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Eugene Palmer | Index

Solo show. 2004
Date: 17 January, 2004 until 28 March, 2004
Organiser: Wolsey Art Gallery

Index covered ten years of Eugene Palmer’s artistic career and marked a new stage in his work. The Wolsey Art Gallery showcased Palmer’s first film and most recent work that focused on memories of his mother, his Jamaican heritage and raised questions about cultural identity, influences and memories. Palmer paints portraits of friends and family, based on old black and white photographs. He is fascinated by archival records and photographs and uses these in his portraits, in order to examine his own cultural history and the cultural identity of the black middle class.

Palmer was born in Kingston, Jamaica and came to England as a child, with his parents in 1966. Growing up, Palmer was influenced by two different cultures and it is the memories of these and influences from them, which have shaped his artistic career. Palmer’s work raises questions about the issues he faced as a result of his background. These include class and status, generation and integration and disappointment and hope. Palmer references art history by setting his paintings in traditional contexts, elevating the status of his subject. As Richard Hylton wrote in the free pamphlet which accompanied Index, “Palmer’s paintings offer a quite different image of the black subject to that often portrayed in the media.”

John Russell Taylor once wrote that Eugene Palmer’s ethnic background was “irrelevant to any consideration of his art.” This seems hard to understand as the work has so obviously grown from a deliberate historical and cultural enquiry. Perhaps Taylor meant that there is something in the work that is primarily only concerned with the peculiarities of looking and recording, irrespective of content. This would be difficult to deny; the paintings are mostly made from photographs and often appear in near identical series’. This process of working forces the viewer to address the subtleties of the medium and the discrepancies that occur when an image is replicated or transported into another medium. The larger than life, closely cropped faces also no doubt bear reference to their photographic antecedents. Perhaps there is an element of a cinematic background too, for Palmer has incidentally referred to these works as “theatrical’. This relationship to the photographic carries with it a sense of presence (and therefore intrinsically a sense of absence) that is as culturally significant as it is personally significant. Again, this relationship is explicitly acknowledged in that unknown people from the past are treated with the same care as family members. Perhaps Palmer is noting that even a figure as personally important as ones father or mother, and difficult to conceive of in any other terms, had a greater position within the social whole of their own time. Finally, the sense of “presence’ is enhanced by the works large scale which necessarily implies a body of gigantic proportions that would dwarf anybody standing in the gallery.

However, none of these factors in isolation is enough to truly explain Palmer’s work and to do so pigeon holes them in an unnecessary dead-end of interpretation. Rather it is the combination of their painterly construction and imposing scale alongside their historical but personal subject matter that allow the works to impose themselves on the viewer.

From www.visualarts-ipswich.org.uk/archive/level2/2004/palmer.asp (25 June 2009)

Related items

click to show details of Eugene Palmer | Index

»  Eugene Palmer | Index

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 2004

People in this exhibition

»  Eugene Palmer

Born, 1955 in Kingston, Jamaica

Exhibition venues

»  Wolsey Art Gallery, Christchurch Mansion

Ipswich, United Kingdom