Generally, rubbish is quickly dispatched and secreted from public consciousness—or at least ignored. Constance Mallinson, however, revels in discards’ improbable pulchritude while questioning society’s prodigious dispersion of throwaway images, ideas and sundries. In dizzying detail, her paintings delineate fanciful wastelands populated by heaps of gaudy refuse. Evoking dumping grounds and landfills, these spilth-scapes illuminate undersides of our fickly consumptive world engorged by glossy disposables.
The exhibition’s title, “Unmade” connotes the disintegration of objects while alluding to the unkemptness of her scenes. The contrivance of the paintings echo their subjects’ artificiality.
At first glance, Mallinson’s pictures appear to illustrate plausible scenes; but closer inspection reveals their fictitiousness. Lighting is invariably artificial, even cinematic. In contrast to the rotting miasma of a typical trash pit, most portrayed articles are fully or partially intact; underscoring wastefulness, many appear still usable, some practically new. In fact, Mallinson paints these scenes from studio tableaus composed of junk she scavenges on neighborhood walks.
The studied finesse of Mallinson’s representationalism contrasts with her chaotic compositions. Even small close-up depictions of several objects tend towards an allover appearance, with background pebbles and leaves competing with focal items. Sometimes, vegetal matter tentatively overlaps man-made scraps. Nature attempts to reclaim its territory; but already dead, the inert gray-brown organic material cannot surmount vividly colored manufactured objects.
While her smaller pictures show only a few objects, larger pieces become panoramas of offal. These are haywire messes of seemingly un-orchestrated sight paths and buried focal points. The uniform disorder of The Large B-lassst (2016) evokes cosmic expansion and Abstract Expressionism.
Horizon lines render other sizable works sweeping vistas when viewed from afar, nature morte when observed closely. Along with her paintings’ scale, Mallinson’s genre expands from still life into landscape, mirroring the way individual objects agglomerate into mishmashes overtaking vast terrains as in landfills. Insofar as they represent expanses of flattened time and space, they could even be considered history paintings, as the title A Short History of Painting (2015) insinuates.
Her work addresses the proliferation of not only tangible objects, but also of images and concepts. It abounds with depictions of other pictures: portraits on fast food wrappers, whimsical abstractions on juice cups, flags, children’s art. Textural lumps of crusty paint and diversions into total abstraction highlight her paintings’ materiality.
Art historical references are embedded with skepticism. Incarnating the title’s wry innuendo, thrown-together faces in Picasso’s Bastards (2014–17) imply pareidolia. The bright blue sky in Modern Trash (2015) is a Rothko homage whose high-keyed kitschy pastiche conveys postmodern cynicism. A urinal in The Large B-lassst draws parallels between Mallinson’s found objects and Duchamp’s readymades.
Several works consist of actual readymades. Dolphin in Paint (2017) features a plastic pendant lodged in a section of Mallinson’s painting table. Self Portrait (2017) is painted on a dirty takeout container.
In a catalog essay brimming with as much descriptive detail as her pictures, Mallinson ruminates on her own relevance and complicity as creator and consumer. Her assiduous practice of salvaging and recycling is full of pathos; her determination to record the minutiae of jettisoned items is tempered by ambivalence to the role of painting. Will her art not be accreted by the very pandemonium she critiques?