Social Movement

derek marks’ paintings turn moving bodies into social movements.

If I can’t dance, I don’t want your revolution! — attributed to Emma Goldman

Derek Marks’ paintings are not revolutionary in any formal way, but I nonetheless find them hauntingly and powerfully moving.

They are reminiscent of Renoir of course, and Matisse, very familiar to be sure, but also enchanting and subtly subversive as well.

Derek Marks, Girls Dangling: Summer Green, 2010.

I use the word moving here quite literally. For the bleeding of figure into background and background back again into figure suggests a larger evocation of motion, of bodies moving through space.

Quite obviously on these canvases, many of them quite large, there is a physicality, a corporeal presence represented. But there is also a kind of cultural kinetics at play. As Marks links individuals together through paint, his works express a sense of the larger emotional—dare I say even political—energies generated by collective motion. One glimpses not just “dangling” bodies, but also, somehow, the formation of social bodies: a gang, a group, an assembly, a class, a meeting of the bodies as well as the minds.

Derek Marks, Girls Dangling: Silent Separation, 2010.

These are much more than just glimpses of girls. At one level, that’s all they are, of course. But there is more to these glimpses. There is, to my eye, a parental perspective to the paintings, like seeing your child playing when you arrive to pick her up from dance class or school. There is a warmth to them, an affection, an appreciation. There is also, I think, an undercurrent of sadness and anxiety at how the child is separating from the parent, moving on, finding her peers. There is even, perhaps, a darker shading to the paintings: a generational voyeurism that hints of jealousy, an envy of youth. The paintings celebrate the girls, but feel excluded from them too.

Derek Marks, Girls on a Square, 2010.

And something else, too: the potential power of collectivity. Even as these figures individuate from their parents, they also conjoin with each other. At some weird, just-barely discernible level, these are representations of some of the deepest wellsprings of social formation outside the family. They capture the activities of shifting togetherness at a young age. Are these, then, somehow, the motions that shape the making of social identity, of gender and class and race and region, of self and group, ours and theirs, isolation and community? Could they be childhood’s social movements that, later, shading different ways, become a social movement? Or are they precisely the motions of youthful bonding that later, deep in the self’s relationship to the group, to society, stop such a movement in its tracks?

Derek Marks, Girls Dangling, 2010.


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