There’s a moment in Don DeLillo’s novel, White Noise, when protagonist Jack Gladney watches his bones flash up on an X-ray screen and describes the experience as having a weird disassociating effect on him.
Looking deep into one of Thierry Feuz’s paintings is a similar experience. A white, almost clinically serene background is dashed with bursting, fizzing colour. The objects look like the heads of flowers, with stems that whip off in all directions. Seemingly random swirls of lacquer dance across the canvas. The whole composition – randomised yet careful, chaotic though somehow ordered – has something of the effect of gazing into a psychotropic Petri dish. There’s a weird tissue-like effect to the textures he creates.
But Feuz would be the first to disagree with the analogy. The artist, in town to open his latest exhibition Microworlds And Macrovisions at Carbon 12, insists that microscopes and the natural history museums he tells us he frequents have little direct bearing on these pieces. ‘I’m building my paintings in a very free way and with my own fantasies,’ he reasons. ‘I don’t have microscopes or books near me as I paint. I’m quite free to do what I want to present.’
Along with the organic, plant-like pieces are a series of deep blue canvases, which appear to vibrate with depths akin to space or the sea. Blasted into these are a palette of colours with the kind of intensity we associate with the cosmos: intense greens, and reds that burn slowly into a brilliant orange. Feuz speaks almost naively about these works. The exuberance that sweats from each canvas comes across as he talks. These, he explains, are his experiments in colour and composition ‘rather than an attempt to represent the universe or the cosmos. But it could be seen that way; it’s kind of figurative. People will find their way in these paintings and will see tissues of life or cosmic explosions. But I’m trying to say no to that idea – you just have to see abstract elements of colour.’
Compositionally, the ‘microworld’ pieces are something to see. Feuz’s ability to find harmony in colours so intense is impressive – the pieces hum off the gallery walls and there’s a superb, natural rhythm to what he does. Accompanying them is Feuz’s Technicolour Series. Striped canvas is constructed into a box on the wall. The same intense lacquered colours are layered into a buzzing, ordered mass, so that light appears to emit from the canvas and spray across the gallery wall.
But this isn’t just simple op art. ‘These are maybe the macrospaces,’ he tells us. ‘You can imagine if you zoomed right into these stripe paintings you might find the same microworlds you’d find in the other paintings in the show.’ This relation with the micro pieces works well within the show. Alone, the Technicolour pieces diminish, but combined with the Microworld works we can glimpse something of the ecstatic play of colour that gets Feuz excited.
Still not completely convinced that these are quite as simple as the artist would have us believe, we ask Feuz if his art is a response to an artworld that, perhaps, has become dependent on strong statements. ‘I’m creating worlds of possibilities,’ he replies. ‘I’m thinking more about how you can imagine life and death and nature, how there are no limits to ways you can imagine it. Maybe I don’t even want to find a political statement to communicate because I want to talk more about aesthetics, purity, beauty.’
We immediately want to equate these pieces with the internal, a bloodstream or the microscopic intricacies of flowers, or our external, the cosmos. Simply put, we want to see things in these works, and Feuz insists that that is not the case. We search for meaning in an artist that is more absorbed with seeing, than saying.
It’s refreshing for an artist to be as outright as this. It’s what gives these pieces a rarely seen vigour: packed with life and movement, Feuz puts his trust in colour alone. It’s a sensual art, right down to the tiny, grained effects that can only be seen once we delve, as Feuz would like us to, right up close to the canvas. These are the real microworlds that the exhibition takes its name from, the minute movements and forms created by the chaotic material Feuz works with. Like staring into the tiny fibres of our skin, or the cells of a flower, perhaps. But it’s Feuz’s final, offhand words that ring somewhat closer to his vision for these works: ‘I try to find ways of showing things in a beautiful and true way, to re-enchant the world maybe. To find a sort of poetry in what I’m seeing.’
Carbon 12 (050 873 9623) until April 11