Painting, for Pat Redmond, comes before anything else. Working from a converted room in his house, he will often paint late into the night, preferring to complete a painting in three or four days. Sometimes the intensity and single-mindedness with which he paints will mean that he loses all sense of time. And when the piece is finished, he is invariably restless and unsatisfied and barely stops to give the painting a title before seizing upon the next subject.
More curious still, Redmond admits to harbouring equivocal feelings about many of his subjects. Sometimes, as in the case of liquorice allsorts, particular favourites of his patrons, Redmond openly admits to disliking them. When pressed to reveal more, Redmond confesses complicated feelings about his subjects which amount to a sort of haunting that he recognises as stemming from his youth: “As a child, I had three absurd, pathological fears: the record player, Chef brown sauce and Camel cigarettes”. Redmond can link these objects to personally unsettling events and dreams and knowing this, it becomes irresistible to speculate on the painter's relationship with the subjects of his paintings.
In a manner analogous to Freud's formulation of 'The Theory of the Uncanny', Redmond's paintings of shoes, receptacles with mysterious contents, a box of Kleenex, children's confectionery and arresting portraits, synecdochally suggest repressed episodes from a personal and social history.
The word 'uncanny' has come to be defined as anything strange or mysterious and is derived from the now obsolete use of 'can' to mean 'know'. Hence, 'canny' for 'knowing'. Thus the 'uncanny' equals the 'unknown' or to put it another way, 'the unconscious'. Freud's term for the 'uncanny' is Das Unheimlich which literally translates as 'the unhomely'. In the context of Redmond's use of everyday objects, the German idiom suits us very well, especially because these seductive, photo-realistic pieces seem to have been distilled from such a peculiarly psychological intensity.
Freud developed his theory of 'the uncanny' out of earlier ideas from Friedrich Schelling as a way to explain certain neurotic symptoms he encountered in his patients and that he described in 'Studies on Hysteria'. The 'uncanny' is “that which was meant to have remained hidden but which has come to light”. It is that thing which inexplicably induces discomfort or fear because it is in actuality the trace of a forgotten trauma. Like a flag or a buoy, the 'uncanny' marks the fearful point where knowledge has sunk beneath the surface into the unconscious mind.
Freud's famous example from 1892 is that of the case of Miss Lucy R., a Scottish governess living in Vienna who was suffering from olfactory hallucinations of burnt pudding. Freud rediscovered the traumatic point at which the smell of burnt pudding became divorced from its context and transformed into the 'uncanny' symptom.
Lucy had been in unrequited love with her employer for some time, but had lately come to believe that her affections would be reciprocated. But this hope had been suddenly crushed when her employer severely scolded her and threatened her with dismissal for allowing some guests to embrace and kiss his children. Lucy, in her distress, had then written a letter to her mother expressing a desire to return home to Glasgow but when the reply came, the children made a game out of hiding it from her. Driven to distraction, Lucy tried to retrieve the letter while the pudding she was baking burned in the oven. After a short period, the hallucinations began as a symbolic reminder of the lost trauma.
Looking around at the images in Pat Redmond's latest exhibition is like participating in the enantiodromia of many homely objects becoming 'unhomely', transformed by the painterly act. Some paintings openly declare their mystery and uncanniness. What, for example, is inside the crumpled paper bag or the foil sachet or the cardboard box? What hitherto hidden thing is about to come to light? By situating the viewer at the triggering point of a neurosis, Redmond is able to induce powerful feelings of anxiety in the viewer.
Redmond especially induces this anxiety in himself. In the paintings of twisted and knotted sheets for example, Redmond sometimes conceals dolls within the folds. It is impossible to tell when looking at the painting what, if anything, is hidden inside the sheet and so it would seem that for Redmond, this ritualistic measure is an essential mechanism of the anxiety driven painting process.
The strength of the mechanism has its roots, as Freud has suggested, in the child's experience of the lack of distinction between animate and inanimate objects. Compounded with the phenomenon of projection, children can develop highly articulated lives for their toys. When, in adulthood, we encounter dolls, they re-activate our infantile beliefs about them. Unsurprisingly then, dolls are one of the classic images of 'the uncanny' as utilised in Gothic literature and horror films. Mike Kelley's exhibition 'The Uncanny' at Tate Liverpool in 2004 dedicated a large part of its exploration to the presence of dolls, mannequins and other metaphors of human automata within cultural expressions of the 'uncanny'. As artificial reproductions of nature, the doll is also intimately linked to another major exemplar of the 'uncanny' - the figure of the doppelganger or 'double' which according to Freud is the outward visualisation of the unconscious mind perceived as the double of the conscious mind. But of course, Redmond has only played this game of doubling with himself to better enact the doubling of the material object onto the canvas. He simulates an 'uncanny' situation to initiate a psychic dynamic that, in turn, is translated to the painting.
