Twilight- 2002 oil and acrylic- 96x 108 inches

Journey- 2002 oil and acrylic- 96x 108 inches

April 5-26, 2002

Mario Diacono Gallery 119 Braintree Street Boston, MA 02134

Painting: A Genesis by Mario Diacono

collection of Ida and Achille Maramotti

photgraphy by John Morgan

image scans by Steve Zitelli

installation by Doug Young and Neill Fearnley

Jason Bell's first canvases appear to circumvent all the criticality that has alternately deconstructed and reconstructed the practice of painting since the redefinition of Art proposed by Conceptualism. In his work, the pictorial construction of an image is not a way of making visible Painting's ontology, nor is a strategy for translating subjectivity into an icon; rather it seems an act of devotion to the religious impulse to foretell the beginning of Man and the end of God. In the process, this new painting becomes a lost-and-found means of visually narrating, with the simplified yet figurally overcharged wholeness of representation of a comic-book story, the metaphysical adventures of Primordial Man at the completion of the Terrestrial Age. This project of practicing the (port)ending of painting by going on a rummage, on a montage and collage of themes and icons from all layers of Western and Eastern hermetic/esoteric sources (as Matthew Ritchie had also done, though with an eye and an ear much more attuned to the history of Abstraction) in order to image a constant remake of the rise and fall of God from Idea to Man (and back), bears all the marks of the many descents of Art, in the Twentieth Century, to the underworld of postures of non-Art, post-Art and anti-Art that were predicated in much critically inflected or mass media-minded work. The peculiar descent we see in Bell's work, of a slice of high culture (the iconography of Hermetism and iconosophy of Esotericism) into the visual code and narrative modes of popular mythographic representation, pays then deeper dues than it might at first (in)sight appear to the erasure of Modernist/Expressive art postulated by ideological Conceptualism. But such post-Modernistic and Conceptualist allegiance doesn't result in any proposition by Bell of a pictorial strategy that would become one more declaration of painting's self-referentiality. The narrativist and hermetic modes of his pictures result from the artist's internalization of the 'popular', comic book visual paradigm in order to forge both a language of representation and the ideography of a neo-Gnostic anthropogony.  
Since his last months in art school, about two years ago, Bell had been scribbling chapters of his syncretistic and humourous anthropogony on large scrolls of paper using writing, drawing and collage. In these drawings, Tiresias (9x12 feet), The Birth of a World (8x14.5 feet), The Wars of Gods and Men (7x14 feet), History's Bastard (llxl0 feet), Everything Everyone Everywhere (12x51 feet), a cartoonistic/expressionistic sequential and consequential accumulation of images referencing science fictional cosmologies, Judeo/Christian theologies, comic book religions and epics, kabbalistic and magical hierographies, Alchemical symbologies was scattered over a monochromatically painted ground as a deliberately non-linear, asyntactical narrative of hypersemantic vignettes. Which were always linked however by a subliminal intertext positing an originating event - a sort of iconographic Big Bang - to the story of these images: the Idea of a Primal Man igniting a chain reaction of iconic implosions of all the histories of the birth of History. The interplay of High (content) and Low (form) had been of course a recurrent temptation and aesthetic necessity of Twentieth Century avant-gardes, since it was the inevitable shorthand/shortcut for acknowledging new social realities with attendant new typologies of economic expression and cultural formation. In the early 'Sixties, Lichtenstein and Fahlstrom had transposed into a conceptual template for their work the structure of the comic-strips' narratives. Bell hasn't even tried to approximate their sublimation in a 'high' style of the 'low' statute of the comic book or comic strip visuality. He might be in this sense much closer to Basquiat than to the Pop artists. His internalization of the comic book paradigm of representation was so complete that if one could have disregarded the esoteric sources and intentions of his graffited, science-fictional and mythographic iconography, one would have practically noted almost no differences. For Bell, both his mimicking of a'low' mode of representation, and his 'pastiching' of the 'high' concepts in Hermetic ideographies and narratives, were an acknowledgement of religious/artistic belatedness and at the same time a primal attempt to infuse painting with the different effect of a multitextual complexity.  
Twilight and Journey, the two paintings exhibited here (both oil and acrylic on canvas, 2002, 96x108 inches) not only diverge from the large drawings by moving from one (low) medium to another (high) medium, but also abandon their sequential narrative to focus on a single image, which is the same in the both pictures, but seen from two opposite points of view: as if the spectator were able to move 180 degrees around the scene of Twilight, and could thus see what lay behind the artist's back - the scene of Journey. This "bi-located" scene is primal not only in a mythoreligious sense - the confrontation of God and Man in a tropical Paradise -, but maybe in the Freudian one as well. In Journey the Primordial Man, Adan or Nada, is kneeling next to a rock - a sort of Delphic omphalos, holding on to or struggling with a booted Angel hugely winged, yellow-shirted and blue-skirted, possibly just arrived from outer space (his feet are not touching the ground, as any angel in a Renaissance Annunciation). The image takes place on a continent the size of an island, since we see water all around; the Angel's probably fresh arrival is confirmed by the presence in both pictures of a fantastic horse, modeled on al-Buraq, the mount with a crowned human head on which, according to the Miraj Nameh legend, the Prophet Mahomet had ascended to the seven Heavens and reached the Throne of God. The inscription of the Miraj text is reinforced (even if the image in Bell's pictures shows a descent of God to Man rather than an ascension of Man to Heaven) by the phantasmatic appearance in Journey, at the edge of the water, of a purple/violet cock whose single comb reaches the sky while his feet rest on the island's ground. Further, the Miraj text is interlayered in the two canvases with that of P.J. Farmer's science-fiction novel The Unreasoning Mask, in which "the hero Ramstan, a Muslim starship captain in the distant future, goes through his own ' Miraj ', which takes place solely within his mind". A quotation from a Nur el-Musafir at the beginning of the novel, "Where there is only one, there is also another", might further still be used to read the "bi-location effect" of the two canvases. The two pictures oscillate then between a physical twilight of God (which includes the twilight blue of the cock in Journey), and the metaphysical beginning of Man (the Angel's journey brings to painting in Twilight the birth of Adan or Nada). The purely functional (to the hypernarrative of this Genesis) and minimally expressive use of painting in the two pictures points to a refuse, at least for now, on the part of the artist to be drawn into the debate of a formalist art - the minimal form of the brushstrokes, of the layering of paint, of the choice of colors symbolically determined follows the function of pointing picture-making in the direction of a supposed (usefully) lost innocence). One last detail in this pictorial Genesis has to be noted: the Primordial Man appears to be born, as in almost all myths of the Origins, with a fully developed body, but here also with a fully developed erection (as in the illustration, published in the 1521 Italian translation of Vitruvius' De Architectura [folio G2] and attributed to Leonardo, of the ideal human figure, whose spread arms and legs touch the four corners of a gridded square inscribed in a circle, that is in turn inscribed in a larger square). This erection, rather than naming sexuality as a result of the Genesis, merely points in Bell's image to the uninterrupted yet always frustrated power of Man to develop into a Terrestrial God.  
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