Ruth Barker

Face of an Angel, Voice of a Demon



Amid the gluttony of new visual art provided by the 2006 Glasgow international, Jonny Scott’s Face of an Angel, Voice of a Demon is significant in its apparent recoil from simple explication. Sited in a baroque yet enigmatic space whose recesses coil away from the art-thoroughfare of Glasgow’s Bridgegate, the installation resists easy interpretation and remains a challenging, perhaps ‘difficult’ work, which asks some pertinent questions of the place of both painting and sculpture within contemporary visual practice. 


On a tiled floor in a room utterly divorced from the notional ‘white cube’, a bulky wooden jetty-like structure bisects the space.  Slapped with a cursory layer of red paint and graphically stricken with the marks of frenzied yet inexplicable axe-attack upon its surface, it supports at one end a likewise massive canvas.  Here, on a white background we see a black line-drawing in slim, even delicate brushstrokes, of a fragmented yet oddly harmonic image, and it is in the bizarre relation between these two aspects that the charge of the work lies.


This latest of Scott’s reflections on the emergence of what he terms a ‘grotesque consciousness’ is aptly framed by the ungainly relationship between the gestures of creation and destruction in the work.  Taking Trauma as a primary dynamic Face of an Angel… uses mark-making as a point of continuum within the visually complex piece, suggesting a direct analogy between the cross-hatching of both the axe-blow and the painted line. As both become acts of gesture within the finished object, we must ask whether destruction can ever legitimately be found within the logic of the art-object, or if these moments of attack with their relation to Fontana’s slashed canvasses, must solely be seen as essentially formal marks from the ‘hand of the artist’.  This return from the brutal, threatening, and chaotic to the measured and considered sculptural object contains within it all the tragedy of Carnival in its truest sense; the momentary but essentially contained disruption to ‘the rule’. For surely one of the central precepts of Carnival must be that after the giddy revolution, order does return and indeed, we realise that it never went away, but rather sanctioned a temporary inversion of the normative so as to ensure its own  re-appropriation.


As the artist’s newest proposition towards a practice of charged but ultimately controlled conflict, Face of an Angel, Voice of a Demon succeeds in asking questions. With its nod to Ross Sinclair’s epic Red Gallows Sleep! Red Gallows Awaken and its unspecified relation to aesthetics and colour composition, the installation remains an ambitious yet ultimately mute structure. Perhaps however, the very lack of ‘closure’ to the work, together with the overt absence of a final resolution, actually does the viewer a favour by leaving a few loose threads; as an enigmatic icon, Face of an Angel stays with us, not altogether unproblematic, and not altogether unwelcome.