20 April - 7 May 2022
Show exhibition essay
New drawings by Julie Green 2020-22
accompanied by The Buried Book realised and produced by Nicholas Pounder at Polar Bear Press
Here, on the walls, and in the book - put together with Nicholas Pounder - Julie Green, brings the resoundingly human story of Gilgamesh to the cultural imagination of the present. In gouache, ink, chalk pastel, oil paint (even botanical matter) the artist vividly responds to the oldest poem in the world, the first road trip, twenty centuries before Homer. Artists and poets have, since amateur archeologist George Smith (1840-1876) found the clay tablets and deciphered the wedge-shaped marks in Mesopotamia (present day Iraq and Syria), have vibrated to the fable about death and friendship that is the Epic of Gilgamesh and his buddy Enkidu, the proto-Neal Cassady.
Not Egypt, not Greece, not Rome, but Sumeria with its human-headed lions, winged bulls, and ziggurats, provides the backdrop for this first written story in the history of literature. A complex and terrifying world not unlike our current cultural moment. I suspect we carry the same genes as our Babylonian ancestors, whose shrewd eyes and special intelligence was a means of survival in a hostile world. While we encounter strangeness, and otherness here, there is much that we can relate to in terms of friendship and romance, fear and vanity.
Two-thirds god, one-third man, Gilgamesh goes through a series of quests and trials, with his best friend and savage second self, Enkidu. Along the way they slaughter the ogre in the Cedar Forest, meet goddesses, draw down constellations (Taurus, the bull of heaven), all in the futile quest to conquer immortality. Enkidu dies, and Gilgamesh fails to bring him back from the underworld. Checkmate this way, checkmate that. Gilgamesh cannot overcome death. He even loses the magic plant of rejuvenation. At the end of the journey he must accept his mortal limitations and face the horror of death. That’s the take-home of this ancient epic.
For Julie Green, painting is a vividly material thing. And there is no linear recounting of the Gilgamesh story, but a visceral response to some of the episodes, passages and images. A kind of listening, or tunnelling to some inner place of reading.
The processes of composing and decomposing forms go “back to back” in Green’s words, and the layering and tearing of fragments conjures that world of ancient forests, animal spirits, sacred mountains, spring tides, waning moons. In electrifying colours Julie Green builds her pictures: bold, intense morphogenic movements out of sharply textured shapes. On oil painting paper, or linen, even silk, the painter creates fractal effects out of unstable mottled surfaces, like fish scales rippled by light, or dappled lime-green and olive forests. Ghosts of Ian Fairweather and Brett Whiteley passing through bead curtains of Pollock drips.
In one huge work a boat or iris shape is strung with delicately rendered netting. Follow the filament to each knotting point, each loop preventing the next loop from disentangling, the loop loosened and slipped along the rope; the knot feeding the filament through a pattern. It is very bewitching.
A great project assembled from the scattered fragments of a story that belongs to the roots of all our common poetries. Julie Green metabolizes these experiences and mysteries in painted works that repay attention, and that make you be and know and grow and intensify your sensuality.
31 March 2022