In 1952, the painter Georges Braque asserted that,  “the truth exists: only lies are invented.”[1] Sixty-five years later, Braque’s concept of the truth appears to have lost much of its relevance, swept away by remarkable political and social changes in Europe, the United States and elsewhere. A defining element of these developments has been the apparent decline of “truth” and the ascendancy of “fake” in the public sphere. Meanwhile, Richard Prince’s designation of one of his own artworks as “fake” in early 2017 raises provocative questions about “real fakes” and “fake fakes” in the art world.[2]

 

These paintings reflects on “the decline of truth”, exploring aspects of deception, fakery and mendacity through the visual vocabulary of dazzle camouflage. Dazzle is a form of geometric, high-contrast patterning developed to protect transatlantic shipping during the First World War. It was intended not to hide a ship, but rather to break up its form and outline and obscure its heading and speed. Like all forms of disruptive camouflage, dazzle is founded on the apparently paradoxical idea that concealment can be achieved through a deceptive form of revelation.

 

While these works might give the initial impression of legibility and openness, a closer look reveals inconsistencies, revisions and distortions. Forms move and float in ambiguous pictorial space, often obscuring other painting layers in a literal “cover up”. Each work therefore asks the viewer to consider not only what is revealed, but also what is concealed. This relationship between the seen and unseen is underlined by the interplay of transparency and opacity, and by ambiguity in spatial representation and the definition of volumes. The application of the paint itself suggests weathering and corrosion, underlining the maritime origin of disruptive dazzle schemes. In places, lines, marks and other compositional elements are left visible in an apparent gesture of “truthfulness”, but in many cases these elements are spurious additions, introduced to undermine any suggestion of pictorial integrity.

 

Employing colour schemes selected to recall conditions in the North Atlantic, these works are also intended to reference layers of history and hint at the communities that develop around, support and rely upon the shipping industry. 

 

[1] “La vérité existe. On n'invente que le mensonge”, Georges Braque, Le jour et la nuit: Cahiers de Georges Braque, 1917-1952.

[2] On 11 January, 2017, with reference to a work he had sold to Ivanka Trump (and parodying her father’s tweets), Richard Prince wrote on his Twitter account, “This is not my work. I did not make it. I deny. I denounce. This fake art.” It is reported that he returned the payment he had received for this work.

USS  St George in dazzle camouflage (public domain image)

© 2019 Michael Miller

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