Different aspects of the Divine as articulated by Old Testament prophet Isaiah are explored by Darryn George in his new exhibition, Notes on Isaiah. Taking as his basis different names for God, George’s Te Reo translations operate on his canvases as both symbolic text and abstract form.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” - John 1:1
Words form the core of this set of works and they can be taken as both an iteration of faith and an examination of the roles of text, symbolism, and form. George notes that God is described in a number of different terms and incorporates these in his works. (1) The idea of ‘incorporation’ is interesting in this context, stemming as it does from the Latin incorporare, "unite into one body", bringing to mind John 1:14, “And the Word was made Flesh”. In these paintings, George does indeed give the words body: the textured, three-dimensional, paint surfaces of the lettering are raised in relief above the flat background. The Word and the Body become one and the same.
George’s paintings require layers of translations on multiple levels: visual, literal, linguistic, symbolic. As he ‘embodies’ the text in his paintings, George simultaneously abstracts words and letters to systems of colours and geometries. Optical illusions stem from his considered use of advancing and recessive colours, blurred outlines, and subtle patterning. Certain forms are imbued with his personal symbolism; he likens ‘U’ forms to horseshoe magnets, suggesting that, in his practice, “they have come to symbolise attraction, or love.” (2)
The sharp lines and tightly controlled techniques of the geometric lettering in Notes on Isaiah #5 are thrown into strong relief by the organic patterning and brushwork of the central panel’s background. Here the ‘magnet’ shapes seem to float, their movement emphasised by the white outlines framing them. Deciphering the written words requires concentration firstly on the form and then upon literal and symbolic meanings. As George examines his own experiences and perceptions of the Divine, he creates a contemplative space for viewers to consider the same.
Accompanying the Isaiah paintings are three 2010 works from George’s Folder series, a concept he expanded in The Folder Room, an installation at Palazzo Bembo as part of a collateral exhibition at this year’s Venice Biennale. With their glossy, reflective surfaces, the Folder paintings stem from George’s exploration of the Lamb’s Book of Life, which “as mentioned in the Bible is the books of saints and ‘the saved’ throughout history, which I depict as a great filing cabinet, the folders… reflected over and over… like records receding into history.” (3)
1. Pohatu - The Stone; Rangatira - Chief; Ariki - Paramount Chief; Hepara - Shepherd of his People; Piki - Helper; Reme - Lamb
2. Darryn George, Artist’s statement, September 2013
3. Darryn George, “The Italian Job”, Art New Zealand, Spring 2013, p118