Duncan Marquiss’s first solo show at Sorcha Dallas saw an examination of simple drawing techniques. This was a stark contrast to the intricately detailed figurative work that has formed the basis of a practice which, up to now, has focused on mythical figures and ambiguous landscapes. Though framed by the weighty exhibition title ‘Distressed Inventory’, the London-based artist’s use of the term was peppered with verbal irony: his interest lies in the classification’s commercial origins – goods superseded by new trends or technologies, no longer desired by the market place – and he toys with the notion that his work could be considered classified this way within an art-market context. Yet these works subtly acknowledge the term’s complexities and, using outdated technologies and techniques, Marquiss deliberates over our propensity toward such means of production and their nostalgic affect.
Midday (all works 2011) played on a five-minute loop in the gallery’s first space. This black and white video (transferred from 16mm) depicts a hand as it moves across an indecipherable terrain, shrouded in striped shadows cast by a bamboo blind. Intermittent black frames create a strobing effect and a subsequent afterimage that suggest the flashing lights of club culture more than they do structuralist filmmaking and so-called flicker films, and while the blind suggests the exotic, it is most likely high-street bought. Together with his use of 16mm stock, Marquiss creates an archival feel that suggests the footage has a much earlier origin – perhaps nodding to the anthropological or avant-garde film of the early-to-mid-20th century, most obviously Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon (1943). But Marquiss’s use of this aesthetic is knowing, underscoring the laborious and technically demanding skills required to arrive at the 16mm footage; although a similar effect could have been achieved by up-to-date means, he has used film as a medium to produce images of perceived aesthetic worth.
Marquiss describes his works on paper as ‘frottage’, the relief rubbing technique used by Max Ernst to capture the irregular textures and compositions found by randomly placing a piece of paper on a given surface. ‘Distressed Inventory (1–10)’ is an ongoing series of mostly monochrome compositions, and refers to the scraps of paper that are traced on the surface of each of the works, as well as the explicit distressing of the paper’s flat surface. While each piece varies in size, style and colour, Marquiss’s use of Ernst’s technique records the texture of discarded studio materials, forming unique geometric patterns in each instance. The first in the series, a collage, pastel and pencil work, pays most recognition to the Surrealist starting point, and is also most closely tied to the mystical interests of his figurative work. Collaged atop a blue pastel background, a composition of levitating standing stones forms an illusive structure; while the red Distressed Inventory (7), bears most close resemblance to a bushel of foliage, a prime example of the dusky ambiguity that unites each of these works – a Rorschach test that provides an open-ended starting-point for visual investigation of the works tones and textures.
Marquiss’s work is characterized by its subtlety and lightness of touch, but the simplicity of these drawings expands his subject matter outward to encompass a wider set of concerns that include originality, reproduction and labour, and how they are valued in the present tense. Focusing on colour, pattern and movement he demonstrates a learned approach to drawing’s conservative traditions, while acknowledging the changing contexts of heritage and revision that unpack the work beyond its edges.