With attention to the easily dismissed and oftentimes ignored aesthetic gestures that surround us all, McDevitt takes his starting point in found gestures. Ranging from unpremeditated, substandard graffiti pieces to stained posters announcing lost cats, discovered when walking the empty streets during lockdown, these are public markings that are not meant to be beautiful or eternalized. McDevitt collects these otherwise insignificant and mediocre expressions and employs their raw qualities in his own work.
For instance, his hanging aluminum sculptures are inspired by things from the urban environment in Berlin where McDevitt lives. These works are composed of a number of different graffiti patterns – but not the particularly skillful graffiti, rather the hasty tags and splashes of paint found on mundane things such as parking meters. Mainly, these are gestures, more than anything else, lackadaisical as they may be, of creativity, disobedience, rebellion, etc. Transient visual expressions that have been compiled and superimposed by McDevitt and turned into this three-dimensional silhouette object which somehow retains some of its initial flatness. The work is thus a conglomerate of expressions, a kind of street poetry of separate incidents that intersect in a common language – hence the title Esperanto.
Similarly, the drawings rely on the same ornamental scribbles further distorted and detached from its original context. Here, the otherwise elusive street tags have come to resemble solid, architectural structures. Repudiating the fundamental, short-lived fate of these offhand improvisations, Paul McDevitt utilizes their contingency in his own creative process, altering our perception of the sign and its qualities.
The carpet works feature imagery appropriated from bled-out posters of the neighborhood’s runaway cats. Having gained an abstract dimension through their deterioration, the normally purely functional posters lose their original purpose and transform into aesthetic objects.
For McDevitt, art making needs to have something on the line. The visual unpredictability in the incorporated motifs thus establishes an intriguing basis for his own works. Furthermore, all the sourced subject matter can be considered kinds of existential mark-making, intrinsically manifesting desperation, providing a glimpse into the lives of the people that share this space, while asserting the ubiquity of the abstract gesture as such.
Paul McDevitt (b. 1972) was born in Troon, Scotland, and graduated from the Chelsea College of Art in London in 2000. He lives and works in Berlin. With numerous exhibitions internationally, spanning the USA, Italy, Denmark, Brazil, Spain, UK, Germany, France and Sweden, Paul McDevitt is represented in several large public and private collections.