Meaning and Purpose: Chapter 6

Fragments and Instability


The postmodernists speak of deconstructing surface reality, arguing that representations no longer represent anything–that they are a self-generating realm of images, an endless surface with no underlying reality. I am more than likely twisting their terminology to describe the work of painters such as Jenny Saville, Ann Gale, Alex Kanevsky and France Jodoin. These painters’ works can convey surface reality while presenting it fractured, falling apart.

Dinner on Battlefield, 2015, Alex Kanevsky (b. 1963), courtesy of the artist

Such Wisdom in the agitated motions of the wind, 2015, France Jodoin (b. 1961), courtesy of the artist

It may well be that our increasing reliance on video, and familiarity with the way it appears when its transmission is hampered, has accustomed us to understand fragmented images, to reconstruct a whole from parts in our minds with ease. Or, we may all share an underlying lack of ease or trust in things as they appear. Kanevsky rejects the question that the instability represented in his work is metaphorical: “Instability clearly exist. It’s a sign of life. A metaphor is a fanciful language construct that I don’t employ in my work. The painting language is very direct and clear, unlike spoken language, and, therefore, does not require the use of metaphor.”1 Since the variety of approaches to art itself reflects the richness of the world, we can acknowledge that other artists choose to use visual fragmentation or representations of instability as metaphor.

  1. John Seed, “Alex Kanevsky: ‘Unstable Equilibrium ‘at Dolby Chadwick Gallery, The Huffington Post, October 7, 2015, accessed November 27, 2015,