36 Possibilities Realised Simultaneously consists of thirty-six individual drawings on canvas in a range of media including oil paint, pencil, ink and gesso. The drawings reflect a variety of styles. A hand is meticulously observed in trompe-l’oeil fashion in seven of the images; the hand either gestures towards the surface of the drawing or, brandishing a paint brush or pencil, appears poised to begin an artwork. In another image a root ball is depicted in similar detail. Five drawings are schematic anatomical plans. The head, hand, foot, and whole body are shown divided into cursory geometric sections each of which is extensively labelled. Five canvases are each dominated by a large coloured triangular form; in two others circular patterns suggest the iris of an eye. Four images depict red tongue-like forms protruding from circles. An elliptical form is repeated in three images. An abstract image shows a honeycomb-like structure of interconnected hollow cells. Another image is a simple maze form; movement is suggested by a series of arrows that outline narrow passageways. In another drawing the word ‘DEPTH’ appears in capital letters in the centre of the image, surrounded by straight lines reinforcing a fixed point perspective. The six remaining canvases are monochromes.
When the work was first shown the canvases were displayed in a grid of nine columns by four rows. More recently, during a one-man display of Neagu’s work at Tate Britain in 2003, the artist agreed to show the work in a single row stretching around the room.
36 Possibilities is described as a collaborative work by the Generative Art Group (G.A.G.), of which Neagu styled himself group director. In addition to Neagu the G.A.G. comprised four fictional members each of whom was described as having his own areas of expertise: ‘painter Husny Belmood, designer Philip Honeysuckle, painter Eduard Larsocchi and poet Anton Paidola ... the four friends of Paul Neagu are four fictitious “artists” according to the five artistic attitudes which Neagu has learned to manipulate, as five different personalities, within ONE essence’ (quoted in Gradually Going Tornado!, p.3). The personae of the G.A.G. members allowed Neagu to express different aspects of his artistic personality.
Neagu founded the G.A.G. in 1972, soon after his move to London from his native Romania. He envisaged that works by the Group members should be shown together, creating a whole greater than the sum of the individual parts. Neagu’s personal philosophy stressed interconnectedness within the individual, within society and within the natural world. Neagu elaborated on the theory of simultaneity alluded to in the title of this work, saying, ‘all the possibilities of a given moment, even those opposite to one another, and all their results up to infinity, must be actualized simultaneously with a given moment’ (quoted in Generative Art Group, p.3). The different drawings in 36 Possibilities suggest the complex range of sensory or intellectual reactions that may be stimulated at the same time. Recently Keith Tyson (born 1969) has approached similar ideas in his own work, notably in the diptych Bubble Chambers: 2 Discrete Molecules of Simultaneity, 2002 (private collection).
Neagu’s fictional counterparts recall Rrose Sélavy, the female alter ego of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968; see Why Not Sneeze Rose Sélavy?, 1921, replica 1964, Tate T07508). Ilya Kabakov (born 1933) has used a similar strategy, attributing his narrative installations to the imaginary characters who inhabit them (see Labyrinth (My Mother's Album), 1990, Tate T07923).
Gradually Going Tornado! Paul Neagu and his Generative Art Group, exhibition catalogue, Sunderland Arts Centre, 1975.
Generative Art Group, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 1975.
Christian Simionescu, A Derridean Tornado: Paul Neagu 1965-2000, London, 2000, reproduced p.53.