This thesis uses the painting / photography nexus to investigate painting’s viability as a decisive means of activating reflexivity and interpretation. The artwork tests painting’s agency by presenting simplified abstracted paintings which critique selected news media images documenting conflict between the citizenry and institutional authorities. The paintings thwart the resort to the normalised (non)-understanding engendered by the ubiquity and information excess of the news photograph. They invite the viewer instead to fill out and resolve the incomplete figuration through ‘experiencing’ the narratives pictured. In this way the audience can interpret and expand on the minimal information contained within the paintings by extrapolating from their own experience. This reduces the need to employ the restrictive, hidden and historically entrenched discourses that are commonly used to read both photography and painting.
The narrative content and simplified figuration of the artwork assists in creating a relationship with the viewer that enables an exchange of experience comparable to that achieved through dialogue. The simple presentation and understatement of the paintings aims to forge a link with the viewer that implies a joint struggle to understand. This commonality is augmented by the paintings’ muted, unassertive authorial ‘performance’ and through the invitation to engage in the (joint) work of interpretation. The images have been chosen on the basis of their capacity to promote empathy and imaginative experience. To emphasise the ‘joint witness’ of the artist and viewer the paintings are of a size, and installed in a manner that maximises their correspondence with the body of the viewer.