William Monk | West of Nowhere

Awakening Universes Real and Conjured

Written by

Bennett DiDonna

Photographed by

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William Monk, Son of Nowhere IV, 2023, oil on canvas, 270 cm × 255 cm (8' 10-5/16" × 8' 4-3/8")

There is something wonderfully intoxicating about the liminal space that is waking up each morning. As our world comes into focus, images and ideas from universes real and conjured overlap for a brief moment. It is in this realm of unconscious consciousness, or perhaps conscious unconsciousness, that British painter William Monk finds himself.

This past week marked the opening of West of Nowhere, William Monk’s new solo exhibition at Pace Gallery in Los Angeles, and his first in the city since 2015. The show contains two distinct series drawing on the artist’s interest in the fields of perception. Through abstraction and texture, these works manifest what Monk has described as mantras, anchored in a visual world and language, but with a portal to another.

The first series is comprised of four large scale paintings, which are a continuation of Monk’s work exhibited at Pace in New York this past year. Washed color columns sit atop vibrant textural hillscapes. Patchworks of mottled earthtones give depth to the work, “a masochistic effort,” as Monk describes it, with a wry self-deprecating sense of humor; having used some of the smallest brushes available to him to create the effect.

It is in this composition that Monk’s approach begins to take hold. “[In painting] we have what we call the rule of thirds,” he shares. “You divide the canvas up into thirds, you have things in the foreground, middle ground, and you stagger it so the eyeline leads around the space. I don't do that.” The series of four works amount to a complete world in and of itself. As Monk explains, “It's not like the camera has just sort of floated upon a point of a scene, and there's something that's not shown. These paintings are invented. Everything is on the canvas.”

William Monk, Son of Nothing IV, 2023, oil on canvas, 45 cm × 70 cm (17-11/16" × 27-9/16")

A keen cinephile, Monk cites Stanely Kubrick, one of his favorite directors, as an influence on his work. “[Kubrick] never did the normal way of composing shots, and I always found that to be more impactful.” It is in the iconic scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange where the camera lingers, breaking the rhythm of expectation and reorienting the viewer. As Monk explains, “Once you can slow our meter down to the level that the filmmaker wants you to be in, then it's just the washes of color or sound or vibration. Or maybe it's just magical.”

The second series in the exhibition features six psychedelia-infused small-scale paintings, reminiscent of the inkblots of Rorschach’s psychological tests, exploring how the mind creates meaning from nebulous stimuli. The work captures Monk’s interest in seriality as it relates to perception. “It’s in repetition that you see difference…when you paint in series, you have to find it. We’re always searching for this, what's the same and what's different.”

William Monk, Son of Nothing I, 2023, oil on canvas, 45 cm × 70 cm (17-11/16" × 27-9/16")

It is in this near meditative state where Monk’s work emerges both in terms of process and as an observer. “Painting is thinking. People's brushstroke is the act of a gesture that is connected to the brain. You put it there for some reason, but it is also about being switched off.” Tapping into this other realm, almost anticipating the next movement on the canvas as both artist and viewer, is perhaps the best antidote to our chronically overstimulated and creatively undernourished world. As Monk puts it, “At its best, painting is slow.”

West of Nowhere is on view now at Pace Gallery in Los Angeles through October 21st.

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William Monk, Flaunt Magazine, West of Nowhere, Pace Gallery, Bennett DiDonna