“In an age when much contemporary art is confessional or ‘issue’ driven, Joseph Rankin’s approach to figuration is refreshingly that of a painter”... Do not expect, however, to find conventional imagery of the human form in “Void”, showing at the Shire Pottery Gallery and Studios. These are figures in metamorphosis. Drained of colour they resemble scapegoats, mutants or eerily ageless babies. The only evidence of their humanity is the meticulous depiction of salient and emotive bodily parts – mouth, navel, nipples etc. These works may be interpreted in any number of ways, limited only by the spectator’s imagination.
For Joseph Rankin the ‘meaning’ of his work is something that reveals itself rather than being something preordained and prosaically described. He refers ‘the impossibility of certainty’, and for several years his method of painting has exemplified his belief.
Since his return from Spain his imagery has continued to be the product of a restlessly hazardous creative process – a provisional and improvisational method of painting in which, after initial structuring, the canvas is continually moved while it is being worked on. Rankin ruthlessly eliminates any hints of a spatial setting, so that the figures, rather than being located somewhere specific, merely inhabit an indeterminate space.
Joseph’s wife Alison, pregnant during Rankin’s preparation for “Void”, modelled for some of the close-up and three-quarter length paintings. In “Alison I”, her turning head is reduced to a smeared fragment (Francis Bacon, transmuted through the work of one of Rankin’s admired contemporaries Simon English, is a subliminal influence”). In another memorable image a pregnant, ostensibly genderless figure enacts some futile gesture, ‘her’ hands being reduced to fins.
...“These are the inhabitants of the existential void, of Lear’s “blasted heath”, Dante’s “Purgatory” or of “Ground Zero.” They survive as tragic metaphors of human vulnerability and alienation. Paradoxical though it may seem however, I believe that this work is ultimately affirmative, an endorsement of E.M. Forster’s humane injunction “Only connect.”...