In an age when much contemporary art is confessional or ‘issue’ driven, Joseph Rankin’s approach to figuration is refreshingly that of a painter. For him the meaning of a painting inheres both in the act of painting and in the paint. As he puts it: ‘…the definition or meaning is a future event, never a fulfilment.’ Meaning, to put it another way, is something that reveals itself rather than being something preordained and prosaically described.
For several years his method of painting has exemplified this. He talks about ‘the impossibility of certainty’, so that his imagery has invariably been provisional and in the flux, the product of a restlessly hazardous creative process. After initial structuring the canvas would continually be turned around and around. In so doing parts of figures would remain as vestigial shadows while others would suggest and indeed demand a total compositional restructuring.
More recently, as in the ‘Torso’ series, the figurative imagery has become even more vestigial. No longer do we sense mobile figures negotiating special atmospheres but instead find apportions or presences which loom for an existential void. These elemental beings are patently influenced by photography. They are foggily immaterial but, disturbingly, their humanity is reasserted by the meticulous depiction of salient and emotive bodily parts, (mouth, nipples, pubic hair).
Somewhere in Rankin’s cannon of figurative painters, which includes artists as diverse as Francis Bacon and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (an odd, though apt pairing, given his pictorial concerns) there should be Masaccio. His anonymous figures are, in their vulnerable isolation, umbilically linked to the doomed Adam and Eve of the ‘Expulsion’. At the same time their very corporeality suggests that there is more to them than millennial angst. To this observer they are compound of vulnerability and stubborn aptitude, qualities that they share with the tragi-comic characters of Samuel Beckett.