by Patrick McNeese
Welcome to the third installment on UnderMain of my 2006 documentary Searching for Wolfboy: the Art of Jimmy Gordon.
I have always referred to Jimmy’s painting style as fundamentally surrealistic and for the most part I believe most of his painted works fall within the style of that artistic movement, of which Salvador Dali is the best known practitioner. Jimmy’s paintings are different and possess their own unique qualities, a primitiveness and a more abstracted quality, but I would place his most successful paintings within the tradition of European surrealism. The bulk of the works shown in this film are, to my eye, of this tradition.
I am careful not to place any artist into a too convenient category unless the situation demands it, because the moment you decide in which slot they belong, you will discover they have created something far outside the range of a sometimes too narrow concept. The more interesting the artist, the more diverse and various the work, the more difficult this naming process becomes.
But there still remains the need to describe the work that artists produce and place those works in context relative to the history and practice of art. Thus we are left to categorize and attach some type of meaningful label to an artist’s output as best we can.
Having said that, let me once again ascribe to Mr. Gordon another artistic term which I feel sheds some light, if not on his work outright, then perhaps on his working style and certainly on his personal approach to art making and by extension his whole approach to life.
That term is Dada.
The Dada movement, or non-movement as its followers avowed, was a visceral and creative response to the horror and carnage of World War I. The animating idea of Dadaism was that if the world was truly mad, and the prosecution and aftermath of the ‘Great War’ had made a compelling argument that it indeed was, then the artist had little choice, and in fact was duty bound, to reflect and amplify this unhappy state of human affairs in his work. Through his art, the world was to be turned upside down, meaning would become non-meaning, the sensible and the predictable would become nonsensical, accidental and endlessly surprising, with little reverence paid to the accepted ‘rational’ modes of conventional life or art-making.
Marcel Duchamp’s submission of a men’s urinal into a prestigious art exhibition in Paris probably expresses the Dadaist spirit of absurdity and prank-playing as well as any example one could give. The fact that it was accepted by the jury tells us that the art world was also in a liquid state. (Every pun intended).
As I have searched for the ‘wolfboy’ within Jimmy Gordon, I have found it useful to look through the lens of Dadaism to come to understand this artist and his life experience. A young, gifted man marked by the insanity of meaningless war and the protracted suffering that can plague the warrior long after the battle is over, and the lifelong response to such adversity with simple humanity and the immense creative gesture of attempting to give life added meaning through the production of a highly original and provocative body of work, or as the artist says in what passes for an interview in this little film… ‘just holding down the fort.’
With that, I give you part three of my film, please check out the earlier installments in the archive section.
PS – Part three took on a strange, stuttering effect when I uploaded it, which I have come to prefer over the ‘straight’ version. The spirit of Dada lives on….
See part one here
See part two here