The painter's sense of self is the biggest obstacle to taking on the painter's life. On the canvas mind and matter become knotted. But there are knots and there are KNOTS. Good painting depends on the psychological and formalist knots coming together in an imperfect tug of love and war that never lets go. 


The 'temperament' of the painter – a word that was conceived in the tug of love that Charles Baudelaire had with the paintings of Eugene Delacroix – is where it begins and ends for the painter. Most painters tell you to fuck off with their eyes when you mention their temperament, not realising the irony that temperament starts with 'fuck off eyes'.


Ramon Kassam – now showing at Dublin's Green on Red Gallery – tells us he paints in the third person. It's a novel idea, especially for a painter. The very notion implies an escape act, a Houdini. But is it all an act, a trick, an illusion, a trompe l'oeil?


Six years ago I experienced the very grass roots of Kassam's unique meta-perspective of the painter's life and processes at Limerick's artist-run Occupy Space. Three years later at Dublin's Pallas Projects he exhibited a body of work that seemed almost resolved in its intent to kill Kassam off: the exhibition was titled Portrait cuts itself out on the floor. At Green on Red Gallery we get to experience a painter who has managed to distance himself from himself without killing himself, and made that differentiation between distance and death explicit in titles such as His re-worked Kassam.


Cut, spliced, folded, stapled and stitched, Kassam's paintings are surgeries in the same warped sense that Dr. Frankenstein was a Sunday painter. Some, with puckered skin, look like they’ve had liposuction. Others – minus the artist's glue and scalpel – seem perfect, like immaculately conceived babies without the push or the knife.


I imagine Kassam as a night painter. While other painters sleep and dream of what could happen  tomorrow on the canvas, Kassam paints like a painter once removed from his daylight self. Like a nineteenth-century somnambulist, he sleepwalks as a different person, recollected in fits and starts on the canvas. 


Although Kassam's big multimedia paintings shout loudest at Green on Red, it is the "immaculately conceived babies without the push or the knife" that whispered in my ear long after I had left the gallery. Talk and View from bed probably couldn't hold the space without their hung, drawn and quartered kin, but their infused black and red and ultramarine surfaces agitate as much, if not more, than Kassam's scalpel.


Kassam's colours are from the night too, as if the artist is looking from the urban undergrowth through another artist's studio window that is shockingly lit by a bare lightbulb. Blue, red, yellow, black and white are Kassam's primary set, which are scumbled across the scarred, pleated and creased linen of his stretchers. 


Kassam's biggest surgery at Green on Red, however, is the notion that he has psychically removed himself from the act of painting; that he’s just a narrator of the painter's life in the studio. There is an elevation to his painted perspectives that gets this sense of distance across, as if Kassam is looking down from above at the memories and processes of another painter. This pronounced elevation invites imaginings of Jackson Pollock spread-eagled above his horizontal canvas, or Richard Diebenkorn's hawk-eye paintings of Ocean Park.


Green on Red Gallery has been through its own tug of war over the last two years, from moving beyond comfortable walking distance of Dublin gallery central to a second-fix vacant commercial space down the docks, to half the stable of artists leaving the gallery. Kassam having his first commercial solo show here seems like the right relationship, the right context. Kassam brings a new vitality to the Irish painting scene, a painting scene that sometimes gets stuck in the same gear of painterly lyricism. Artists like Kassam producing work that is a little edgier, rawer, with an explicit purpose that is less about painterly nuance and more about agitating the painting language is needed now more than ever to spark discussion and a little bit of rivalry among painters. Because believe me, painters are talking about Ramon Kassam right now, and they should be, but for the right reasons!


[James Merrigan]


Through 2 July.

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