An Introduction to The End 17th October 2017 – Posted in: Books
The End is a new series of paintings by Nicolas Ruston, that have inspired The End: Fifteen Endings to Fifteen Paintings, a collection of short stories edited by Ashley Stokes and published by Unthank Books.
One thing about The End paintings is that when viewing the works you begin to wonder what happened before and how we got here – which is precisely the opposite effect of most paintings, where we either seem to have reached a clear endpoint, are stuck in the middle or have no storyline to consider at all.
The fifteen black and white paintings – realised in Nicolas’ signature style of razor scratched gloss and masonry paint, the sequel to his 2011 series Propensity Modelling – have the qualities of movie stills and draw together images and words – a device often used in the sort of print advertising Nicolas oversees as creative director of his design agency Robot Mascot. They are all end but these ends work backwards, and the fifteen writers who have responded to the paintings have found the beginnings.
The notion of the end haunts the entire project. On the day I edited the last of the stories that make up the book, The End: Fifteen Endings to Fifteen Paintings, the world itself was supposed to end. Chris McCann, leader of the eBible Fellowship had proclaimed that on October 7th 2015 a great conflagration would consume the Earth. It was written in the Bible, coded into gnomic references only he could decipher. It was thus God’s will. The signal of the Apocalypse, the Blood Moon had risen. It was going to happen this time, The End.
I finished reading Zoe Lambert’s ‘Chaconne in G Minor’ and wondered if it were the last story I would ever read. I sat around and worried that the end would come before The End, that these stories would go unread and the paintings would be annihilated by holy fire. No one would get to play the End Game and consider how these stories had emerged from Nicolas Ruston’s dark and inscrutable images.
Come midnight, the world had failed to fall apart. The End had demurred. The End blinked first, suffered a crisis of confidence. On October 8th, Chris McCann displayed all the traits of ‘cognitive dissonance’ that Leon Festinger describes in his 1956 book When Prophecy Fails. McCann promptly declared his surprise that the world was still in existence. Even so, girded rather than disabused by the disproval of his theology, he was confident that it would end ‘soon’.
The End is still coming. It’s always been coming. It’s still out there. We are all edging towards the vanishing point, or the vanishing point is edging towards us, and it’s always been this way. Always.
The nature of the end – what is and what isn’t, where it lies, how it plays out – is explored here in fifteen stories and the fifteen paintings that inspired them. The End is a project designed to produce text from image and it has an on-going relationship with the current trajectory of Nicolas Ruston’s work.
‘The End’ paintings have the appearance of a final scene from a film that was never made. Ruston is a painter and sculptor, but also an advertising creative. He is obsessed with the ways in which images, especially mass media images, bleed into and influence what we think of as our reality, the image as the whip of desire. He has exclusively worked in black and white for some time, most noticeably in his last major exhibition, Propensity Modelling.
Propensity Modelling had no end. The final piece, ‘Examining precisely the habits of who is most attuned to the commodities’ secret logic’ was a film loop. The film placed us in the driver’s seat of a car that travelled endlessly through a ghostly landscape accompanied by an audio track of modulated birdsong, low hums and distortions. Watching it was unsettling, nauseating, like being on a ride that you desperately want to abandon even though you know it’s going to go on forever (‘I really like it, I feel sick,’ said Ruston’s agent).
The film was surrounded by constantly reshuffled paintings, many of which resembled the sort of storyboards Ruston routinely creates in his day job, images of cars, logos and interiors. Collectively called ‘Dreamers who created their own nightmares’, they invited the viewer to construct their own narrative from an assemblage of images both moving and static.
The End develops organically from Propensity Modelling, but where that exhibition was diffuse in subject, themed only by what Neal Brown describes as Ruston’s ‘mood of soiled, corrupted beauty’, The End has a single focus. Referencing both the graphic art of Thomas Ott and the work of Victor Burgin – who also splices image and text to provoke the viewer into creating narrative connections – The End is a conscious attempt by Ruston to focus on one idea rather than explore the aesthetic sensibilities behind it. It’s more than a technical exercise or exploration of style. It’s a system.
Propensity Modelling had no end. The End has fifteen that you can choose from.
The End: Fifteen Endings to Fifteen Paintings: Short Fiction Inspired by the Artwork of Nicolas Ruston is available from all good bookstores.