10.12 - 13.02.2021
… But still, why does the dump and its image summon my imagination over and over again, why do I always return to it?
-Ilya Kabakov, ‘The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away’ (1988)
Composed of three-hundred-and-one parts – some hung on the wall or stacked against it, others laid out across the floor – Zander Blom’s ‘Garage-ism’ offers a manifesto in making. There is no hierarchy of pictures here, no narrative line, but certainly an excess. The show’s premise offers the garage as a conceptual tool against creative inertia; a storehouse to which all work, regardless of its merit, finds a temporary housing. Shadows are kind, the dust democratic. Returning in memory to the garage at the bottom of the family garden, Blom writes:
The feeling of being in that room was always somewhat depressing, yet there was something wonderfully pathetic about that mess. It gave me a sobering bird’s-eye view of my very brief history on earth and my glaring shortcomings…This was a ragbag collection of, not failures exactly, but things that had failed.
Much like the dump in Ilya Kabakov’s short story The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away (1988) – which “not only devours everything, preserving it forever, but one might say it also continually generates something” – Blom’s garage is a place of productive forgetfulness, a place in which potential is tried against time. Accumulation lends itself as primary form; ‘Garage-ism’ being less a collection of disparate parts than a cacophony, a coincidence of images with no organising principle. For garages are seldom arranged as archives, their consignments haphazard and sub-par, furnished by a species of object destined for the domestic bardo, caught between trash heap and home. Much like the garage at the bottom of the garden, which came to house those adolescent overtures in art that were “transgressive in their wrongness,” inspired in their shortcomings. “Possessed by a curious energy,” he writes, “these works revealed a truth that was hard to look at, yet harder to look away from. I kept them locked away in limbo, revisiting them from time to time in real life and later, increasingly, in my memory, over and over.”
The garage – as idea, as device – has proved a continued part of Blom’s practice. A prolific painter, many of his pictures are necessarily consigned to a box under the studio couch, to the storeroom, to a warehouse, that is out the way. Where some are forgotten, others ferment; their charge all the more apparent on finding them again. Still more follow a restless path, going “from table to floor to drying rack, to pile, back to table – collecting layers of marks along the way, before maturing into something worth nailing to the wall.” No longer wooed by impasto paint, Blom works in thinly applied pigment and oil stick, pursuing a novel flatness, which lends his pictures their more moveable form. The paintings, made on unstretched canvas, offer themselves to be rolled up, stacked, left in piles and otherwise neglected. Unlike his earlier works, they submit to rough handling.
To Blom, the resulting pieces are “dishevelled,” to his gallerist “feral,” to others jarring, caustic, unsettled. Long gone are the artist’s preoccupations with aesthetic legibility; his careful compositions with their thick paint and spreading oil halos. He is, he told Bubblegum Club in a recent video feature, no longer pursuing “the abstract stuff,” is no longer concerned with work that feels “dishonest and impractical”; too clean, too in control, too demanding of a certain kind of making. “When I was younger,” Blom says of his early paintings, “I wanted everything to be perfect. I wasn’t okay with this mush, this mud.” This mud, however, is not unrefined. Like a ballerina set to slamdancing, Blom moves with the practised ease that only rigour can achieve.
For all its grunge, its low-brow Pretoria punk, there remains a straight-edged sincerity to Blom’s endeavour. The ghoulish portraits and horror movie monsters, the childish scrawls and history-book quotes; none are laced with cynicism. The figuration is, at best, incidental; a means with which Blom resists the more familiar mechanics of his abstraction. And while he may have stepped beyond Modernism as pictorial preoccupation, its pursuit of ‘truth’ remains. ‘Garage-ism’ is a call to authenticity without irony; an art that “admits defeat without giving up.” The truest image, Blom suggests, is revealed in the doing and doing again, in the accumulation of making and the overview it offers. As the unnamed protagonist in The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away says of the paper detritus found collected in so many desk drawers:
Though [it] appears to be an orderless heap of pulp for me there is an awful lot in this garbage, almost everywhere. Moreover, strange as it seems, I feel that it is precisely the garbage, that very dirt where important papers and simple scraps are mixed and unsorted, that comprises the genuine and only real fabric of my life. (Blom speaks of garage, the fictional character garbage – the two near-twinned words, and here twinned images.)
“I think of what I do now,” Blom writes, “as painting installations or gangs of pictures, a mob of images.” That ‘Garage-ism’ will then be broken into its discrete parts – sold as individual pieces – denies its apparent logic; that its parts will be brought out of conversation and relation with and to one another, must stand alone, offer their individual faults to be studied. For all are flawed, all imperfect. They offer little as discrete pictures, yet together, they are triumphant. Paintings made in the company of other paintings; parts to be arranged and rearranged. They are unsuited to stasis, to long looking; much as they were made – never considered into submission – they demand a restless seeing. To reduce the work to only a single fragment, set in a frame and fixed to a wall, is to deny the atonal aspirations of Blom’s ‘Garage-ism’; to furnish the fragment with a staid attention it neither demands nor deserves. Indeed, the work’s many parts are resolutely, wonderfully mediocre, bold in their failings. Which is not to say they fail, not at all, only that they have about them a radical honesty. “Just because something has that damp garage feeling,” as Blom writes, “doesn’t mean it can’t also be urgent, powerful, remarkable, subtle, beautiful and timeless in its own way.”
‘Garage-ism’ is accompanied by a printed manifesto with texts and images from the artist’s studio. Designed by Gabi Guy and printed in two-toned riso by Dream Press, the publication is itself an unexpected pleasure – Blom’s words as sure and vivid as his oil-stick lines.