Shifting perceptions

Sat, 22/06/2013 - 16:53 -- damien
Daniel Mafe's recent paintings

In these closing years of the twentieth century, cultural information and visual stimulation are transmitted rapid fire. We perceived, communication and interpret via the ‘thirty second grab’. White light and the illuminates screens of television and computers have come the medium for all forms of communication. And the speed and efficiency of the information exchange through these mechanisms has, in some ways, become the real art.

Perversely, painter Daniel Made has moved toward paintings that require and reward response from the viewer. This takes time. Mafe’s ‘white works’ themselves possessing something of the luminous, immediate quality of the screen, are a high point in his exploration of the nature of painting as object, and reveal a preoccupation with the act and nature of seeing.

Mafe’s technique is aimed at a continual refinement of visual perception. Vertical columns of colour stained into canvas are overlaid with white many times, and sanded back between layers so that the grain of the canvas almost disappears. It is a louring at surface, colour and paint. The works appear to billow, shimmer and vibrate, albeit quietly, off the wall. They have an overfull sated quality, pushing against the constraints of a darker border. Vertical panels in Day, Half and Sheer (all dated 1995) read like shifts in perception, or ever-changing states of life, histories and paradigmatic thought.

In Mafe’s word, time and visual response from the viewer is necessary to complete the passage from perception to cognition: and in the cognition, the work becomes the meeting place between artist and viewer. “This is how we make sense of our perceptions and so make solid out worlds and realties. It is also how we die in their decoming.”1

There is an ambiguity in these new works. They are about the boundary of thinking and perceiving. You know, when you think you’re seeing something, but you’re not sure? The blurring of the edges is so important. Many tributaries of information or perception or being, fit into these paintings.2

Although simply constructed, these paintings are dense with references, personal histories entwined with art histories, philosophical influences inflected by very direct correlations of place and light. Content is mediated, for the viewer, by the sense of reverie these works induce. They become the springboard for a journey with the personal, an exploration of the individual response to the rarefied visual experience.

Daniel Mafe started painting as a hobby whilst working and studying accountancy part-time. However, in his words art “absorbed me completely in a way I hadn’t experience before. A whole range of sensations I used to carry around with me suddenly found a release.”3 Enrolment at art school, first in Brisbane in 1978, and then in London followed. Made remained living and working in England until 1990. His work has developed from a breadth of artistic interests which range from the minimalist Brice Marden, Robert Ryman and Agnes Martin, to people like James Turrell and Robert Irwin who explore perceptions of light in space, to the Italian mannerist painter, Pontormo.4 The billowing nature of the white works, the sense of painting as object, relates directly to Mafe’s experience of Pontormo’s work, in which figures “…floart off the surface of the painting … twist and turn and become quite phantasmagoric”.5 The light, inherent in the construction of these works, is released slowly. Like the seductive, evanescent nature of the meditative experience, the layers shift and lift, embracing an intensely subtle emotional state. With time, they develop a presence almost sculptural in stature.

The paintings which preceded Mafe’s ‘white works’ are darker, with the opalescence of the current work buried in deeper, muted tones. These have a soft dusty charcoal light, like the luminous half-life of an afterimage. Within these works too, there is the white glow of paintings within paintings. Slowly layers of colour emerge, immersed in an intuitive seam which is like a mask obscuring memory.

The apparent influence of the grid in these works is less significant than that of light, as Mafe betrays his preoccupation with optics. Structured complexities explore the refraction of light through prismatic patterns – a feature emphasised (and diffused) in the current ‘white’ paintings. However, the containing border remains a common element, which defines and refers back to the illuminated screen. As Michele Helmrich has written of these works, “The light of Mafe’s work then becomes an internal light or screen which illuminates our imaging, our thought, our dreams … the light of consciousness.”6

In Mafe’s paintings, light is the vehicle. The works reveal multiple and refracting depths, ricocheting around a path of immense variation. The paintings, conceived in light, are borne by the passage of light as through a prism, splitting the single seam into multiple paths. The journey of light, refracting through the prism of the mind, shatters with infinite nuances.

Merilyn Fairskye comments: “Seeing this work entails a certain tension between encultured and experiential vision. An aesthetic of waiting is part of the package. There are no sudden thrills, but rather, a gradual revelation of appearances, of suggestions, about what we already know, and have yet to consider, about our presence of the world.”7

  1. Daniel Mafe Recognitions, exhibition catalogue, May 1994
  2. Author’s interview with Daniel Mafe May 1995
  3. Ibid
  4. Michele Helmrich “Daniel Mafe” Have A look, exhibition catalogue University Art Museum, University of Queensland, 1995
  5. Author’s interview with Daniel Mafe op. cit
  6. Michele Helmrich op cit
  7. Daniel Mafe and Merilyn Fairskye Empty Rooms. Bench Press. 1994.