Enrico David



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Not on display
Enrico David born 1966
Pastel on canvas
Unconfirmed: 3350 x 2760 mm
Purchased 2012


Untitled 2010 depicts two simplified black head-like shapes at opposite ends of a snaking geometric pathway constructed from a series of interconnected squares. The pathway follows the grid that has been laid out in pencil lines across the entire surface of the picture plane. The two heads appear intensely black in tone, the depth of colour and matte texture created by applying dense layers of pastel to the untreated canvas. In contrast the path has been filled in with what appears to be a single, continuous, regularly paced, meandering red and brown line, leaving the canvas clearly visible beneath. This functions to emphasise the weight, impact and material quality of the head-like forms to which the eye is led by the movement of the pathway. The largest head dominates the lower left section of the image. Two milky eyes are visible and teeth indicated. While situated at one end of the path, another narrow line extends further downwards to the left, ‘trapping’ the head in the maze-like structure. The smaller head positioned at the opposite end of the pathway to the right of the image contains a greater amount of detail; a mask-like chalky white face in profile with a haunted open-mouthed expression, angled inwards and downwards towards the larger head. The same composition was also used for a carpet and two pouffes, which were exhibited by the artist along with the painting in his exhibition Repertorio Ornamentale at Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa, Venice in 2010.

Untitled 2010 is characteristic of David’s work in that it lies somewhere between a psychological portrait and a piece of design. David’s installations combine painting, drawing and sculpture and present the body in a continual process of reconstruction. His work assimilates and adapts various visual languages and traditions ranging from craft, folk art and twentieth century design to advertising and pornography in order ‘to organize and give structure to the often chaotic nature of [my] emotional response to reality’. (Enrico David quoted in Catherine Wood, ‘Enrico David, Chicken Man Gong’, in Keep on Onnin’: Contemporary Art at Tate Britain, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2007, p.109.)

The body in David’s work rarely appears as a unified whole, instead becoming fragmented into abstract patterns, such as the embroidered dancing figures for which he first became known. Masks obscure faces, and figures are often impeded by extra appendages, while images are often comprised of grids and tangled lines that imprison their subject. A sense of emotional crisis, or inadequacy, often proliferates, with figures paired in scenes of consolation, mutual support or admonition. The conjoining of multiple figures into a single entity regularly appears in David’s work, such as the installation Spring Session Men 2003, which features an art deco-inspired marquetry frieze of twelve men linking arms against the setting of an office boardroom. Here individuality is subsumed by the repetition and coded behavioural expectations of the working world, the fantasy (or nightmare) of entering a large corporation and being literally incorporated.

David’s work often alternates a sense of order and abnormality, design and formlessness. For example, Ultrapaste 2008, shown at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, was a room-sized installation that merged a stylised recreation of his childhood bedroom, designed by his father, with a collage from 1935 by Dora Maar (1907–1997) in which a small boy rubs himself against a matronly figure. The geometry of the setting clashes with the dysfunctional behaviour of the boy and, casting himself in that role, David appeared to offer an insight into a formative event. Instead he created a performance of self-analysis constructed and theatricalised specifically for public display.

Further reading
Turner Prize 2009, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2009.
How Do You Love Dzzzzt by Mammy?, exhibition catalogue, Museum Für Gegenwartskunst, Basel 2009.
Enrico David: Repertorio Ornamentale, exhibition catalogue, Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa, Venice 2010.

Lizzie Carey-Thomas
May 2012

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