“The sky above the roof, So blue, so calm…”
The Parisian sky that Paul Verlaine contemplated from his prison cell took shape above the high walls crowned by the roofs, which, from this confined space, framed a mere fragment of infinity. This cutout later inspired his poem “The sky above the roof”, which features in his collection entitled “Wisdom”.
These small pieces of the vastness of the sky captured on camera, these fragments of the celestial firmament documented from Parisian courtyards similar to the one glimpsed by Verlaine, were skillfully broken down into forms by Joseph Carlson. Systematic photographs, taken in one courtyard after another, of one sky after another, first construct and then reveal a veritable formal language by way of their multiplicity.
The material nature of the courtyard and the roof creates a multitude of figures that are open to comparison yet are never similar.
This splintered celestial vision, initially confined to photographs, is subsequently abstracted, or separated, from the reality in which it was originally perceived. The image of the sky, framed on each occasion by a unique outline, is treated as a shape in its own right. Rendered virtually infinite, the shots of the sky “above the roof” are reduced to a single black-and-white duotone and arranged on various materials: canvas, wood, mural reliefs, etc. Carlson’s abstractive approach establishes an inverted set of values where, more often than not, the sky’s initial light is turned as black as night.
Captured in space and time, the works were produced in the form of a single object, as exhibits which comprise either simple or complex ensembles, ranging from diptyches to large arrangements that either resemble and break down a single shape or juxtapose a variety of figures.
An exhibit like this, with no fewer than sixty components, inevitably evokes the breadth of symbols found on an epigraph. Such a unique canvas or panel draws attention to the abstractive dimension reminiscent of the original cutout of the sky. At times, the elements that occur as a result of superposition come alive, collide or become embroiled to create a dynamic pattern.
Carlson’s learned, meticulous and elegant methods complement an approach fuelled by the analysis and consequent subtle mastery of the transformation of initial matrices. The views of the sky framed by the roofs have been liberated so that they may assume their own meaning. Each image is unique and its interaction with the background, but also with all the other images, helps the beholder discover through reflection by inviting them to decipher a formal vocabulary incorporated into a new sculptural language.
Beyond this exercise, if the work of Mr Carlson subscribes to a continuation of geometrical abstraction, it also differs from this insofar as the forms themselves have been taken directly from the image of a spatial reality that’s measured, framed and defined by a strict outline born of an observation of that which is real. The forms remain figures which ultimately defy an interpretation bound by the statement made by a work of art inspired by abstraction. If the aim in mind is to establish precise links with abstract painting in Carlson’s work, then it’s perhaps fitting to refer to the suprematism of Kasimir Malevich; this great Russian artist’s approach favored the tense relationship between form and the space surrounding it. However, contrary to suprematist convention, Joseph Carlson’s pictorial objects are not free from all figurative associations. It’s in the skillful perception of the relationship between form and figure that the pertinent originality of the elements that come together under the name Dium becomes apparent. This generic title which evokes the infinite nature of the canopy of heaven perhaps also describes the infinite multiplicity of the skies which, found “above the roof”, invite us to reflect on our own relationship with space.