Between Light and Darkness

The subject of James Gilroy's current exhibit is not a personal drama, but rather a personal look at a collective tragedy, that of September 11th. Living a few blocks from the World Trade Center, on the 35th floor, from his window on the world, Gilroy witnessed the unrepresentable. He witnessed it from such a close distance that it was hard for him to tell whether it was something he dreamed or actually saw. In fact, it was both of these at once. It was not the first time Gilroy had seen people jumping out of New York skyscrapers. For since the age of thirteen, fate had cruelly chosen him for a role he had not chosen himself, that of witness to scenes of human bodies falling to their deaths. Well before September 11th, after a period of figurative representation, the falling-dancing figures became progressively distilled in Gilroy's painting, to the point where for the last five years it has veritably haunted his work.

After September 11th, the personal drama was transformed into a collective tragedy. James Gilroy has not sought to reproduce the collapse of the Twin Towers, but rather to render it visible, first and foremost through its architectural dimension. Let us forget, then, the usual way in which we saw, and re-saw, the tragedy. Gilroy invites us to see in a different way what the repeated televised images rendered invisible. His eye was able to grasp its fulminating bursts of light, those which escaped our glance, and in grasping them, he invites us to revisit a September 11th written in cobalt blue on greying white.

This exhibit of James Gilroy's work is outstanding in its ability to bring out the true colors, or anti-colors, of the tragedy. But in doing so it conveys neither trepidation nor morbidity, even less any kind of voyeurism, but rather an intense, luminous profundity. A deep, fortified cobalt blue predominates, the same cobalt color that Vincent Van Gogh once qualified as divine, so much is evoked the infinite. From thence comes the solemnity of this exhibit, bringing us to the essential question: the eternal struggle between light and darkness.

However, it would be incorrect to regard James Gilroy's exhibit as merely topical. Despite its direct link to reality, it is work that goes way beyond that of the simple onlooker. The fall, which has haunted his painting for years, is both real and symbolic. The free fall of men from buildings is also the decline of humanity, and collapse of the human edifice. James Gilroy is undoubtedly grappling with the unbearable reality that humankind cannot escape the laws of gravity; Human being never cease to fall, to fall lower than the earth itself Yet we absolutely must entertain the illusion that man, or what will remain of this endangered species, will one day find a way to fall -- upward.

As for James Gilroy's future, it can only be one of light and ascension.

Aicha Elbasri
New York
10 Sept 2002.
Author of I 'lmaginaire carceral de Jean Genet.
Translated from French by Dr. Mary Hudson.

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