The Anatomy of Memory


"Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were." - Marcel Proust.

How do we remember things? Why do we forget? Are our memories a true account of events, or are they coloured by the present? How do we receive information from our short-term, or our long-term memory? Why are some memories very vivid, whilst others are vague? Are forgotten memories less important than those that we remember? And what of repressed memories?

The paintings of David Wallage explore the idea of memory. The paintings are composed of interlocking webs of delicate horizontal and vertical skeins of semi-transparent pigment, interrupted by the organic flow of dripped paint, which travels across the previously laid network, like fresh neural pathways staking a claim through the grey-matter of the brain.

Every painting is worked out meticulously. Each one began life in its own separate notebook in which the artist has mapped out every element, and the precise visual ingredients. It could be said that these working notebooks are in themselves a kind of memory of the resulting paintings.

The paintings in this exhibition are as close a visual depiction of memory as we are likely to see. The mixture of structural, hard-edge elements and hazy, soft-focus elements create an almost hallucinatory mimicry of remembrance. Several of the works feature metallic aluminium strips that transect the surface, reminding us of the suspected role of that particular metal in the advance of Alzheimers' disease - that great disrupter of memory.

An early influence for Wallage was the great minimal abstractionist Agnes Martin, and there are echoes of her grids and strips within his work; but Wallage's concerns are 'fuller' and more nuanced; his direction is often more 'playful', and in many ways more human, which is entirely more fitting for subject matter of this current exhibition.

There have been a number of artists in the past who have dealt with memory as a subject in their work - most notably Salvador Dali, with his painting 'The Persistence of Memory' (1931): but his portrayal of melting clocks and a disembodied profile on a barren lake shore is perhaps too solid, to corporeal, too concrete to adequately do service to the idea of memory. Wallage's paintings, on the other hand, present not only the idea of memory, but, as far as possible, the shape and the texture and the colour and the scale of memory. Their delicacy points to the fragility of memory; their internal juxtapositions speak of the jostling interacting moments within individual memories; their suggestion of spatial depth connotes the limitless depths of memory as things gradually swim into focus, or are swallowed forever within the realms of the subconscious. the physical act of engaging with these paintings, and immersing ourselves in the layers and strata, is essentially a meditative act in which the boundaries between the conscious and unconscious begin to blur.

Steve Cox