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For its return to Chelsea after a year’s hiatus, Virgil de Voldère Gallery presents its second solo exhibition in New York of work by Duncan Wylie, an artist based in Saint-Ouen, just outside Paris. Since 2006, Wylie has painted large-scale scenes of wreckage and carnage with sharp angles and luminous color. He turns his attention not only to natural disasters such as tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes, but also to the results of humanity’s recklessness, greed, and lust for power, as demonstrated through terrorism and conflict.
The five large, complex paintings on view—including Shake Break Bounce and Fitzcaraldo, Wylie’s first diptychs in ten years—develop from accumulative, visceral layering, starting with fast-drying alkyd and then using oil paint, a slow process anathema to the instantaneous destruction depicted. Wylie superimposes different scenes, sourcing imagery from photographs either taken by him or lifted from the media to bring together geographic distances and chronological periods. Representing the before, during, and aftermath of multiple events, these bewildering simultaneities arguably position the artist as a history painter, if his work visualizes the schizophrenic mess of the twenty-four-hour news cycle. In the past Wylie has referenced political turmoil in Zimbabwe and wreckage from the World Trade Center; he resumes the approach in a new work, West Bank Wall, which denotes the continuous upheaval in Israel and Palestine. The wall in question is an attempt to “contain” chaos but ends up upholding it. Visual tension between order and chaos is key to these works; thus West Bank Wall could formally summarize his stance as a painter.
Another touchstone to Wylie’s work is duality: a joust between abstraction and figuration in which the artist seeks a “real” image in harried commotion. Apart from what they represent, his paintings express the paradox of constructing scenes with deconstructed images—a place in which architectural upheaval becomes fertile ground for painterly mark making and for exploring the iconic space of the canvas.
Born in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1975, Wylie has lived and worked in France since 1994. His work has been shown across Europe and in the United States, Brazil, and his native country. Art Press, the leading magazine for contemporary art in France, published an insightful article on Wylie in its July/August 2010 issue; his 2006 painting Afterparty appeared on the cover.