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I need more than an ordinary grind
And the more I think the more I need.
- James Osterberg
Shane Kneipp's paintings in his recent showing at Milburn + Arté have their origins in the annexation of popular media images, the technological sublime of sixties comic strip heroes destined to literally crash down to earth, scrambling the graphic values of pulp magazines. Since the shapes and internal details of his images pre-exist, Kneipp's strategy could imply a certain forfeiture of artistic decision making. The messages and imagery from media sources have assumed a normative value, representing universal values.
Determining assumptions about life, death, and propriety. They are the nearest thing to models for personal and public modes of thought and behaviour. Behind the clichés and simple minded appeals lies some truth to which the culture subscribes. Yet the judgments Kneipp makes about the culture represented by these images is both satirical and ambiguous.
Through his explorations into the relationship between image and text he makes one aware of the fact that all language, visual as well as verbal is inherently metaphorical. Language, signs and pictures are not just aspects of our experience of the world. They are intimately related to how and what we experience, and what we understand by that experience. As with all language that of picturing is not a purely cerebral construct, but imbued with visceral, sensual qualities, further enhanced by Kneipp's choice of encaustic techniques in pieces such as Slouching towards Bethlehem.
For Kneipp, words themselves have the character of objects, their reified nature leading inevitably to a disjunction between intention and possible expressive capability. Words impose meaning on things in such a way as to limit one's possible understanding of them; they divide. It is at this point that the artist as an operator capable of re-integrating disparate areas of activities comes into play. This is best seen in works such as the sardonically titled Art & Text. The artist is someone who is able to make connections across what would otherwise remain distinct areas of practice. In Kneipp's paintings, contradiction becomes the proper condition. He articles newspaper photographs in such a way as to deconstruct or at least make problematic a range of modern mythologies. The process is dialectical. A newspaper or magazine page is a highly unified sign statement. The symbolic give and take between text and image produces the tension through which the muscles of ideology flex themselves. Kneipp isolates these images and pairs them in ways which are variously subtle, arbitrary, and even deliberately trite. Such a combination can be seen in the large two panel work How the West Was Won, the large photosilk- screen image of two wounded American G.l.s given context and meaning by the accompanying quotation from Eilias Canetti.
The fantasies of both heroism and anti-heroism portrayed can be viewed in the same instant as mocking as well as profound. In the diptych Toy Boys two panels of the comic Wonder Woman are used both as an affectionate salute to one of the artists' favourite literature forms and a mordant look at men's childish need for large nasty toys.
Since the paintings are multi-ordinal, they invite interpretation on different levels of abstraction. The elements in the paintings are symbolic properties, yet there is nothing behind these surfaces. Rather, their positioning in the artist's field functions metonymically to create a macrocosm, a world verifiable on any city map, yet also fictive in its configuration, reminiscent of Kneipp's earlier Cancer Maps.
His paintings and assemblages are situated by means of willful juxtapositions that touch of meaning, like alchemical reactions. He has deliberately allowed our reception; delivering comprehension out of the inexorable pace of the media culture. He invites our attention by inventing a syntax for this art, rather than relying on somecode lifted from art history or the media because it seems expedient or culturally in step. The effect is to jam expected support codes in favour of incongruity and incommensurability. Both the technique and the presentation highlight the conventional nature of photography and force the spectator to reconstruct new semantic contexts for both image and text.
"Do not enter this hotel with any intentions"
Sign over desk of hotel in Aurangabad, India