Sunday, October 7, 2007

Bruce Docker: Sleeping Swan


This image incredibly resembles a coat of arms. All of the attributes are there: an animal of noble connotation in the center and a map-like illustration on the sides, one portraying the land and the other the sea. The yellow and the red islands may symbolize the shipping industry, the merchant and the military fleet. The yellow and the orange stripes may signify farming or roads, that in turn may stand for communication, diplomacy and prosperity. The only thing that is missing is an inscription in Latin. I suppose that the artist's signature can pose a logical substitute (I think I have already shown once how the signature can be extra-meaningful in the need of a textual reference). I suspect that the artist intended for this piece to convey an iconic message: there is something very solemn and dignified about the bird, while the other parts are very schematic, as to not to divert the viewer from the main idea that is supposed to be put across by the swan.

I could play around and try guessing which country or what kind of institution such a coat of arms would suit best. Perhaps research will reveal that some emblems indeed include a swan -- but I don't want to make this extraneous information the point of this review. I feel much more compelled to understand how the artist's style coheres so effortlessly, with the winged addendum, into a representation that differs conceptually -- which means quite significantly -- from the traditional notion of what is a "painting." After some more browsing, it occurred to me that I simply have not payed enough attention to that emblematic, highly stylized facet of Bruce's art; the trees and the clouds exhibit it in particular, and they could be introduced into the above piece without notably changing it.

In more formal terms, it is the shifting towards the abstract that predisposes towards emblematizing. For instance, it is not accidental that early Soviet posters depicted the human figure by using only a few geometrical figures -- borrowing from Malevich, these artists utilized abstraction for pragmatic, propagandistic and ultimately emblematic purposes, incidentally elevating their posters to works of art (a feat ascribed before to Toulouse-Lautrec). Here, the only difference is that Bruce stays within the limits of his own artwork. He reshuffles some of his trademark elements, such as the intricately formed shadows, and puts them in a new context by adding a new feature in the form of the swan. In other words, the artist crossed over to a completely different genre, while remaining loyal to his personal style.

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