In his second exhibition with the gallery, Limbus, James Cullinane chose the Latin root of limbo for the title of this exhibition of 19 new paintings on panel. The title functions as a metaphor for a neutral, improvisational space out of which his paintings emerge. Much of Cullinane’s work centers on dualities like implied, pictorial space versus actual physical space, meaning versus non-meaning and structure and improvisation.
Images of animal traps and snares copied onto Mylar and along with acrylic paint, spray paint and map pins form an armature on which Cullinane begins each painting. The 8 (30”x 28”) and 11 (12”x 12”) paintings in Limbus are for the artist first and foremost compositional exercises. The repetition of format, color and materials are set of parameters through which Cullinane explores what constitutes a painting and coupled with extended improvisation establishes a structure in which each composition is resolved.
Cullinane’s images are complex and layered, both physically and metaphorically. The map pins are hammered into the panel piercing the picture plane. For the artist the pins function as “ready-made, pointillist brushstrokes”, but they also secure the Mylar in place. The pins hover just above the picture plane in perfect roundness and project physical dimensional presence.
The Chinese lacquer-like color of each panel too is also a constant. However, because the color for each panel is mixed independently, it varies slightly from panel to panel. This repetition with slight variation is also reflected in the images of the traps, as each image is different but each image is of a trap. This doubling of images creates an automatic uncanniness. Traps are also container--a line between freedom and captivity. In Limbus, traps are a visual metaphor for how the interaction between painting and viewer works. The compositional aspects of a painting are the bait and the conceptual ideas are the snare; seizing the viewer in an aesthetic “a-ha” moment as Joseph Campbell put it. Ultimately, once captured the individual viewers are left to interpret the meaning of each painting for themselves.
Cullinane’s process of visual recontextualization in his search for the perfect painting is a search for knowledge similar to Faust’s journey to the underworld in search of truth. This process, “has to do with finding a way to move beyond what I think I know about an image…” to arrive at something more meaningful.