June 03 - July 03, 2010
What you MEAN TO ME
galerie jerome de noirmont

exhibition release


    The whole work created by the American-Irish art duo McDermott & McGough, whether it refers to their photographs, paintings or sculptures, draws its strength from the evocative power of the image. McDermott & McGough experience the past as an existential provocation and refuse to allow themselves to be locked into our contemporary period; their artistic approach is based upon a refusal to sign up to the “Biblical theory of time”, as they choose the era which best suits their need to express themselves. In order to flesh out this journey into time, the artists always create their works both by using the techniques of the era into which they project themselves and by introducing genuine decorative or stylistic details.

After spending the last few years concentrating on their painted works, focussing on 1950s and 1960s America, McDermott & McGough are going back to the sources of their work and taking it towards cinematographic imagery. Their recent paintings had already begun making references to images from films, juxtaposing them with others taken from the cartoons or photo novels of the period by means of a pictorial cutting up of the canvas into several compartments.

Now, in this new solo exhibition entitled What You MEAN TO ME, the artists will be unveiling their first film, a short which immerses us in the atmosphere of Manhattan during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and their new works on paper, which offer a mixture of realism and fiction, film imagery and coloured drawing.

Mean To Me, 1936 portrays the tragic end of a love story set in 1930s Manhattan, where a glamorous courtesan discovers that her lover, an aristocrat ruined by the Depression, is hoping to marry a wealthy heiress to get himself back on his feet… The weak, vulnerable woman becomes strong by going through extreme feelings, with her character symbolising a part of American social history in which womanhood is idealised as beautiful and glamorous, with an intense, multifaceted personality.

This black and white 13-minute film, influenced by the films of Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang, reveals the emotional turmoil and complex personalities of the main characters played by the British supermodel Agyness Deyn and the English actor Linus Roache, immersing us in the kind of melodramatic atmosphere which is so characteristic of film noir, where the love story is just a pretext for a study of social class.

This very first film, made by the artists in 2010, obviously draws on both their photographic work and the principles of expressionism which left such a mark on American film noir, with a succession of tightly-framed shots, a chiaroscuro aesthetic and large cast shadows which accentuate the characters’ tortuous psychologies, with the dramatic expression of the faces being reinforced by low-angle shots.

In addition to this technical mimetism, the film once again symbolises the authenticity of the timeless approach taken by McDermott & McGough through the choice of accessories, with care taken over even the tiniest detail, in order to reflect not just the period but also the ambivalent states of mind of the protagonists and the dramatisation of the scene: vintage dresses and suits, pearl necklaces and old jewellery, authentic perfume bottles, and the Bakelite telephone which is so critical to that feeling of suspense…

    This short film has inspired McDermott & McGough to take their work on paper in new directions. The works exhibited here combine images taken from scenes in the film Mean To Me, 1936 with coloured tints or gouache drawing, drawing fresh portraits of the characters and incorporating them into or alongside very carefully constructed abstract shapes, whose bright colours and often geometric appearance are reminiscent of the Bauhaus or constructivist aesthetic. The allusion to these artistic movements symbolically illustrates the artists’ interest in technical development put back into its historical context, thus underlining its innovative importance.

By combining techniques in this way, the two artists are developing their creative work in new ways, marrying two essential aspects of their work to produce something that lies somewhere between photography and drawing / painting. After spending a long time considering these modes of artistic expression separately, then having recently created canvases where images from cartoons were juxtaposed with others from old black and white films such as those from the Please Don’t Stop Loving Me exhibition held at the gallery in 2007, the artists are now merging all of these media together in these new works, giving them a totally new pictorial appearance.

    Alongside these brand-new works, and once again as part of their thinking about temporality and American social history, the artists will also be exhibiting the series of photographs created in 2008 untitled Detroit, which depicts a certain view of 1950s America.

The especially colourful images from this series conjure up subjects linked to the social repression of this puritan post-war America, in the petit-bourgeois atmosphere of the suburbs of the time, similar to those where the artists grew up. The subjects simultaneously portray innocence, boredom, isolation and the young people of the time dreaming of escaping the family unit and an all-too ordinary local environment, dreams which were kept alive by television, the telephone, magazines and the cinema. These are all different metaphors for this period of reconstruction, experienced by the artists as a period of alienation, of being put to the test and a sense of detachment from the heterosexual norm.

In order to encapsulate the pre-Pop atmosphere of this 1950s America, McDermott & McGough have for the first time used a historic photographic process, three-colour Carbro printing, which was designed by the American photographer Paul Outerbridge in the 1930s. This very subtle and long-lasting technique, involving enormous technical complexity, gives unheard of gloss, depth and chromatic intensity, and the quality was so high that Outerbridge was harassed by the advertising executives of the time!

    With this exhibition, What You MEAN TO ME, McDermott & McGough once again take us on a voyage of initiation combining contemporary and historical landmarks, which leads us to think about the codes of a constantly changing society.