The Art of Darkness, 2012


An oblique pun on Joseph Conrad's epic African tale "The Heart of Darkness" this strange artwork emerged from an idea generated by the 2012 invisible art exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, London. Using his standard 122cm x 61cm B&Q board, JMW created a jet black surface (Wilko paint) and installed this on an easel before a garden barbecue in July, 2012. It was, he explained to credulous drinkers, a dark mirror. Depending on where the light source came from, there were reflections on the surface of the work. Sometimes these were of the person viewing the work, sometimes they were the ubiquitous tools and bric-a-brac found in his garage studio.

   However, the work was vandalised during the afternoon of the barbecue, though some folk would say it was made more interesting. One City slicker, Vincent Thompson, was unhappy with the bare black of the work, so he "improved" it by sketching a face, ostensibly the face of one Van Gogh, in pure white paint (Wilko). Then Vince signed it "Vincent" as if it was created by the Dutch nutcase (1853-90), a late starter as an artist, just like JMW. For a while, JMW retained the painting and considered promoting it as a collaboration between himself and Vince. Ultimately, he decided to cover Vince's white lines with two more coats of deadly black paint to revert to his original concept. Thus a future generation could turn the x-ray spotlight on the board and discover a hidden version beneath the surface.

   The Art of Darkness is a work of contemplation. When you closely inspect the surface, you notice tiny bumps and indentations, areas where the paint has run (even though it was painted while flat) and the odd brush hair the artist failed to spot. You interpret this painting as you like. It can be a mirror; it can be a hell hole. It is up to the viewer to interpret the work using his or her own self-knowledge and beliefs to come to some conclusion. Thus the work fulfills the ultimate test of challenging art: it makes you think.