Thomas Van Dyke Gallery
June 3rd through July 8th, 2023
by Stephen Gambello, June 25, 2023
Header Image: John Mallett,"Unatomy 209: Tubes Of Trumpeting Valves Reclined On Hard Slabs" All images courtesy of the Artist
This title is pronounced by the artist as UNATOMY "UN-ATOM-EE" -- sort of an anti-anatomy. But I, personally, see it pronounced as YOU-NAT-O-MEE -- a unification (U-niting) of ideas and themes that transcend anatomy itself.
At first glance, one may believe that there are too many pictures in this exhibition. It is an overwhelming endeavor to take in all these images. Yet, upon further reflection, I see the rationale now. These pictures, however numerous, are the circulation of a developing procession in identity. Although these figures’ poses are based on (or re-imagined as) other sitters, what really is transpiring is the maintenance of Mallet's personal conscience. These images actually represent the forming and development of John Mallett's individual features, but not physical features, but rather, features that reflect feelings, visceral experiences of the intangible shape of self-awareness -- ever-changing, ever-evolving.
In other words, John Mallett sees the variegated shapings of the ostensible world and incorporates these shapes into the humanity of others. Yet these others -- people that Mallet knows, either casually or intimately -- become extensions of himself. With these multiple pictures, we see a sort of inferred living animation of John Mallett's personality. However, the movement does not transpire before our eyes but within our minds. These are detailed variations of an artistic, imaginatively repurposed reproduction of anatomy -- his creations, his offspring.
Technology, civilization, and humanity amalgamate into these living yet physiologically impossible enigmas. Even Mallett's choice of medium is telling. He employs the illustrator's materials of ink and water-based color. Mallett is very much a product of late 20th-century culture. His images would be right at home in the adult graphic magazine “Heavy Metal,” or its French predecessor, “Metal Hurlant” magazine. Yet, make no mistake, despite the illustrator’s materials, Mallett is not an illustrator. His purpose is not to illuminate another's story, sell a product, or promote anyone else's agenda. These are his intimate visual journals of day-to-day living. Indeed, behind most of these pictures are written, by long hand, personal observations regarding the creation of each picture, sometimes referencing an event, a person, or a feeling that infuses his work with the human foibles we all identify with. We recognize that his struggle mirrors our own. Yet, inspiringly, he creates his way out of his troubles by re-confirming his reality as a design of his very intellect: these gloriously uncanny biomorphic creatures.
Installation Image, Thomas van Dyke Gallery
“Unatomy 119” is described as a “Blue Shaled Hook Head With The Hand Going Through Leaning On Neon Boxes.” This image, like most of Mallett’s figures, is asexual. Its title describes the structure but also subtly indicates the artist’s frame of mind at the time of its rendering. The aforementioned “hand” is literally -- as a result of, perhaps, extreme worry and/or strenuous thought -- pressing so hard as to literally go “through” the head. The “forehead wrenching” struggle of the ego is beautifully and symbolically aligned with the hand to the head: a literally demonstrated equation between thought and action. The plateaus that inhabit this figure could harbor certain feelings, experiences, levels of development, and eventual wisdom live on each plateau.
“Unatomy 208” gives us a title that is, by virtue of its highly contextual arrangement of words, an almost self-contained short story, “Dignified Inconsistencies Await A Snappy Rebuttal.” This title could be an autobiography of the artist – in fact, any creative person; a chosen life, as seen from a self-perspective with a certain pride, however challenging, sits on the defensive, ready to take on impulsive judgment of others: family, friends, world-at-large. The construction of this body seems to be a series of filters, or air ducts, taking in the atmospheric toxicity of the world and filtering it into an enlivened alacrity, nourishment of the self. The hands, then, remain almost anatomically correct, as they are free to create with grace, refinement, and pure humanity.
With “Unatomy 209”, “Tubes Of Trumpeting Valves Reclined On Hard Slabs.”, the artist’s unseen but imagined heart and its accompanying arteries settle in repose — still the repose is challenging and on hard slabs, no less -- as they struggle to maintain composure to regulate a life; human emotions threaten to sabotage our balancing equation as civilized beings. Along the way, lessons of life become symbolically manifested as our “trumpeting valves” -- as in the mechanism that enables a trumpet and other such wind instruments to play; we “play” our day-to-day decisions as we would a song, following an arrangement based on accumulated knowledge. Mastering music is the “balance” of sonority, just as we “balance” our life, playing the right note as we move along the musical arrangement.
The hands of the artist are once again maintained in this image, “Unatomy 166” “Hot Shingles Splintering In A Black Curved Chair. Piercing Peg Stoplight See You Straight.” The artist’s hand is his lifeline, his precious appendage that enables him his ability to be relevant. The shingles are the first line of defense for a house against the elements, just as a “thick skin” is the first line of defense for the creative person. After a lifetime of receiving criticism and sometimes vituperative resistance from others, the skin (blushing) can become enraged, hot, and splintered as would a roof “sitting” in the sweltering sun. The black curved chair could be the relief from the heat, perhaps a passage into the night and sleep, which leads to regeneration. The piercing peg (which resembles a stoplight here) stoplight could be the importance of stopping, pausing, and reconsidering one’s actions: the peg that holds one’s dignity altogether. Notice that the hands are not hot but relaxed and at a moderate and balanced color temperature. The hands are free to create harmonious assuredness.
Linearity actively lives here. Ultimately, the line of thought becomes the line of intentional manifest, which becomes the line of John Mallett’s own personal and unique linguistics. It results in his expansive, ongoing, living auto-signature. It is his contemplation of the human body as an extension of human thought -- our essence as sentients. Welcome to his “Unatomy”.
John Mallett, "Unatomy 208: Dignified Inconsistencies Await A Snappy Rebuttal"
John Mallett, "Unatomy 166: Hot Shingles Splintering in a Black Covered Chair. Piercing Peg Stoplight See You Straight"