Visual art news, views & reviews in Dallas, Texas, USA
Jack Mims - Black Maps at The MAC
Plunging Into The Darkness
by Michael Helsem
In a Downtown Library window i remember seeing a child's painting of the Twin Towers in flames. Tiny stick figures hung in mid air on both sides. Perhaps this is all depiction can do for history's true traumas, & we should save Art for when artistry does not seem a frivolity or obscene. Still there do exist a scant few examples (e.g. Galas, Kushner for AIDS) of the sufficiency of Art to even the most inexpugnable of enormities; & i have probably carried that expectation with me secretly ever since the morning of "Nine Eleven."
Jack Mims has been around the scene a long time, though so mum of late i naturally assumed he'd taken his palette elsewhere. In the Eighties his huge, shamaniacal paintings on unstretched canvas impressed me with their reach, if not precisely their grasp. I wanted to protest that you can't just graft a Paleolithic sensibility onto Twentieth Century hijinks or if you did, it could not wield the same signifiers but rather (as in the isolated case of Lynch's Eraserhead) would collide with some contemporary artform jarringly & inexplicably; we would not be able to know it as such. It turns out i was off the mark. Mims has found the subject he was readying for, all his life. The Apocalypse has landed.
Behind all five of The Black Maps stands a tradition — Goya, Guernica — at variance with mainstream history painting, which tended (it is now defunct) to emphasize the heroic individual in a setting of turbulent clarity (David). Instead, we get History as Nightmare. If the events of the late TwenCen as it unfolded made more & more a mockery of the heroic view (from Yeltsin on the tank to Dubya on the carrier — oy!), events of this nascent era seem only to confirm the nightmare view.
And it is a Cthulhuvian darkness into which we've been plunged.
Mims has not so much mapped the darkness, as made it plain that this is a Mystery we are to be initiated to. Accordingly he works in ridles, enigmas, & nonsequiturs — besides more transparent imagery of conflict, dismemberment, & oppression, there are burning ladders, levitating lovers, video cameras, & caped horsemen spotted with multiple eyes.
(I am glad he provided the working drawings, for i never would have recognized The Flying Red Pegasus from the cauliflower it morphed into.)
The first painting, The Black Taj, establishes a mode — black on black, reminiscent of some of the charcoal drawings of the great Hyman Bloom)--that later ones will flickeringly illumine. Certain visual quotations (Hodler, Goya) repeat & ramify;
the shamanic ordeal of The Dream Clock gives way to scattered fragments of news footage, shot through with the grief, terror & boredom of a kidnap ordeal. I think it is a measure of his mastery of these materials that Mims, even in the most polarized image The Inquisitor, manages to avoid the trap (since codified into Doubleplus Mandatory Goodthink, alas!) of runaway dualism: he clearly identifies with everything that is happening, however incomprehensible; it is all part of the teaching.
It seems to me that the last one, The Pearl Diver, emits a small but significant ray of hope. In Jungian terms a sought pearl is the germ of a new reordering. And space, which has become increasingly differentiated during the final two episodes, has reached a point of almost legible depth. Clearly the nightmare is not yet over, but somewhere in its convolutions walks the day that will be ours.