Eugene Palmer

Eugene Palmer is a man caught between two cultures and his paintings reflect this dichotomy. Despite the fact that he paints with all the deftness and technical skills of a thoroughly trained artist, the content of his paintings belie the Western tradition. He is repainting history, mimicking the Old Masters and usurping their models in order to claim or reclaim the presence of the black within a 'grand tradition' of narrative painting and portraiture.

His most recent paintings employ Eugene's own family members juxtaposed with landscapes which might easily be scenarios from another century. These figures and vistas are thrown up against each other in such awkward ways that they poignantly question the relationship of blacks to a European Tradition in painting and life generally. Yet Eugene's ability to provoke such issues within his work was not always so acute.

His career has been one of recovering both a personal and 'collective' history and this 'sense of balance' is a recent accomplishment. The painterly poise which he now demonstrates comes from years of yo-yoing between style and subject matter, attempting to find forms which could best explore and express his identity. Such issues of identity are central to Eugene's work. He manages to express visually all the questioning and uncertainty that is an intimate part of the immigrant experience. Since coming to England as a teenager at the beginning of the 60's, Eugene's task has been one of assimilating the host culture, while not relinquishing his identity as a 'Blackman'. However, to speak of Eugene in terms of nationality and culture, whether Jamaican or African, is difficult, since nearly thirty years in England has stamped him with all the positive attributes of a chameleon-like personality, which sits comfortably with the 'post modern' eclectic nature of his work.

In this context, his imagery, for all its petulant broodiness is perfectly 'reasonable', where contradictions become the norm. There is an element of the pathetic about Eugene's painting of blacks which defies his own tendency toward 'heroising'. His blacks, while dominating, the canvas are also constrained by it. With heads or feet cropped to suit the scale, their bodies militate against confinement and hover in an ambivalent manner which suggests both a coming and going. It is their sense of instability, that, 'the center cannot hold', which truly pushes Eugene's work into the arena of a new kind of grand narrative, 'an other story'.

The success of Eugene Palmer's paintings is not based merely on the use of compositional and technical devices. The sense of ownership in these paintings is strong; Eugene's laboring and nurturing is immediately apparent. His method of working, which includes numerous working drawings, sketching, 'painting-drawing', displacement and replacement of objects, and the constant perusal and perfection of his figures, all militate against his natural facility for painting. Eugene is also fascinated with paint itself; its texture, luminosity, density. Beyond his imagery, he sets himself tasks which challenge his understanding of the medium and further ensure that the act of painting can never become slick or complacent. The restless and fragmented nature of his subject matter, combined with Eugene's painterly style which is constantly reinventing itself, creates images which are difficult and problematic for the viewer who knows no better. Yet others will glance at his work and experience automatic recognition tinged with both joy and sorrow.