Vane presents Michael Mulvihill and Stephen Palmer at VOLTA9 art fair, Basel, Switzerland, 10-15 June 2013.

Michael Mulvihill and Stephen Palmer both make highly finished, meticulously crafted drawings that share an obsession with the decay of contemporary culture and a sense of anxiety for the future.

Michael Mulvihill’s drawings are weighted with a sense of menace; his landscapes, urban scenes and portraits are all potential harbingers of disasters waiting to happen. The sense of foreboding is exacerbated by his obsessive process: images are the result of heavily worked pencil on paper, built up through repeated erasure and overdrawing, leaving a series of ‘ghosted’ images below the finished drawing itself. This process creates visions of a world that is, in the artist’s own words, ‘in the process of dissolving’.

In the drawing series ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ the tiny scale of the drawings refers to online thumbnails from where the images have been taken. Some depict explosions from Cold War nuclear tests. The increasing power of these weapons demonstrated the resolve with which each side pursued their respective ideologies and their own visions of society and happiness.

Other drawings from this series are portraits of players in the game: some show Soviet cosmonauts, others show members of the RAND Corporation – the think tank formed to offer research and analysis to the United States armed forces – that devised strategies for fighting a nuclear war according to Game Theory. The drawings stand as game-markers attempting to unravel the ideas and motivations of the leaders that directed the history of the Cold War, a history that still resonates today.

Stephen Palmer’s most recent drawings are based on newspaper clippings. The stories are not strictly ‘news’ but rather look to reanalyse historic events. Each clipping is rendered in precise detail, a transcription that has the effect of conferring worth to events that may otherwise appear of little importance.

Whilst the selection of stories might at first appear random – UFOs, World War Two, a chess match, stamp collecting – the topics are those that attract a fanatical and obsessive following. Newspapers have a particular value to obsessive collectors, who fill their homes with print, hoping perhaps that the information contained will impart knowledge, or offer up a form of control that is lacking in their lives.

Some stories reference a recent news topic: the failing property market is juxtaposed with a fascination for spaces once inhabited by famous authors; the current European financial crisis is linked with reparation payments for events that happened during World War Two. In a group of obituary drawings, the deletion of text from the original leaves only a visual clue to the dead person’s story. A single image acts as a summation of a life and a reminder that our legacy may be based on a few memorable events.

Palmer’s drawings can be viewed as an obituary to the printed page, but also a reminder that virtual means of delivery often come to coexist alongside the physical formats that they look to improve upon.

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