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How not to disappear completely: characterising the role of anonymity in contemporary figurative painting

Willems, S. (2019) How not to disappear completely: characterising the role of anonymity in contemporary figurative painting. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00088070


My research examines how anonymity functions as a performance and form of subjectivity within contemporary figurative painting. This is developed by considering how a paradox and double movement of ‘presenting’ whilst ‘retreating’, reframes the question of anonymity within the imagery and materiality of paintings, beyond one of flattening at the level of representation. By assessing how this translates as an ambiguity of power and psychological expression, I show how it takes effect within the work of the late Swedish artist, Dick Bengtsson, as well as within my own practice. This is established initially by investigating Bengtsson’s paintings according to Friedrich Nietzsche’s duality of Apollonian and Dionysian forces, to demonstrate how a rational Apollonian strategy to achieve anonymity conceptually, conflicts in the making of paintings with a Dionysian state, in which reason is abandoned. By assessing how Bengtsson’s paintings revolve around this tension, I establish their precedent in relation to Luc Tuymans and Martin Kippenberger within a subsequent trajectory of post-conceptual figurative painting. In rethinking anonymity as an ambiguity of power in the making of paintings, I explore how this tension unfolds within particular motifs, as they appear within paintings. This is established within my practical research where I juxtapose the hermit in art-history with the corporate team-building participant: situating activities of the latter in landscapes of the former. By evaluating how the ascetic nature of the hermit represents a problematic of empowerment - which I establish through Michel Foucault’s Technologies of the Self and Nietzsche’s What is the Meaning of the Ascetic Ideals? – I consider how this finds parallels with the corporate team-building participant, who, I argue – despite appearances - mirrors the hermit’s plight, within a late-capitalist culture of gamification and ‘structured fun’. This lays the foundation for Isabelle Graw’s thesis Painting as a Thinking Subject which, I suggest, in its critique of subjectivity within the current economic climate, presents a convincing case for re-examining the question of agency, before I assess the impact of this research, finally, within my recent painting practice.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Renshaw, T. and Russell, J.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Arts and Communication Design
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Art
ID Code:88070


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