible. ‘Grassroots/ Bottles’ has more internal complexity which makes it stand out, being composed of photorealist bottles sitting in front of unusual, diagonally drifted lettering. But the dominance is of recent screen prints, each one remarkably similar in style, made up of slightly overlapping rectangles repeating the same abstracted motif in varying colours and densities. The two strongest and most complex of these both reference the exhibition title, ‘Touch Void’: ‘Touched Void’, located downstairs, explores varying green hues, while upstairs we find the black and white ‘Void Touched’.

Michael’s overt repetition in the silkscreens nullifies the romance of possible associations with the imagery, which is perhaps deliberate, but, after the first few they seem to lose their potency. In spite of this, as expected from an artist reaching the peak of his career with recent solo shows in Los Angeles, Berlin and Cologne, we are presented with a rigorous programme which seeks out questions and complexities, not straightforward solutions.

Alan Michael: Touch Void, Talbot Rice, Edinburgh, until Sat 1 Mar

Alan Michael

  • 4 stars

New geometric and abstract works by the Glasgow artist using oil, paper and canvas.

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