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Limbo Dancing

By Hugo Worthy

The painter John Vincent ushers Hugo Worthy into a 21st century twilight zone.

Late last night I waited in Luton airport car park for a flight to come in from Eastern Europe. Floodlit with a melancholy, toxic light it felt like subject matter for John Vincent's paintings. Like his Traffic Warden (Untitled (Warden)) or the young woman in Tube I was in a 21st century limbo, a Samuel Becket character in neon chiaroscuro. Like Becket's heroes Vincent's characters are waiting. Unlike Becket's outsiders they inhabit the familiar modern world, albeit one seemingly filtered through the lens of horror cinema. Men and women, though mostly women, look out watching for something, anything to happen. Blaise Pascal wrote that "All human evil comes from a single cause, man's inability to sit still in a room". In Big Sister the woman follows Pascal's advice but beyond the window of her bed-sit the world glows a satanic red. She gazes out into the baleful night awaiting the moment that she will leave the safety of her room. Or perhaps worse something from the pandemonium outside her will enter her room. In Tube a woman stares blankly at a blank timetable. Bags beside her, destination unknown, she will be still until such time as she is roused to act. And when she can no longer wait in silence it is inevitably folly and evil that will ensue.

Speaking to Vincent in the past we have often discussed the role of the gothic tradition in his work. His films, slices of bleak English horror, are more explicit in creating a world underpinned by inescapable and malevolent forces. Acts of visceral violence are shown where in the paintings the possibility is only implied. The paintings portray the sad cocoon we create for ourselves from the daily grind of beheadings, rape and humiliation.

Vincent's world describes the very ordinary way 21st century human beings deal with fears that range from terrorism to transport. We hide from them. Filled with dread we wait and watch for something, anything, twitching the curtains of our suburban semis. Vincent's art is desperately intimate because waiting and especially watching are private experiences. We never invite our friends round to indulge in a little voyeurism together. Watching is always done alone. It is slightly shameful.

Vincent's characters, drawn from his friends and family, sit and wait because there is nothing else they can do. They watch because it is what we do when we wait. Because action is too risky they watch, like artists, on the edge of the game. Haunted by the future and the past and unable to escape it. Like a good gothic shocker Vincent's narrative twists in on itself. It is not our heroes haunted by the action beyond the window, but them haunting the world they observe. Vincent's intuition is that haunting and waiting are the same. They watch silently paralyzed by the threat of the future. Separate and isolated they haunt the periphery of life.

Vincent's painting deals in the sadness and isolation that we all occasionally sense. Sitting in my car in Luton Airport's sodium twilight passers by look like ghosts. Flights arrive, techno moans gently from a passing car and the world seems weightless. It has the vaporous quality of Vincent's brushwork. Then my family arrive smiling and the solipsism and menace of the airport recede. I barely see those that populate the edges of the airport, waiting and watching. Vincent would have done.