This year, Mike Parr will turn 70. Mike Parr is an Australian artist whose career has been devoted to ideas such as endurance, duration, formalism, and de-representation. He has performed works that date back to the 1970s. In these, he has drawn blood from his arms and splashed them around gallery walls using a syringe. He’s also cut “un words” into his legs with a scalpel and lit a fuse around his lower leg.
Parr was born with a left arm that was removed above the elbow due to an accident. His 1977 work, Cathartic Action: The Social Gestus No., is perhaps his most famous. He attached a prosthetic left arm to his stump, filled it up with blood and meat, and then violently dismembered the prosthesis using a tomahawk.
The is courtesy of the artist, Anna Schwartz Gallery, and Author provided.
This traumatizing act (for Parr as well as his stunned gallery audience) was based on psychoanalytical theories, which state that a cut is made once language has been enacted. When an amount occurs, that part of life is forever lost.
According to Professor Ed Scheer, the author of Parr’s monograph and an academic, the violent and disturbing rituals that Parr uses to cut his body with wires and knives (tomahawks, etc.) can be interpreted as a force of language on the material body.
The alarming act of the artist, which is scheduled to take place on the last day of his current exhibition, will be constructed in reverse. The paint’s materiality will remove the language from his art.
Parr’s large prints will be transformed from marks to an infinite abyss by painting them white from something to nothingness. White is void of color, creating an endless opening. Erasing all representation (text, formal portraiture, and human figures) is what he does. It will also mean that the text, image, and language are all removed.
Parr began his Self Portrait Project in 1981, which includes the current massively-constructed prints. Pencil drawings, drypoints, or photographs accompany etchings. Bronzes and performances can also be included. Portraits were altered and made elliptical by a combination of sewing, cutting, and emblemizing. The images are a story of ritual, pain, disappearance, and intellectual struggle.
Rules and Displacement Activity Part III vi. The Emetics: I Am Sick Of Art [Red Yellow and Blue] Performance at Watters Gallery, Sydney Australia, 1977. Courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Galerie. Author provided
As a curatorial assistant at the Department of Prints and Drawings in the 1990s, I recall poring over portrait prints and drawings. The portrait prints and drawings were wrapped in acid-free paper and waited inside the black boxes of the sublevel Art Gallery of New South Wales. I was shocked and unnerved by the intense suffering of the drypoints and drawings.
Anna Schwartz Gallery’s current work incorporates elements from these self-portraits. They are then distorted, distended, or shrunken. Or they can be blocked out or turned into an ancient logo of a labyrinth. They will soon be gone for good.
Parr, in a private exchange of emails with Ed Scheer (author of The Infinity Machine), says:
The “painting” is now confirmed… I will begin at 5 pm on Saturday, 29th August, which is the final day of the show.
I have decided to paint all of them white. My collaborators will video and document the entire process. White is a relief. After a Manichaean battle, it is a great relief. It has been a very difficult few days, but now I have accepted a “blind” need and am on the way out.
Scheer asked Parr for caution in regard to this extreme act.
How is the decision to block the works different from what we said the other day?
Parr explained his works in this way:
The vast presence of the authoritarians was waiting to be unleashed. I then realized that there was a gap between the expanded company, its evolution, and our ideas and ease in mobilizing them in conversation.
I do not destroy these works, but I complete them. I finish them as Supremacist Monochromes and include the video documentation of painting them out in a final presentational format. The way I do it is by dividing them… I think that their “picture,” by virtue of its absence, will return and that, finally, this is the only image that matters.
This final act of passion, which is the mark of an artist who has integrity and a lack of corruption, will be the finale of the Portrait Show despite the substantial loss in sales. This is the final fade-out.
This thrilling painting-out will be an honor to watch. This is a generous act to do this for a smaller audience and then record it to share with the public. It allows viewers to see the inner workings of a creative genius.