I went into the Douglas Hyde on Thursday night on my way home. The photography of Mike Disfarmer is on display in an exhibition entitled Mike Disfarmer; the lack of artistry in naming this exhibition speaks volumes and once I had looked at the images and the practice of this photographer it made perfect sense – this exhibition could have no other name than Mike Disfarmer. Nothing of the artist remains but the works themselves; each salvaged through years of searching through private collections. Within the exhibition a video documentary explores what is known of Disfarmer and the lengths to which collectors will go to find his originals. Overlooking this are the images themselves, Arkansas’ townsmen and women of 1930s/40s America – each implacably disaffected by the whys and wherefores of art market trends. In several images the studio photographic screen is replaced by a white panel with several vertical black lines. The film questions the reasoning behind such an awkward backing – a link to Mondrian is proposed and suddenly Disfarmer is an abstractionist. It is impossible to guess the reason why these lines appear – but once noticed you cannot ignore them or stop yourself making a host of judgments on their origin. Is it a chance occurrence where certain screens were pulled back or is Disfarmer perhaps ironically referencing Mondrian’s exuberance for post-war New York sophistication? Mondrian did hold a retrospective in the 1940s at MOMA, but for me I see a reference to Barnett Newman here. Newman was around this time putting forward his arguments for a form of ‘Plasmic art’ to a disillusioned abstract expressionist New York. Newman proposed that one should indeed reference the medium, yet in the form of the primitive painter. For Newman the artist must no longer revel in his or her expressionist modus but use this new form of abstraction to transcend the medium. Disfarmer does seem to have remained removed from his subject matter whether with an eye to transcendentalism or not; his disaffected treatment of the people that feature in the work creates a situation wherein, as Newman says in The Artist Thinker; ‘the basic truth of life’ shines through:

‘The present painter is concerned not with his own feelings or with the mystery of his own personality but with the penetration into the world mystery. His imagination is attempting to dig into metaphysical secrets. To that extent he is concerned with the sublime. It is a religious art which through symbols will catch the basic truth of life – which is its sense of tragedy’1

‘The new painting is an expressive art – yet not of the painter’s personal feelings..the truth is not a matter of personal indulgence. The truth is not a matter of personal indulgence, a display of emotional experience…he has no intention of giving us cut and dried journalistic answers’1

1.Barnett Newman: The Artist Thinker pg 140 http://www.kadarbrock.com/NEWMAN-PlasmicImage.pdf


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