Future Shock

The image is in motion. Just a moment ago the canvas was gazing at you, an arrangement of crystalline structures that shimmer ice blue, light red and transparent white. As soon as you start moving, however, the image space shifts. ‘I am trying to get away from the static in painting’, he says about his work when I visit him in his Berlin studio. And in fact, what looks like static-geometric abstraction in the reproductions, has a marvellous life of its own in reality. Shannon Finley was born in 1974 in Ontario, Canada. Like most men of his generation he grew up with videogames. The often triangular shaped areas in his paintings derive from the construction of digital worlds. The triangle is the most efficient unit in which a body can be broken down digitally because in a digital space the processor only calculates surface, not substance. Therefore the digital space is potentially a sacred space – both transcend the material constraints of the real world. Such paintings include ‘Crypt’, ‘Spiritual Modulation’ or ‘Enterbrain’. They are devotional pictures for the 21st century that accept the inheritance of concrete art.

Until 2005 Finley calculated his paintings beforehand because of their complexity. Today, small pieces of paper on which he sketches simple grid structures, for example on train rides, mostly are enough. ‘I hardly need a computer any more’, says the artist, almost sounding a little proud. He prepares the canvas by coating it in a neon colour and it becomes the fluorescent basis of the complex structure of the painting, in which the vibrancy of a loud pink or yellow is used like the backlight of an LCD-Screen. The brightness shines from the back through the layers of paint, like daylight trough a church window. It is this light, broken multiple times and caught in the acrylic layers that lends a mystical quality to the paintings.

How do you do something like that? Above all you have to be patient. Up to thirty layers of paint are scumbled and the development of a painting can stretch over months. That’s if it doesn’t get too much for the painter and his angelic patience suddenly changes into destruction. At that point Finley ‘kills’ the painting by painting over it in one single colour. But at least in painting there is life after death. The black or white colour then gets removed by squeegee, which later on makes the structure of the painting even more complex than before the ‘destruction’. Finley captures the stages of such a resurrection with the iPhone and uses the pictures to put together little animated GIF-Files. They are simple videos, in which the work of months retracts into a few seconds, as if colourful crystals where growing on the canvas. The result is sometimes evocative of the streaky squeegee clouds of Gerhard Richter, but it is structured in the strict geometry of a Günter Fruhtrunk painting – a painter whose work Shannon Finley got to know and appreciate in Germany. The fascination for light-phenomena that his paintings do not simply depict, but create themselves, might have to do with Finley’s time at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax. A dense fog stayed in the seaport for days and bathed the town in a mysterious twilight. After that time, Finley went to New York for 6 years, met a German girl and came to Berlin, where he lives and works today. Here he has the space to paint in bigger formats and to apply himself to his sculptures. They are polyhedra out of coated plexiglass that shimmer in all colours of the rainbow or are see-through – depending on the viewpoint. Due to the semitransparent coating and the complex construction they live a life of their own that is even more difficult to capture than the one of the paintings. You can barely photograph it. But it is indeed a beautiful paradox that an art that is inspired by the digital demands something so old-fashioned from the spectator like looking at the original – in the analogue reality.