It’s not only that Malcolm Rains is a master of many styles and that each one looks the way a spoken dialect in language sounds: he is in fact a master stylist, period. Each of his motifs belongs to a broad and deep painting territory which he traverses and revisits the same way we can return to Rome or Athens to follow our own footsteps and yet still feel it’s a first time encounter. There’s something hauntingly familiar, gently reassuring and yet utterly otherworldly in the way this artist can explore major subjects over a long term career trajectory.
One such subject is a domain he has confidently commanded for over a decade, the kind of crisp representation I can only call objective portraiture. Whether it’s the way fruit occupies space on a table, or the way light is refracted from a glowing metallic surface of pure colour, or the way creased paper can assume the awesome stature of a mountain, one recursive element remains shared by them all: optical splendour and its transmission.
Portrait, still life, landscape, or abstract: there’s really only one kind of painting, one theme and one format, which disguises itself in a chameleon-like fashion depending on its relative time and place. All painting is actually conceptual in nature and consists in the rendering of embodied meanings, in whatever shape, form and content is called for by its specific situation. We could call this uniquely old and new aesthetic realm: quantum painting.
These flexible postures of a mutable realm are highly applicable to the latest paintings of Malcolm Rains. Think existential origami, and you’ll be heading in the right direction, backtrack and you’ll still be right. Though all the images reference the classical in tone and optics, as their ancient Greek titles suggest, I believe it’s more accurate to consider them as being pre-Socratic in their aesthetic intentions. The pre-Socratic philosophers, among them Pythagoras, Heraclitus and Zeno, all posited the origin of things as a first principle: the undefined, immaterial, unlimited substance without qualities which they called apeiron.
Such a perspective suggests the absence of a traditional elsewhere, because everywhere else is also here, all the time. That premise sounds shockingly like the relatively recent 20th century physics notion of quanta: linked temporal packages of energy interconnecting with everything else everywhere. But however we choose to identify them, these new images by Rains, all meticulously rendered in oil on linen in the precise manner which has become one of his signature styles, and all breathtakingly beautiful, also call into question any artificial barriers or boundaries between the formats and themes of art history as we’ve become accustomed to it. They offer us instead the fabula of a non-localized reality.