The PERIPHERAL CHARACTER SERIES
The notion of the “peripheral character” – a minor figure in a play or a movie – as the subject of a painting was suggested to me by an odd discovery I made about the work of the British artist Dennis Leigh. Leigh has led two separate careers under two separate names. He has built a broad reputation as an electronic rock artist under the stage name John Foxx. As Foxx, he founded the British underground electronic band Ultravox! in 1975, and has continued to produce music ever since. Using his own name, however, Leigh has quietly established a significant reputation as a college professor and a graphic designer specializing in book-jacket design and short-form art films. Central to his art in both music and design is the theme of the anonymous figure, of which the digitally altered composition The Quiet Man (seen here) is an example.
Compounding the confusion: Leigh has often expressed enthusiasm for the Evan Parker collection of randomly selected, forgotten 8mm clips culled from 1940s- through ‘60s-era instructional and low-budget narrative films, which have provided inspiration for many of his own works over the years. Moreover, Leigh focusses on a recurring figure in many of the clips – an unidentified actor or extra, whom he refers to simply as “a peripheral character” – whom Leigh suggests repeatedly addresses the camera in his walk-on appearances, as if to make momentary contact with the viewer, before disappearing into the background. Recent scholarship by critic Simon Sellars, however, established that Evan Parker is in fact an alias for John Foxx. Leigh himself, in short, has been compiling these clips over the decades, and – purely for mystery’s sake – has placed responsibility for another part of his artistic output at still further remove from himself.
My paintings are non-representational. These images have no clear connection with the secret, aloof world inhabited by the Quiet Man / Peripheral Character / Evan Parker / John Foxx / Dennis Leigh. Yet in the current series I’ve entitled The Peripheral Character I’ve taken my cue from Leigh’s composition above, and perhaps if the viewer has the patience to look carefully, she might just catch a glimpse of him somewhere among the cracks and grime of my canvases . . . .