Robert Platt


at The Butcher's Daughter


Robert Platt (b. 1974) explores cognitive experience through motifs that reflect on art history as well as on science and technology studies. His cerebral paintings evidence his extensive course of graduate training-he received a master’s degree from London’s Royal College of Art in 2001, and a doctorate in painting from the Kyoto City University of Arts in 2010-and refer to a wide range of subjects, including electroencephalograms (EEGs), Renaissance anatomical studies, Japanese poetry and Gestalt psychology.

His show at the new Midtown Detroit location of The Butcher’s Daughter included 10 paintings, a black mirror, a painted wall mural and a camera-obscura installation in the form of a tepee. Resembling stereograms—the type of images known most commonly through the Magic Eye books—the canvases feature seemingly abstract patterns of marks, from which figurative subjects gradually emerge. Some of the paintings offer soft, dull colors—pinks, reds, ochers and blues—that evoke the earthy dyes of medieval tapestries, while others have similar hues in more fluorescent shades that suggest a kind of digital realm (indeed, many of the compositions contain square forms that evoke blown-up pixels or technological glitches).

The Trance
(2013) offers a circuit-board-like field of ocher and gold, overlaid with darker areas resembling stains. On closer inspection, the stainlike areas reveal themselves to be tree branches and, below them, a figure seated in meditation (who, in interviews, the artist has identified as the Japanese poet Bashō). Perhaps the meditating figure is meant to represent the viewer, who must quiet the visual noise of the canvas before the image can reveal itself.

The titles of Enkephalon I and Enkephalon II (both 2013) merge “encephalon” (meaning the vertebrate brain) with its root word, “enkephalos” (Greek for “in the head”). Each painting features an atmospheric ground (primarily goldish green in one, and primarily fuchsia in the other) with an almost celestial swirl of small marks on top; after a moment, the marks are seen to coalesce into the form of a human head depicted in profile, the composition recalling an MRI. Throughout his work, Platt creates images that take a moment to discern (and that just as easily seem to dissolve again into abstraction), prolonging cognitive processes that are usually too instantaneous to notice and bringing a heightened awareness to the mechanics of vision.

Platt constructed the camera-obscura installation, Eidolon (2013), in the center of the gallery. Viewers had to crouch down to enter the tepee structure. Inside, five camera-obscura lenses, each fixed on a different part of the gallery, projected hazy views of the paintings onto small screens mounted on pedestals. Here, viewers occupied a dark, private space in which the show’s focus on the complexities of vision was further intensified. Platt, however, does not present sight as being divorced from the other senses: the materials of the tepee—faux fur and animal hides—engage the senses of touch, sound and smell so that the installation draws attention to vision as an embodied, even synesthetic experience. Eidolon underscores the way that our views of reality-confined to the structures of our bodies—are often illusory.