Must this be the place: unquestionably, indisputably, beyond all reasonable doubt? Is this fundamentally what Narbi Price is claiming? Or is this a reflexive nod to the underlying attempt in each of the works in ‘This Must Be the Place’ to find a site: a pilgrimage in search of a memory, for an echo of an event past. The endeavour to find something long-gone is undeniably speculative and of course at times inexact. Therefore, whilst recognising the meticulous research that ties each journey to a location, the care in the framing of each symbolic photograph taken, and the clear undertaking in the resultant painting that ensues, the assertion this-must-be-the-place carries with it a marked note of hesitancy. Were it that the intent was to document a site as indisputable evidential proof, such uncertainty might be considered undermining. But in fact, this ambiguity, so often present in Narbi Price’s paintings, points to the multi-layered processes used to manipulate the representational significance of the image, whilst formalising it within the abstract languages of painting.

This indexical connection to place as both site and specific signifier of meaning is fundamental. Indeed Price’s practice operates on a number of levels, through a variety of different indexical linkages. Though paintings, they are paintings that index photographs, and the photographs themselves index the having-been-thereness of Price’s scouting-out of the territory. This is most evident through the particularities of the image taken; its aspect; its framing; its focus. The image we see is POV, and as such we are afforded the experience of looking through the viewfinder; we are encouraged to ask the question why here? what of this place? As windows to other worlds what in fact are we looking at? This subjective intrigue is vital given the intentional unremarkableness of the images. Almost subjectless, they seemingly avoid the punch or in philosopher Roland Barthes’ terms punctum to capture attention. That is not to say that they are in anyway un-captivating, but rather that the hook of the image derives from the accumulated gesture and mark making of the painting. It is through the physical surface of the canvas that our intention is drawn back to reflecting on the studium (again Barthes’ term) – the ostensible subject of the image.

Price has long wrangled with the idea of the tell; of how much supplementary information about these places and their significance to explicitly reveal. Indeed how much, if in fact any of this information is required to ‘get’ the painting. Though the manifest interest in the place is the starting point that drives the work for the artist, for the viewer this knowledge risks becoming the dominant impression, overburdening the image and making it purely illustrative of the spectacle of the subject. Particularly when the significance of the place links to acts of death and murder, to real-world locations used in film and television, or to places purporting to myth and legend, the story risks becoming the total work. I had played with revealing more of the back-story to particular works here in this essay – allowing it to sit at an aside to the work. But maybe such information is exactly that, an aside, a back-story, and therefore part of the process rather the fundament of the work as we view it. Particularly seeing the new body of work en masse, the consistent and very tangible absence of human presence instead begins to point to an unknown, underlying story, and so rather than being specific, and fixed to given truth, each painting’s meaning is extended and modified through this elusive portrayal.

Donald Rumsfeld, Former American Defence Secretary, once said: ‘There are known knowns. These are the things we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we don’t know.’ To return to the notion of reflexivity in the exhibition title (the reluctant-certainty of the word ‘must’), the recent body of paintings and lithographs appear to fall into these two categories. There are paintings where the location is known, where the place and the specific indexed event can be cross-referenced through other sources – where this really must be the place. Other paintings however either speculate on the location, painting as accurate a picture of a place as can be forecast or assumed, or the event referenced is itself constructed from hearsay, conjecture or the popular consciousness. In the case of the Flowers series, the symbolic value of the image is clear; we recognise the function the flowers serve to fulfil and we can re-locate the depicted image to any number of personally familiar locations. Almost black and white, we colour the prints in our imagination. In reality however, the particularities of the event, and the identity of the individual whose memory they act to preserve remain unknown. They are monuments, to the known unknown.

Matthew Hearn, 2017

Matthew Hearn is a writer and curator