Anna Conway’s paintings are often about space, with human figures (often men), alone or in groups, dwarfed by their surroundings, rendering them almost nonsensical and irrelevant. These images of course are the guarded inscrutable reflection of Conway’s inner space, and I would love to know the many stories whose transitional endpoints they have become. Apart from those deep personal layers though there are also the slightly more obvious ones, like references to racial or class isolation, the absurdity of the individual’s life or cultural references.
‘Enfield, MA’ for example depicts two black man almost vanishing through being miniaturised in their existence by an off-white sand quarry (Enfield was Conway’s hometown). Alejandro on the other hand sweeps an empty food court, hemmed in by dark, gray overwhelming stone walls that already seem to crush or inundate his life. On top, literally, a promotional balloon has become unmoored and is threatening to squash and suffocate him. Loneliness too is projected by ‘Trance’, in which a sole worker is dispatched into obsolescence on the roof of a large building, from which the sky can be seen only as reflection in puddles of rainwater covering the gray flat surface of the roof.
There seems to be a tension between men and the surrounding environment, a stress that is is represented as cool and understated but below the surface has epic proportions. In worlds meticulously crafted by form, light and shadows, these lone figures seem to have no resolution to their circumstances, even if their occupations with their surroundings seem devoid of meaning – like the four men in ‘A pound of cure’ who lie flat on their stomachs on the edge of a mysterious man-made pool in the middle of nowhere.
The absurdity though can take on quite dramatic forms in some of Conway’s paintings, such as in ‘3:54 pm October 17th, 41 degrees 46 N 70 degrees 31 W’. Here on a wild gale-whipped ocean men in rubber dinghies so minute, they are hardly visible, struggle to gain control over some gigantic inflatable heads, probably blown in from somewhere. A Coast Guard boot illuminates the frightening scene, but the men’s efforts seem hopeless and futile nevertheless. Together with the presence of those bizarre heads they seem to reflect a comment that Conway made somewhere about a “culture characterised by disposability … despite overwhelming expenditure of all manner of resources”. She is right: we do live at a time of immense wastage where we use up both fairly quickly, our products and the means of their production (including labour) and then all too easily move to replace them. And Conway is a great artist to express this sentiment.
A pound of cure
3:54 pm October 17th, 41 degrees 46 N 70 degrees 31 W
see also Guild & Greyshkul