‘Dirty Transmission’, The Police Gym, London
A series of six paintings, oil on canvas, warm the cold walls of the basement of a decommissioned Edwardian police station in the depths of London’s New Cross. Neil Rumming’s solo exhibition at The Police Gym is accompanied by a series of diary entries in place of a press release:
00.18 October 28th
The heads are refusing to move. The lubrication added to the fingers is not working… Tired and quite demoralised. The rudimentary nature of my drawings and lack of understanding is beginning to surface. My invention alone is not enough to spark these creations into life.
Unlike the tight, at and painstakingly constructed works Rumming became recognised for at the beginning of the decade these works are large, loose and expressive of struggle. Struggle with scale, media and the process of painting. They depict disembodied human heads, feet and fingers, cogged wheels, tracks and pulleys. The human and the machine merge into crude, defective hybrids. e titles express dull routine and dysfunction: ‘Coming and Going’, ‘Stand-Up Routine’, ‘ Three Wheel Drive’ and ‘Dirty Transmission’.
The accompanying text continues:
19.42 January 6th
Enthusiasm is ripe, new inspiration has been obtained. Picasso, Guston, Bergson and Vaucanson have been the core voices but new ones have emerged. Chaplin, Lang and Tinguely have added fresh impetus. I have stimulated the heads with sugar water and they seem excited and motivated. Their repetitions and willing desire is commendable.
The paintings are thus presented as having free will, their own determination separate from that of the artist – raucous, unruly children outside of his control. The influences of mid-twentieth century painting, Bergson’s critique of Kant and Jacques de Vaucanson’s eighteenth-century robots are clear yet these works never reference them directly or fall into illustration. The wheels and body parts that dominate each canvas are, however, more obviously inspired in character, if not exact theme or form, by Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936), where Chaplin’s Little Tramp is consumed by machinery. It seems likely that Chaplin’s film will find new impetus as we enter an economic recession similar in scale to the one that inspired it in the late ’30s. Yet Chaplin’s influence here is not rooted in a disaffection with the modern world or any notion of economics but in the slapstick comedy and resignation to a more ancient idea of the wheel of fortune. Each painting can be seen to deliberately fail and succeed in equal measure. The diary entries continue:
16.44, February 18th
… They have started issuing demands for more food and drink, sitting idle, joking and sleeping. They whoop and coo as they watch the system slowly decay and collapse, doing the bare minimum to stave off death.
Rumming’s paintings are perhaps more than anything a depiction of the creative process and an exploration of painting itself – what it means and what it’s for. Whilst such pursuits in contemporary art are normally tightly controlled and self-conscious, Rumming’s are created with generosity, loose abandonment and a celebration of thick, visceral paint.