Matthys Gerber

Mori Gallery, Sydney
15 March 1988 - 2 April, 1988

Matthys Gerber is a Dutch-Australian and/or Australian-Dutch painter. His recent works are framed by two questions. First, they operate within a postmodern problematic of internationalism (as opposed to, say, one of nihilism and hip despair). The Disney-shaped castle in "Matthys Gerber" suggests that now even the artist's birthplace, Europe, with all its myths and vampires, can't come here without a detour through the USA and transnational culture. But these paintings are not concerned with, for instance, whether Europe exists. What they are concerned with is how to deal with, how to acculturate what they can see of the world; in the flesh, on TV- wherever. It implies a refusal of the kinds of neat closures to which contemporary painting is sometimes heir; which refusal may explain apparent discontinuities among these works. If only because their meanings are decorated in words, allusive fragmentary phrases, these works front the dominant contemporary metaphor of looking as reading.

Your Wish Is My Command: Spent Bullets.

The genie's and the dreamed-of Jeannie's teasing, quotidian catchphrase surrounds a cartouche squeezed into a vaginal shape, from which radiates a TV-white light threatening to crack the canvas in two. This emptying-out shape, the eye, is drawn back to a source, but of what? The djinni from which both genie and Jeannie derive is an oriental Muslim demon (hence the foreign curl of the lettering, "Your Wish Is My Command"). The djinni is less than an angel, and exerts a supernatural influence over humans. An Egyptologist (an orientalist) might have expected a cartouche, a scroll-shaped ornament, to have enclosed royal and divine names and titles. But there is nothing in this cartouche - the first of a number of such structures in the show - except the question, who is to be master? It's an invitation to a subjection only to be wished for, always missed. Cartouche is also an old word for a cartridge.

Don't Spare the Rod: Despoil the Child.

Gleaming against a magenta background which may or may not suggest royalty, strings of pearls spell out "Don't Spare the Rod". A conventional homily, with enough of a switch to suggest another kind of discipline, another kind of desire, another kind of submission bound up with the ordinary. The subject has shifted, too. This is not the voice of an elder relative, admonishing a lax or forgiving parent. Fragments necessarily appeal to, or conjure up a whole: each pearl is a nacreous cry for its aphrodisiac mother. Here the voice luxuriates in its grownup appeal: it's a transcription, a version of the voice of the painter, the painter as a knowing child.

Let It Be Me: No Romance?

Within the questions that frame the show, painted frames and a floral border establish perspective and a wish to look into two areas of colour; grottoes lit like aquaria, two depths. (What must we look through, here?) it's a wish which is turned back, rerouted: there is nothing in there. Just another floating cartouche, itself another mock-opening, a miniature of the painting in which it is contained, decorated "Now & Forever". Between the eye and the putative depths, whiteness pulling it from its elaborated frames, is suspended in more Arabic-curled lettering its complement, sign of the attrition of our thousand-and-one nights of genre. "Now & Forever - Let It Be Me": not supernatural, neither royal nor divine, these depths provide no satisfaction. The initial wish turns for consolation to the heights instead, to the sublime in an infinity, a forever of what? - Love?

Everyone but the too-limpidly aquarium-eyed knows, you can't say that any more. "Love" is way too grandly insidious a narrative; the terms of its rhetoric flake off the soap from way too many, and banal, a plot. The eye's adventure, the reading of this painting, is suspended indefinitely through the material suspension of fragments which appeal to that rhetoric. And their appeal is doubly ironic. Once, because it is revealed to lie in formal relations on a surface. Twice, because now everyone knows you can't rely on Love. Because even if you can only approach its rhetoric with a smile, however grim, playing at the corners of your mouth - you still must. Irony squared? In the old rhetoric, irony expressed its opposite with a measure of derision, and the erotic was a figure which boldly asserted the opposite of what it asked. Here there is no derision, and neither confident oppositions, bold assertions nor comfortable questions. Let it Be Me holds a familiar fragment up in the light and asks on the sly, let me be - what? (If painting weren't dead, mightn't it be catachrestic? And what pleasures in subjection lie in the indefinite postponement of any answer?).