Elsewhere however, Redmond draws upon collective anxieties at work in modern culture. The empty, greasy McDonalds fries container, Oldenburg style cheeseburger and the scenes from Eddie Rockets from his solo exhibition in 2003 reviewed discredited fast food culture through the darkened lens of Pop Art, rendering the hitherto merely meretricious oddly depressive. In the paintings of Liquorice Allsorts or the deliquescent Bullseyes from 2004, the already artificial colours are heightened to become lurid and still more synthetic in appearance. In his imagination, Redmond has linked these confections to the 'lures' proffered by strangers to unwary children. This and other paintings since explore the death of innocence in an 'age of fear'. Enlarging on this theme, Redmond has spoken of his desire to paint clowns and one clown in particular dominates his thoughts: John Wayne Gacey Jr., the Chicago serial child killer. Recently made the subject of a terrifying song by Sufjan Stevens, Gacey used to dress up as a clown to perform his ritualised murders before burying the bodies under the floorboards of his house. Like many other people, Redmond acutely fears the sinister aesthetic and function of the clown and now there seems to be something deeply 'uncanny' in the fact that these deeply frightening characters could ever have been deemed suitable entertainment for children - or is this perhaps itself a reflection of the mediation of the 'uncanny' through television and film that has made the clown into an 'uncanny' object?
But for now, Redmond's preference is to paint the material objects in a way that suggests crimes and traumas rather than paint the perpetrators themselves. Whether that is because to paint a portrait of someone like Gacey (even from photographs) is too direct and threatening a strategy for representing evil is debatable. As Hannah Arendt observed during the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961, material objects by themselves can be every bit as potent: “Ashtrays, lampshades, quotidian objects and prostheses of a life where the banality of evil, its ordinariness, is far more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.”
Two recent portraits, one of which is included in this exhibition are of friends of the painter and while they are certainly not 'easy' portraits they aren't exactly 'uncanny' either. But although Raymond*, a cerebral palsy sufferer, evokes pathos in a sympathetic viewer, it is possible to conceive of it creating alarm too, especially in a child who has had little or no experience of people with disabilities. In a different, more combative way, the hard stare of the expression in Richard is difficult because it is so confrontational. In both cases too, the giant scale of the heads does produce a startling effect.
At the very deepest end of Redmond's tendency to produce 'uncanny' effects are the paintings of shoes. Chosen for their shabbiness, these objects bear only the most fleeting of resemblances to the seductive shoes in a work by Sylvie Fleury. Redmond's shoes are the most unworthy of commodity fetishism. They are at the end of their lifespan, they have been abandoned and have almost expired, breathing the half-life of the car boot sale. Their surfaces have been bent, eroded, stained and stretched and in their numerousness suggest an infinity of detritus.
The painting of the box of Kleenex is also actually a painting of shoes being a double reference to the aviator and film-maker, Howard Hughes, who in the early stages of his obsessive-compulsive disorder, handled all objects through an insulating layer of bacteria blocking Kleenex, but who also, at the very nadir of his decline was alleged to have been seen wearing the empty Kleenex boxes on his feet.
In another shoe painting, the shoes are piled up haphazardly in the manner of a jumble sale but they inevitably suggest, as Redmond himself is aware, the horror of the Holocaust. It needn't be Redmond's intention, it is more that the growth of the 'uncanny' from a symptom into a sensibility means that all images of the compellingly strange and unspeakable are drawn into its frame of reference.
That Redmond is so alert to the uncanniness in modern culture has to do with the extent to which he himself is an agent of its proliferation. To have adopted the 'uncanny', it's doubling and to have re-articulated it in art is to have re-doubled it. Freud saw himself that his own development of psychoanalytic language effected the same redoubling, remarking: “Indeed, I should not be surprised to hear that psychoanalysis which is concerned with laying bare these hidden forces has itself become 'uncanny' for that very reason”.
Certainly it was my attraction to Redmond's 'uncanny' visions that led me to volunteer my pair of lemon-ish yellow platform shoes as a subject for one of his paintings. Dating from the seventies but standing as they do at the centre of one particular adolescent drama on Brighton Beach in the nineties, I have always felt more than a little conflicted about them. Seeing them now, doubled once more under Pat Redmond's gaze, I see that they have only gained in their uncanny power.
Now, if I can only remember why...

Karim White





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