Josh Foley

Josh Foley’s new suite of visceral paintings create visually complex worlds that question the materiality behind the painted image. Experimenting with oil and acrylic, the Hobart artist conflates the traditions of landscape and still life painting to question Western conventions. Varying in scale and subject matter, the paintings have been partly inspired by Foley’s experiences during art residencies at Cradle Mountain, Woolmers Estate, Bundanon Estate and Launceston Church Grammar School. His kaleidoscopic constellations seem to morph and merge before your very eyes, as if reality has melted and re-solidified into a sublime malleable mess. Artist Profile caught up with Foley ahead of his show ‘New Precepts’ at Hobart's Despard Gallery.

Your show explores ‘how painting can be used to connect physical and spiritual situations derived from tangible encounters.’ Can you elaborate on this concept?
I’m interested in the scientific, perceptual, physical, manifest representational realm I am privy to, but also in the unexplainable – intuition, coincidence, déjà vu. With painting we can exist within both domains. Tangible encounters present novel potentialities for spiritual exploration and offer peculiar opportunities for the world of concrete objects and the esoteric to collide in such a fashion whereby my sense of being in the world is heightened.

The works seem to straddle landscape, still life and abstraction, as well as the history of Western painting. How do you come up with your subject matter?
There is a visionary aspect to my work. By that I mean, often I will take a mental imprint of a distinct material visual outcome that relates to a moment in time, or outside of time – of space or of thing; or both, of colour or movement – and then I attempt to execute this. I’m embedded within a philosophical dialogue that morphs from day to day, week to week, and this all serves to add affect and nuance to these visions.

This body of work has been three years in the making. Do your paintings percolate slowly over time, or are they more immediate expressions?
The initial part is often immediate and then they sit, in various locations around the complex where my studio is, and my connection with them germinates. In this way I form connections with them like you do with your dreams; they build energy in your unconscious, or they die away. If the energy for a painting dies away, it is edited out and doesn’t get finished or shown, or it gets destroyed or painted over. The paintings that maintain a hook in me, they get love, they receive attention, investment and eventually they crescendo into something exciting.

What compels you to paint?
Music, love, coffee, testosterone & mania. 

Your use of acrylic and oil is visceral, kaleidoscopic and experimental. Can you tell me about your painting process?
I respond to the world around me by contrasting it with the mercurial world inside me (the equilibrium or the calm, and the serendipitous psychedelia of the disruptions, contortions and distortions of my ethereal corporeality). Finding the best technical vehicle to explain this relationship is a continually evolving journey of discoveries. They are becoming more ecstatic and less and less frustrating the more skill I develop, and the dialogue between input and output is increasing fluid, excuse the pun.

At a certain point (around 2007) I became bemused by some concurrent trends in contemporary art – that of the palette knife school; thick, seductive and decadent, and the new photorealist painters; slick, cool and intellectual. I began responding from my angular perspective by attempting to fuse those approaches together. Since then, my interests have evolved away from such commentary and have led me into a psycho spiritual investigation of materiality and how illusion and reality can be manipulated to conjure feelings of the sublime and the uncanny.

Speaking of illusion and reality, I’m interested in the origins and meaning of your alter-ego, Xydep Xydahlia, who recently performed at this year’s Mona Foma.
How long do you have?! (chuckles)

He is basically an alien, hailing from the planet, Xylos, where all the inhabitants live as colour frequencies and do not possess a body. One stormy evening, it was decided that Xydep would travel to earth to learn to communicate through sound frequency … Humans obviously do this quite well, thus concluded the Xyloians. On earth in 2006, he entered – once again on a stormy evening – the unsuspecting body of Josh Foley, who was a recent art school graduate with close to zero guitar skills. Over his time on earth, residing mostly in the hippocampus section of Josh’s brain, occasionally, when Amanda James (Josh Foley’s control centre Alter Ego) lets him, he is allowed into the pre-frontal cortex and takes control of Josh’s mind/body situation (which becomes yellow at that point …) and shreds on guitar and clangs on pianos and wallops percussion instruments publicly; doing his best to communicate with the other musicians and audience at his behest.

Your titles add interesting layers to the works, such as ‘On The Other Side of a Black Hole.’ Do you paint with these phrases in mind, or devise them at the end?
The titles can come at any point during the painting’s life and often they change … sometimes they come easily and drive the narrative of the painting (or hold it back). They can refer to a conceptual, philosophical, narrative or visual aspect, but the best titles relate to all three at once without being overly didactic. The balance between ambiguity and explanation is important to me as I hope my works offer, at a bare minimum, a chance for the audience to enter the art via their own personal memories and associations. But then, especially as the content in the paintings is frequently obscured, a title can be a helpful bridge for the viewer.

So you’re trying to provoke a personal connection between the viewer and your paintings?
Yes, through memories and associations. If, after entering via their own ‘gate’, so to speak, the paintings overwhelm the viewer; fantastic. And if they inspire them to action, heighten their sensitivity to their environment and the material it consists of, provoke them outrageously, give them sublime waves of excited beauty, bend and prod their existing philosophical parameters, or subtly affect how they feel like some driving, delightful undercurrent: my job is done.

Josh Foley: New Precepts
5 February – 1 March 2020
Despard Gallery, Hobart

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