Issue 208 – Pages 34-36
July, 1997
Transmission Gallery Glasgow June 7 to July 5

Jonnie Wilkes / Russell Crotty

By Padraig Timoney

‘Lovecraft’ was visually cacophonous but not uncomfortable. The insularity of each artwork and its method of demanding undivided attention coincided with the exhibition’s theme – artworks made with a line, skilful, highly personal and sometimes obsessive attention. The justification for this methodology is that the labour and personal involvement are simply necessary and, as such, the works could be read as autobiographical or at least descriptive of a tendency to reflect, even express, a relationship to material, process and duration. Jeff Luke’s Untitled (Elastic Bands), 1995, were accretions of elastic bands around small, unidentifiable original objects. Ranging in colour from grape bloom white through straw to varnished pine, and fortuitously recalling wicker (that other lovecraft), these heavy visual objects recalled Chevy Chase’s obsession with seeing the world’s biggest rubberband ball in his movie, Vacation. 

Outside the gallery two small pinboards contained beautiful aerial photos of two patterned crop circles, examples of the 90s British summertime phenomenon that had tapped into our anxieties about the damaged earth at a time when the lifestyle options of gala and environmentalism drifted through the Guardian’s weekend sections from article to cartoon. However, these particular geometries, Crop Formations, 1995 and 1996, had been created by Rod Dickinson and indexed an important aspect of the exhibition in which other influences on lifestyle were at least as important as the white cube. 

Against the trunk of a tree, two of Tom Of Finland’s Cops detain a trouserless biker. The ripe quality of finish in this drawing renders it a craft-item; domestic, not actually transgressive, probably useful, something produced with devotion to the subject and an infatuation with its own perfect surface, and intended for distribution among a close-knit extended community. The ability of these crafted objects to locate themselves in a particular social situation (not necessarily geographical), and to take direction from that ideal of living, does not restrict them to muteness or functionality. Simon Periton’s cut-paper Bear Garden Doily, 1997, created a thorny unwelcoming pattern with fairy-tale resonances – an elf in the thorns menaced by the erection of a sprite. This was one of the few evident uses of a traditional craft to subvert its usual associations. 

Cathy Wilkes’s obsessive dwelling on a mantra of poetry, place and symbolic significance resulted in her engaging and disturbing Unitys//Please Master/Give Me Soft Blackness, 1997. A five-metre square of sewn rosato silk, overprinted with a black linear configuration, flapped loosely against the wall. Her notebook, displayed nearby, provided intimate unfolding of the thinking Process that went into the creation of the wall piece. A small photo of a republican mural in Belfast began to breathe a lament, “The fools, the fools, they have left us our fenian dead”, while written in the notebook in Wilkes’ spidery hand were the words, “Forget Unitys Remember The Names … Unity Flats … narrow skull and pale skin … walk through Unity Flats … Please Master / Black religions .. Please Master / Black Softness / I do love you.” This carefully finished work, like others in the show (Lolly Batty’s Untitled Arabesque, 1997), suggests the idea that ‘painstaking’ means just that. 

In 1995, Richey Manic, singer with The Manic Street Preachers, disappeared from view, leaving legions of teenage fans in despair. For his powerful work The Uses of Literacy, 1997, Jeremy Deller collected fan letters, notes threatening suicide, drawings and paintings, all from teenagers who loved and identified with Richey. The uses of literacy, which include the writing of touching and depressing verse and the painting or drawing of Richey’s face taken from album covers, here represent a crucial attempt to reconnect with the missing person through revisiting, with care and attention, his face and his words as if the image (as it becomes in one photocopied animation) were that of the martyred Christ. 

Across town at the Transmission Gallery, Jonnie Wilkes and Russell Crottyshowed work that shared some of the same temperament manifested in ‘Lovecraft’. Wilkes’s main installed work, Sleep, 1997, included the kind of platform you might overlook at a gig, a light rig or speaker stack scaffolding. Underneath it, a specially designed disc, familiar from club lightshows, sent a spinning, comet-shaped pool to turn eternally in the shadows. A white plastic sheet, hung from a string line, provided the screen for a video projection slowly showing the names of some dance tracks – Washing Machine, Madface, Humanoid – that would be immediately recognizable to a dedicated club audience but very few other people. Yet, at the same time, because it was decontextualised, it was not without interest; the change of space from club to gallery provided a moment of clarification which allowed the set-up to be seen as poetically intended. 

One hundred screenprints of the word fever’ lay stacked on the floor with the printers’ packaging around them; club culture has long been adept at finding resonances for its style in flyers and design and Fever’s half- buried metaphor of distribution and delirium was concentrated in a seemingly casual setting. It is one of 

the hardest things to make a deliberate arrangement look totally uncontrived, but Wilkes sidesteps this problem by choosing arrangements that are experienced originally through some form of disorientation, perceptual shift or stream-of-consciousness meditation. 

Russell Crotty also displays his lifestyle options but in a way that is immediately apparent as you look at his books of drawings that project an idea of a kind of West Coast casuality and ease of effort alongside a total dedication to the pleasurable, the interesting, and its recording, at the same time. It comes as no surprise to learn that he has made a book of surfing drawings, showing amazing tubes and always with a perfectly poised little surfer on the hoard. He did these right on the beach. 

On large tables in the Gallery, Crotty showed three gargantuan hooks. (all 1996) whose pages had to he turned with the help of the gallery invigilator. The pages of the smallest one, a red book, Jupiter Strip Sketch Book, portrayed a progression of orbital views around the latitude of the great Red Spot. This was envisaged by Crotty to be seen as a very slow flick book. Five Nocturnes was a superb indication of Crotty’s tireless patience – whole spreads of the night sky, (drawings sometimes five feet across and entirely filled in with a black Biro. One of them, Orion over Piz Gloria, in following the contours of the alpine slopes, revealed an excerpt from the plot of Crotty’s favourite Bond film. Handwritten texts used in the books, like hieroglyphics, emphasized the personal or particular significance of some of the drawn imagery. Looking through a telescope to draw the details for the moon’s surface in Atlas of Lunar Drawings, Crotty’s eye, in a state akin to reverie, has picked out areas of interest. The whiteness of the page became a mirror-image mapping of his diagram of lunar luminescence. The letters, in handwritten capitals that got larger towards the bottom of the page prompted a strong vertiginous effect. Here Crotty noted The Deep Basin Copernicus … evidence of massive impacts under high illumination … Brings to mind HP Lovecraft’s The Dark Brotherhood … “For it was an extraterrestrial scene that I witnessed … one of great grandeur in its proportions and yet one completely incomprehensible to me.”