Neither Use, Nor Ornament
With a completely new body of work that focuses on the theme of antique porcelain figurines and pottery, Pilkington sets out to investigate the role of the motif in contemporary painting. The recurrence of the motif, however, is more important to him than the motif itself. Inspired by the obsessive collecting generally associated with the coveted Meissen, Staffordshire, Delft and Clarice Cliff porcelain and pottery, these figures and ornaments are repeated over and over in Pilkington’s work to the point where they become decorative, nearly meaningless.
The artist appropriates the figures and creates his own new narratives. The old references are given a new life, they appear current, rendered with urgency. Caught in the eternal pose, the often solitary figures become shadows of an elusive melancholic past, a nostalgia that’s been phased out of our contemporary mental reference library. But underneath the appealing patchwork of romantic impressions, an undeniable cynicism is lurking. What was an innocent, naively seductive souvenir, gets a disturbing edge. The more Pilkington paints the figurines, the “worse” they become for him in many ways. But he likes this, the contrived and considered feeling they start to have and the way that plays with the synthetic surface of the works. This is emphasized by his pronounced gestural painting, but also by the deliberately confronting use of colour. The artist looks for tensions between colours that shouldn’t go together but somehow do. In themselves lovely colours are paired with an obnoxious array of others to allow them to play off one another.
Pilkington’s paintings are decisively complex scenes. Opaque and transparent layers of forms and colours give the works a nearly eligible multitude of perspectives. The artist refuses to succumb to clarity, painting for him is a process of distortion and he is – above all – wary of making anything too determinate. In the excessive compositions there is a feeling of incompleteness, of stories that cannot be fully (re)told, only leave us with cut-up perceptions. The unfinished can also be read as traces of decay, as a fresco affected by time, but then our time, our limited ability to empathise with the same spirit of the past. Every time period has its own relationship with the past and time can both abstract and distort everything. By building new experiences, nothing remains unaffected. Things melt together and mutate into new constellations.
This, but also the language and feelings that accompany it, are expressed in Pilkington’s formal language. Objects dissolve into abstract forms, textures or pure colour and form new structures through the buildup of swift brush strokes. He explores the potential of the medium in figuration and abstraction, but also in the touch. We see a combination of thickly painted surfaces and simple lines that look like they were drawn with a wax crayon. Both the slowly solidified thick paint and the quick line bear witness to a particular frozen moment in the production process, giving the works extra dimensions of time. Various modernist styles have left their traces on the artist’s visual memory and are experimented with freely. Pilkington plays with the expectations that paintings allude to historically and, as a child of his time, wants to question the role of current image making.