David Austen

Untitled (Jean Vigo) 14.3.96


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Not on display

David Austen born 1960
Gouache on paper
Support: 288 × 222 mm
Purchased with funds provided by The Ampersand Foundation in memory of Michael Stanley 2013


Untitled (Jean Vigo) 14.3.96 1996, is a gouache on paper depicting a black hypnotic spiral in the centre of the composition; in the bottom righthand corner the artist has typewritten the words ‘JEAN VIGO’, in allusion to the French film director (1905–1934) whose works Zéro de Conduite 1933 and L’Atalante 1934 are widely regarded as two of cinema’s finest achievements. In the mid-1990s Austen began to incorporate text into his works in a series of watercolours and gouaches that combined abstract pattern and text typed on an old manual typewriter and Untitled (Jean Vigo) 14.3.96 is one such work (see also Untitled [Certain Things] 14.3.96 1996 [Tate T13902], made on the same day in March 1996).

In such works neither the image nor the text illustrates the other; their association is more elusive. The artist often chooses beautifully descriptive passages that have in common the ability to conjure up powerful images and that are drawn from a range of literary sources – from the writing of French polymath Boris Vian to the poems of William Butler Yeats. The images provide a counterpoint to the texts and, whilst they appear to bear no obvious relationship to the content of the written passages, the reading of one is guided by the reading of the other. The gap between the imagery suggested by the text and the actual painted image enhances the lyrical nature of the compositions, which often carry a melancholic quality typical of much of the artist’s work.

Urban loneliness, disturbing dreams, death and bleak, existential despair are predominating themes in Austen’s work, which he combines with a visual language that carries a strongly hand-crafted and elemental sense concerned with the mechanics and dynamics of expression, representation and the way images are read. Much of the artist’s source material is derived from observations of the everyday world around him: a chance remark, a book cover, crime thrillers or a newspaper headline that, removed from its original context, is invested with new meaning. Austen often changes from one media to another and his approaches to his subject matter vary accordingly. However, these common concerns run through different strands of his practice, establishing a strong relationship between the themes and forms explored in his works on paper and his large-scale oil paintings as well as his photographs and films.

Further reading
David Austen: Paintings and Works on Paper, exhibition catalogue, Mead Gallery, Warwick Art Centre, Coventry, September–October 1997.
David Austen, exhibition catalogue, Milton Keynes Gallery, February–March 2007.
David Austen: End of Love, exhibition catalogue, Modern Art Oxford, December 2010–February 2011.

Carmen Juliá
August 2013

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