Paris Cat, or, the Art of David West.
I first met David West in New York. West, now as then, documents the musicians of the avant-garde, the people of the underground milieu and his experiences of urban life. His work is historical and intimate. He presents culturally saturated images that draw from his deep imaginative reservoir. Conversely, his acute observations press the limits of his subjective painterly impulses and the result of this psycho-physical interaction is to produce startling images of disambiguated figures that are in conversation with themselves, the viewer and in the space of the compositions. On a first appraisal of his style, one expects to discover anomie in the subtext of the work, but as in the troubled complexity of the embrace in “Enlaces dans le Noir,” one finds a theme that reoccurs in West’s work, that of lovers. West’s world is socially motivated even in the absence of figures. There is an elliptical sense of time just passed or just about to happen which in creates a delicious anxiety, as when one anticipates a chilled Margarita. In “Balcony Freak Out! Call my Dealer!” the leaping cat connects with the flailing man and one sees a shared interaction between him and the cat, even if the second character is zoomorphic. Time freezes and the city lies beyond in the vast imaginary space intimated by the image. One senses the contingencies of the art world as West exposes the subjective state in the disorder of the disturbed duo.
In the tilted planes of his image surfaces West shows all, but simultaneously veils with the psychological imagery and use of color. At times human and abstract figures operate with equal weight. Architectural objects, building, walls and furniture unmoor from scale and perspective, and reject the constraints of surface color to hang vibrantly against dark spaces where patterns press forward with as much influence as any other object in the painting. West’s work resonates with the inconsistencies, multiplicities and anxieties of modern life to depict paradox and the impossible. The works encompass the metaphorical, literal, metaphysical and oddly realist, as they convey with a revelatory impulse that one might find in a cubist treatment or gothic stained window, through which an unexpected spirituality shines.
West currently paints in Paris. Indeed, the Paris paintings and drawings might be seen as West’s dysfunctional love songs to the city where he currently resides and as noted, they rest impossibly between romanticism and the empiric filtered through a hyper-modern subjectivity. West’s images articulate a distinct vision that at first seems to dwell somewhere between actuality and the landscapes of the subconscious, but soon one understands how West’s images operate in another temporally extended framework, in a dasein or being. In “Homme, Hat” the figure of the man is caught in an incomplete gesture to bring the viewer into the unfolding life of the painting. In “Reflection,” even as the woman looks into the mirror, the viewer is invited to experience the duration of that moment and to spend time with her and her reflected self in the mirror. The interaction affirms a desire to connect with others and affords the viewer the time to experience the empathetic affects that inform West’s productions. The drawings are humane, as men and women are seen in relations with each other, or trying to connect.
West’s work has been called dark, but his paintings emerge from an unstable psychic darkness in which the ontology of the night can never be divorced from the light of day, or the Paris of the electric. If one thinks about the mythologies of light as metaphor, West clearly illuminates his people and objects with interior radiance and with inherent life, unless they are the shadow grey elements that are resonant of lack, which is again oddly sympathetic. For West, even in the night there is more than an equal balance of interior energy against the stasis of modern anxiety. Finally, mystery, glamour, angst and romance call from the fascinating paint drawings of the bands and the banlieues of West’s mind, which make one want to linger and perhaps join his fantastic reality.
Marguerite Van Cook