Joseph Bernard

Linear Thinking

Detroit Artists Market

Detroit, Michigan

March 18 – April 15, 1994

An excerpt from the catalog essay

Joseph Bernard also implies the preservation of cultural artifacts in his collaged paintings, formally akin to Persian carpets of pattern juxtaposed against pattern within a rectangular format. Yet here numerous artifacts are inside the artifact, which thus becomes a fractal of cultural record. The lengths of discarded advertising film layered with flower petals, threads, onion skins, viscose paint, all suspended in layers of urethane, transform into sounds and substances which seem familiar yet unknown. The quality of rubbed stone or of smoke in a work like Ritual evokes a touch or smell which is known through the body, summoning memories of the most profound epiphanies from childhood. But the work also suggests a density of experience which is perhaps a prelude to heaven, like Blake’s “universe in a grain of sand.”

The meditative de-acceleration of time and distance created by the layers of glass-like urethane provide the psychological space needed to focus on the fundamental sensations which each draw forth from the body. The titles assist in provoking the necessary compilation of intellect, senses, and emotion. Exile, with its mildewed paper effect and moldy color behind the car and highway film images, recalls outcasts, social diseases, and bizarre adaptations of chemical warfare such as the infected blankets given to the Indians. Each work also provides a resonant audio sensation and metaphor of music; Lord of the Dance, which not coincidentally shares the Van Morrison song title, also implies sheet music in the calligraphic use of seaweed within bars across the picture. Red Onion Skin Blues actually has voices trapped within the audio strip used to build up the surface. Joseph experienced virtual soundlessness and extreme isolation from touch in the hospital when he had polio a few months after his father died. The gloved workers, the burning of all books which he had touched when he left, and his solitary grief deeply altered his visceral memory of sensation. Extended contemplation of his work offers a well spring of sensation given back in powers of ten.

The great endurance, frailty, and infinite capacity for knowledge of the human body is a part of aesthetic experience for each of these artists. Their work demonstrates that one of the failures of modernism is the denial of what humans collectively know through their bodies, regardless of cultural reference, and that includes both instinctual and learned behavior which is part of biological and spiritual human survival. The nature / culture paradox is described in their poetic artifacts derived from an archeology of the viscera.

Gerry Craig, Curator, Linear Thinking