Thom Puckey

Copyright 2017


Thom Puckey

Thom Puckey, influenced early on by the Viennese Actionism movement, was intensely active as a performance artist in the 1970s and early 1980s with his performance art duo Reindeer Werk; this trained him in the expressive possibilities of the body, in its relational abilities and in how to render their image. His apprenticeship can still be seen in the artwork he produces today and, especially, in his use of live models for his sculpture. Many long posing sessions are required to establish the position of each figure and during these a great many photographs are taken, snapped from every angle in order to verify the subject's validity and how it will take shape in space. So it follows that the artist treats each model as a true performer in two senses: in that, with her body, she incarnates a living, unexpected form constituting an expressive possibility, and in that she is an actress playing a role, lending her face and body to an otherwise abstract idea. Marble defies time. Still the photographic plays its role. In his relationship with reality, he has used photography as an intermediate step. In that sense he prefers to call his sculptures three dimensional images. Besides the reference to neoclassicism, this is a strong determining factor in the realisation of his marbles. A fine example of the visual relationship between photography and his sculptures is the image Falling Backwards with Two Carbines (2010). It refers to the Fallen Soldier (1936) by war photographer Robert Capa. It gets even more fascinating artistically when one knows that this world-famous photo may not be a snapshot of what happened in the Spanish civil war, but an enacted scene. Thus a different artistic layering is added. Meanwhile it must have become obvious that Thom Puckey is not an academic realist but a conceptual one. Thinking about realism is his objective. Without wanting to be a herald he asks himself to what his image owes its power. The individual female figures, young and completely or partially nude, are invariably and disquietingly accompanied by the presence of modern weaponry. Sometimes their derivation from classical models is rather evident.. The meticulous rendering of the firearms and blades dressing the figures, together with the taste for anatomical detail, the sometimes aggressive poses, the bodies themselves sometimes amputated, are open declarations of a strategy which doesn't refer culturally to the past; indeed the choice of a noble material like monochrome marble is almost subversive with respect to the artist's intention.
Thus a statue, albeit executed in a “timeless” material like marble, is not the concretization of an ideal, nor even of womanly beauty; on the contrary, a real beauty, like that of a young model, prefigures the statue she will become (which is certainly true also for the other contemporary artists, from Anthony Gormley to Marc Quinn, who have chosen or who have fallen into figurative sculpture). (...)The works suggest that the depicted women will sooner hurt themselves than others, even though one does not know what goes through their heads. This philosophical reflection in the work of Thom Puckey, which may be called essential, is expressed most effectively in his latest pieces. In Figure on Bed with Camera and Weapons (2013) a naked woman lies the wrong way round on a bed stretching her arms out so as to make a portrait of herself. A camera plays the role of a weapon. Language allows us to speak of ‘shooting’ photos. Even colloquially the kinship with a weapon is recognised. Once someone has a picture of you, to some extent he takes possession of you. But the person lying down is taking her own picture, so that the photo takes on the function of the mirror in the piece discussed earlier. The photographic image too is always a lie. That simply put is its paradox. The piece provides a beautiful synthesis of Thom Puckey’s oeuvre: the bed as a risky, intimate place, the young woman, vulnerably naked, as representative of humanity as youthfulness, the weapons as danger from the outside world and the photo camera as self-reflection doomed to failure; and all that, carved in brilliant marble as back-to-fine-art. Beauty has to continue becoming beauty.
Extracts from the texts of Marco Senaldi ( in: Thom Puckey/Jan Van der Ploeg - The Prato Project, Centro per l'arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci - Prato, 2010) & Willem Elias (in: Fatal Beauty - The Sculptures of Thom Puckey, Stedelijk Museum 'S - Hertogenbosch, 2013)