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What to make of the most recent turn in the painting practice of Peter Joseph? If
reading is a kind of making, a doing, if not a making do, we might phrase the question
otherwise. What is it to read any of Joseph’s paintings? More. What is it to practise
the reading of paintings, Joseph’s as any others, ‘as a materialist’? Despite having
struggled with such questions, on and off, for over forty years, I confess that I
am perhaps not the best-
Finally, I should declare that the phase of Joseph’s oeuvre that most remains with me, in me, always, is that in which each painting entertains the same, formally reductive, pictorial device: a single rectangle framed by another. (Joseph prefers the term ‘border’ or ‘surround’ for the framing element. As I struggle to write, he’s probably painting, so forgive me if I stick with my preferred terms: ‘framed’ and ‘framing’).
It scarcely needs repeating that the genitive, and the whole apparatus of mimetic/ representational reading historically erected upon it, is here immediately called into question. These are not paintings ‘of’ anything.
The repetition of a deceptively simple, anti-
Singularly and severally, these are paintings of a commanding beauty, signatured by great wit and learning, exquisite judgment and artful artlessness, predicated on painstaking research procedures.
Each perfectly scaled and proportioned rectangular painting is designed and built
from the always-
There are paintings in the world that wouldn’t give you the time of day. Not these. They give. Take your time. Linger with intent. Look intently. Hold your breath. Bathe in liquid luminosity. Don’t expire. Come up for air. Break surface. Gasp! Breathe deeply. Inspire.
All is changed. All is change. Get your bearings. Circle of seasons. Time of day. Solar azimuth. Solar altitude. Ambient colour. Rake of light. Passing clouds. Fall of light. Rise of light. Rhythmic, respiratory, advance and retreat of that surrounded rectangle of perfect chromatic and tonal pitch.
How to read it? How does it seem? How does it play? Patch? Aperture? Focal length?
Edge? Seam? Seme? Field? Fog? How does it play with its immediate, always-
At one remove, these are simply among the most exhilarating paintings you will ever
experience. At the same time, they are capable of tearing through the manicured envelope
of the social imaginary, as instituted by the space of the modernist gallery, to
disclose disturbing realities, not in some beyond, but within. This work of descaling
the eye of the normativity of socially constructed vision is not without its traumas.
Even respondents such as myself, casting a colder professional eye, perhaps even
a little envious, green-
I believe this kind of surprise to bear some relation to that described by the French structuralist and Marxist philosopher, Louis Althusser, as the ‘surprise of science’. It portals a zone of receptivity in which pleasure and learning, affect and episteme, are no longer estranged.
Amongst living artists who have addressed the question of colour in painting, Peter Joseph is one of a handful whose practice remains a major influence on mine.
The text above excerpted itself from an increasingly voluminous, and ultimately failed,
attempt to write on the most recent turn in Joseph’s painting by reference to an
earlier, more formally reductive phase, to which I feel more attuned. The reception
of the most recent paintings has been characterised by over-
I am grateful to the artist for his favourable reception of my writing, providing the accompanying images and granting permission to publish a text prompted by one occasion in the context of another.
G R Thomson 2015
The Mercus Barn
Peter Joseph – Recent Paintings
14 July – 27 July 2015
Galerie Bernard Bouche
5 Septembre – 24 Octobre 2015
The Mercus Barn
G R Thomson – “Anachromisms” 2007 -
12 September – 4 October 2015