|Fritz Duffy, the art of mutability.
Leonardo da Vinci famously advised painters to stimulate their imagination through the contemplation of old walls:
…when you look at a wall spotted with stains, or with a mixture of stones, if you have to devise some scene, you may discover a resemblance to various landscapes . . . you may see battles and figures in action; or strange faces . . . And these appear on such walls confusedly, like the sound of bells in whose jangle you may find any name or word you choose to imagine.
Fritz Duffy gets his inspiration from noticing the everyday and overlooked in the streets of London. Fritz is fascinated by the multiple layers that old and often decaying objects present. His visual world is a palimpsest recording the traces left by time on the surface of our world. It is a world that is easily overlooked until it is brought before us, made fresh and fascinating, by the artist’s gaze.
His paintings of walls seem to float free from their white canvas background as if they might drift into the room from the surface on which they depend. They are both solid and immaterial at the same time. A rich residue of marks creates a surface that is itself an accumulated record of the task of looking and making; the layering of paint surfaces is loosely applied so that earlier passages show through the upper layers. These paintings are, despite their ostensible subjects, portraits of time. They are their own history of making and remind us of the passage of time that everything around us records. Fritz lovingly depicts the mutability of the material world, the way a wall acquires a patina of the various adaptations and assaults that it has sustained, in this way his work makes time visible to us in a new way.
Fritz’s paintings of icons (ancient and modern) remind us again of mutability. The masterpieces of the ancient world; a classical Greek statue of an athlete; a pre-historic fertility idol; an African bronze head, have travelled down through history to us now, often in a damaged state and divorced from their original context and function, but speak to us of the ideals of other ages and places. Often we do not know who the makers of these iconic objects were. The fame of these works outlasts their makers and are remnants of worlds that are largely lost to us.
Modern day icons, such as footballers David Beckham and Wayne Rooney, are also given the ‘icon’ treatment. Wayne Rooney is depicted gradually turning to stone as he is captured in a sports photograph after scoring a goal. The painting of Michelangelo’s statue of the biblical David (saviour of his people by slaying the giant Goliath) has the head of David Beckham. Michelangelo’s sculpture of the idealised masculine figure sits naturally with the publicity images of Beckham. There is wit here, but also, perhaps, a warning, a vanitas effect, familiar from still-life painting, that fame and life itself is transient and that all things must fade and decay. But this makes it sound as if Fritz’s paintings are a sobering experience whereas in fact they are a celebration and invite us to embrace our transience.
When I look at Fritz’s paintings I’m reminded of a line from the American poet, Wallace Stevens:
The poem is the cry of its occasion.
Each painting by Fritz Duffy is such a cry, a summons, a wake-up call and an invitation to look differently. There is something synaesthetic about Fritz’s paintings, a musical quality to his palette, a harmony of tones that move skilfully between different registers, with the assurance that a lifelong commitment to the handling of paint guarantees. The closer and longer one looks the more nuances one discovers, each with the shimmering quality of microtones in music.
The paintings of interiors are much to do with being alone and possibly either a wish or failure to communicate sufficiently with other people in the outside world.
There is a contradiction of wanting time and space for oneself - being left alone and yet on the other hand wishing for the company of others.
Houses are seen as “mausoleums” in which people have incarcerated themselves.
Consequently, imaginary worlds and ideal lives are created in order to blot out the reality of lonely existences.
The space between the inhabited building and that of the neighbour becomes a “no-mans-land” preventing contact.
The passing of time is portrayed by the deterioration and decay of the surfaces of the buildings.
Each householder tries to stamp a mark of individuality on their building by means of decoration, use of colour, or customization.
Objects within rooms have the histories and associations of those who have used them.
There is a sense of an event which is either impending or has already occured.
There is an air of inevitability in the paintings of street architecture - despite the intentions of the original designer/builder to make a grand statement and bring a higher meaning when constructing. It is eventually undermined by the actions of future generations - when alien colours, materials and objects are overlaid and attached to original facades. However, old features are still partly in evidence reminding one of both the building’s history and again of the passage of time.
In the building site paintings, peoples’ previous domestic lives become exposed during demolition, bringing an air of sadness and poignancy to the scene.
Images such as yellow and red road markings and bollards are allegorical. They refer to the restrictions and frustrations which people experience in their daily lives.