Thomas Lisle

When an artist like Thomas Lisle, with some quarter of a century of well-regarded practice as the maker of complex and subtle video installations behind him, starts the process of translating this kind of work into painted imagery, it suggests, to me at least, that something may be going on in the world of the digital arts that lies beyond simply the artist’s own personal creative demands. These are, as we shall see, certainly an important element in Lisle’s decision to take up painting again, with many years close studying of the mystical metaphysics of the Sufi already behind him unquestionably shifting his view of how the relations between the virtual and real worlds can best be given artistic form but I am not sure if this isn’t also part of a wider process that is only now just getting going. I have the sense above all that, after two decades or more of living in an exponentially increasing and often all-enveloping digital landscape, a number of artists across all the artistic disciplines making use of this technology, are beginning to step back somewhat. I was struck, for example, by a recent review by the distinguished New Yorker writer on Pop Music, Sasha Frere-Jones of a recent album by a progressive Indie song-writer and performer, in which she observed of the singer’s earlier, entirely computer-produced, solo album “Without the sense of live instruments playing together in different registers and spaces, her songs were often likely to blend together. As much as laptops enable limitless sound generation, they often also have the effect of constraining that music” and that, in her newest album, the musician’s work, employing a wide range of live instruments, “feels more contemporary by embracing less contemporary methods.”

The analogy with what Thomas Lisle is aiming at in these first paintings is remarkably close. While composing his paintings virtually, building up the figure compositions in terms of planes, cubes and light in a matter of minutes compared to the hours if not days that it would have taken him to realize orthographically (and with much greater freedom to experiment), the actual process of painting then becomes, as he himself puts it, “like the musician playing the composed piece of music, bringing it into the physical world where we can hear it (and maybe transported to another world on listening to it).”

As that great 20thC.polymath and prophet of the digital age, Gregory Bateson, once crisply put it “the logician’s dream that men should communicate only by unambiguous digital signals has not come true and is not likely to”, also observing that “all that is not information, not redundancy, not form and not restraints is noise, the only possible source of new patterns.” In short then Lisle’s decision to explore his metaphysical world through paint as well as via the digital/virtual may be seen as coming from a desire, through making a “visual noise,” to see what new patterns may yet emerge. Thus, in these earliest of his painted figures and heads, freed from the overlaying associations of straightforward description by their employment of abstract cubes and planes of light, we are able to concentrate on the kinesics of their body language in a way that is, paradoxically very touching. Like de Chirico’s intensely expressive mannequins, the unexpectedly human enters in and we are immediately engaged.