M I K E G O U G H – R E T R A C E
Think of the street you grew up on. The colour of the house next door to yours. The smell as you entered your kitchen. The sounds as you woke up in the morning. Now, what can’t you remember? Which faces have smudged? What voices have faded?
Mike Gough’s paintings are encoded messages, recording events and places that he hopes he can understand later. He includes highly personal clues, charged with the associated imagery of each place, of the feelings and colours it evoked for him. As he has said, “Perhaps one day I would be face-to-face with one of these works and have complete memory loss. I’d rely on it to help me remember.”
Blending architectural, public spaces with gestural, emotive brushstrokes, Gough explores the intimacy of process. His images emerge from the white background, or are laid upon the black enamel surface, as each mark provides insight to subconscious associations: “I try to understand why I laid that brush mark, to figure out what it is.” Aggressive, sometimes jarring colour is combined with gentle hues, smudged automatic writing and indexical geometric shapes, each referencing closely-held particularities. Ghosts come through; the surface becomes a palimpsest, a layering of the artist’s hand as Gough covers over marks that are not considered “true” to his memory.
Artists have long been punctuating their art with clandestine clues and symbols. Gough cites two prominent examples as direct influences: David Hockney and Cy Twombly. Hockney (British, b. 1937) would paint allusions to close friends and lovers as numbers and initials. Aesthetically, Gough’s works are readily comparable to those of Twombly (American, 1928-2011), whose freely-scribbled, calligraphic paintings emphasize the poetics of meditative gestures, searching for a sense of ease in deceptively simple mark-making. While Twombly translated ancient mythologies, Gough’s works are an encoded autobiography. Gough’s titles are also clues; some provide direct statements (Trust In This To Guide You Home) while others hint at the idea of losing his memory and, in turn, the places and people he has loved.
Our experience of the work becomes one of empathy, observing Gough’s traces of remembering. Within that record, the artist guides us through a search for authenticity. It is a problematic, shifting engagement, one that evokes Roland Barthes’ lament that history “is constituted only if we consider it, only if we look at it – and in order to look at it, we must be excluded from it.”
Translating the past, whether to word or image, will always obscure and dislocate the original experience. As a result, Gough’s works are necessarily abstracted; his half-hidden, highly personal imagery is a representation of something so intimate and uncertain that it can never be adequately explained to others, perhaps not even to himself.
Mireille Eagan, Curator