William Monk’s Enigmatic Paintings Take Over Three Galleries in New York
‘The Ferryman’ is now on view at Pace Gallery’s Chelsea and East Hampton locations in addition to GRIMM’s Tribeca space
During a recent weekend trip upstate, artist William Monk acquired a vinyl record player for his spacious Brooklyn studio. “I grew up with my parents’ records and took the pleasure of listening vinyl for granted,” the artist told Galerie during a recent visit. The British painter hopes to amass a record collection that will do justice to his spacious studio’s acoustics. Besides a complete Beatles discography, his current titles include Bob Dylan, The Doors, and Pink Floyd. “I have these musicians in my collection because I have been listening to them since my childhood, and they trigger something, a warm feeling, today about me back then,” he says.
Monk’s philosophy about music echoes his approach to the canvas. Tempestuous swirls, bubbling landscapes, and hovering formations populate the artist’s often times large scale paintings. Between a dream and a memory, Monk paints mantras of recollection, be it of a song, a film, or travel; however, he eschews the idea of illustrating a place or a moment. “Painting is finished in the viewer’s mind,” he says. The artist’s subjective iconography fluctuates between pastel-colored poetic abstractions and homages to natural occurrences, such as a malice volcanic eruption or a romantically setting sun. “Being inside a submarine,” is his comparison to painting: “After spending most of the time ‘submerged’ in the studio, I occasionally pop up and observe.”
This month, Monk’s three-venue exhibition, titled “The Ferryman,” takes over Pace Gallery’s Chelsea and East Hampton locations in addition to GRIMM’s Tribeca space. It is a meditation on his version of the titular character, as well as the Sun and the horizon. The shows’ protagonist is both inspired by the angel responsible for carrying the newly deceaseds’ souls across the Styx river in Greek mythology and the cover of the The Beatles album Yellow Submarine.
Monk’s, most of all, is an ode to painting from a personal root, and the new paintings manifest this commitment not only through the artist’s signature visual cues but also his exploration of repetition. For him, painting a juxtaposition over and over again is similar to “the unfolding of a mantra or a word losing its perceived meaning through repetition.” He thinks of the extremely long car scene in Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange or the reiteration of the words “number nine” in The Beatles song Revolution 9. “The point where the brain expects something to end is the part I find the most interesting, and this can only be achieved through repetition.”
The translation of his film and music references to the canvas is in the fact that no matter how similar the landscapes or the Sun paintings look, they are not exactly the same. Monk’s command over his paintings is similar to a sonic composition: “Music is formed not by the notes but the space between the notes—similarly a color only means something next to another color.”
The installation of the works is not unlike a director’s editing of a mise-en-scène. While GRIMM exhibits smaller scale “Ferryman” paintings, the three-room installation at Pace Gallery’s Chelsea space unfolds with a gradual reveal. Three circular solar paintings suspended from the ceiling are paired from their backs with other meteoric paintings in same size and shape. Once the audience proceeds through the trio which gradually lessens in scale, they reach a room with three large-scale “Ferryman” paintings, followed by the final section with three landscapes, hung to form a horizon line.
Monk listens the same music while working on a series to “compartmentalize his thoughts and ideas about the work”—therefore he was able to swiftly return to the shows’ paintings after a two-year pandemic break during which he made other works. “I turned on the same album again and got back into the groove,” he says. Music will spill into the paintings more audibly on June 1, when the artist’s musician brother Nick Monk takes over Pace Chelsea with fellow musicians Rose Kallal and Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, who was nominated for the Academy Award in Best Original Score for Candyman this year. The trio will deliver a composition played by brother Monk’s instrument, The Machine, which generates its own music, along with video projections washing over Monk’s otherworldly paintings.
“The Ferryman” is on view at Pace New York, East Hampton, and GRIMM gallery from May 27–June 5, 2022