New Percepts

Josh Foley


Quoting Titian in his “Treatise on Painting” manuscript, Leonardo da Vinci said “by throwing a sponge full of color at a wall, it leaves a stain in which a fine landscape can be seen… as well as heads of men, animals, battles, rocks, seas, clouds and other things. In this you will find marvelous ideas because the mind of the painter is stimulated to new inventions by obscure things.”(1)
This description seems appropriate when viewing the eclectic selection of paintings by artist Josh Foley on display at Despard gallery. The series of work entitled “New Percepts” not only delves into it’s creators psyche, but investigates the way in which paint behaves and is interpreted; ultimately pushing the boundaries of painting beyond the mere two-dimensional image. 

The works on display here include subtle nods to a range of art movements throughout history, artist Josh Foley clearly has an appreciation for Western painting conventions. For this series however, Foley is seemingly not interested in conforming to any former or current artistic trends, rather, is more concerned with the experimentation of painting techniques and forming connections of interest, both practically and conceptually.

Evident within “New Percepts” is an understanding of Classicism in regard to technique and the allegory of Renaissance imagery. Knowledge drawn from landscape traditions (John Glover) and still life emulation, (Italian Baroque: see “Picnic with the Psychopath”) combine with fantasy fiction inspired from mythical story and folklore. Influence from early Abstract expressionists is also evident, who’s understanding of the act of painting itself as a struggle between self-expression and the chaos of the subconscious was a central focus. Everyday surrounding scenery and identity are the primary driving forces behind Foley’s works here, inspiration drawn from recent art residencies in particular combine with existential explorations in the search towards creative outcomes.

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John Glover “Patterdale farm”, Oil on canvas, circa 1840

Famous for advancing the act of painting beyond the representational realm of the physical world, Van Gogh spawned his most famous work “ Starry night” from memory. Completed from the confines of a mental asylum, the work is very much evocative of the spirituality Van Gogh found in nature. The painting depicts a tension of contrasts, where the tumultuous, swirling sky comes to life and battles the more rigorous formal arrangement of the earth and solid objects. The bend of the cypress tree lands somewhere in the middle of both ephemerality and solidarity, creating an overall dreamlike effect. The contrast of styles within the one plane plays on the natural vs unnatural, dreams vs reality.

Vincent van Gogh “Starry Night”, Oil on canvas, 1889
Josh Foley “ Gee’s Lookout, Oil & pumice on canvas, 2011 – 2011 Glover award

Techniques throughout ”New Percepts” have similar qualities to those used by Van Gogh in “Starry Night” and also the later landscape works of Monet, who began painting in a free, expressive and representational style due to his flailing eyesight. The master wove a multitude of intense colours with thick layers onto the canvas, more concerned with natures mysteries and capturing a feeling than actual appropriation.

Foley too gives up desire to record minute details or to depict realism or reality, instead chooses to focus on the representation of space and the dynamic of visual language. Works such as “Toxic Wormholes” are full of action and energy, where hyper morphing melts rich with substance and illuminocity, mould visceral forms together in layered surfaces. There is a sense of nature coming through the abstract abyss, with elements of familiar topography and befitting colour arrangement rendered throughout. The forms however do not depict reality, instead suggest a hidden landscape from an alternate dimension. 

Josh Foley: “Toxic Wormholes”, Oil & acrylic on linen, 2020

Tangled masses of painterly brush strokes twist and turn into a swirling of three-dimensional alien liquid, not quite of this world. Each carefully simulated motion infuses together both oils and acrylics in a rich kaleidoscope of psychedelic colour and wicked vibrance. Occasionally, the illusionary textures break out into actual texture and vice versa, the palette knife wages against the slick, intellectual fine stroke, the paint itself wrestles for ascendancy. This process creates a tension of contrasts, as each application of paint both depicts realism and the abstract at the same time, simultaneously mimicking and mocking the flow of the natural world in the process. It’s as if we are viewing each scene through a looking glass, or catching a glimpse of a parallel universe. Or on acid. 

Traditions of landscape and still life merge seamlessly with more contemporary notions of abstract when required throughout the series, morphing and merging between perceptive visual language and the impalpable. For example, “Picnic with the Psychopath” is rooted in Classism, but given a sinister, distorted twist. In “Petit dejeuner avec Jean des Esseintes”, hard objects become limp, visual data is familiar, yet warped closer to the abstract.

Josh Foley “Petit dejeuner avec Jean des Esseintes” Oil & acrylic on linen, 2020

Completed in 2015, earlier paintings such as “Sarah Island circa 1832“, render more defined, abnormal shapes with three-dimensional qualities, these shapes all amalgamating together and glimmering as if melting underwater.
Depicting somewhat pliable three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface is the artist’s greatest weapon here. Foley is able to parody the process of painting itself by playing with materiality and illusion, morphing malleable formations together, then twisting reality in and out of existence. Bringing to life a plasticine Fun-land of potential.

Josh Foley “Sarah Island Circa 1842”, Oil on linen, 2015

The practical processes Foley employs while creating art are equally as important as the conceptual motivations. Personal psychoanalytical theories into the ineffable are a key investigation, as well as internal experimentations into heightened states of mind and other unexplainable phenomena. These include, but are not limited to, an individuals subconscious desire, sensations such as intuition, coincidence and and deja vu, as well as ethereal experiences, such as dream analysis and transcendental fantasy. 

In the words of 19th century French poet, Pierre Reverdy: “the more the relationship between the two juxtaposed realities is distant and true, the stronger the image will be−the greater its emotional power and poetic reality.”[2] Foley takes this example and emerses himself in the painting figuratively, allowing the unconscious to express itself. The paintings begin to represent “the sublime simplicity of reality.” [3]
The characteristics of this style and process, a combination of the depictive, the abstract and psychological, mimick the mentality of the early surrealist movement, spawned in 1924. The major spokesperson of this movement, Andre Breton, described surrealism as a “means of reuniting conscious and unconscious realms of experience so completely, that the world of dream and fantasy would be joined to the everyday rational world in an absolute reality, a super- reality, or surreality.” [4].
This notion is evident in Foley’s surreal-scapes, particularly the abstracted landscape paintings “ The Golden Calf” and “Botanical garden with theta waves”. These works could be rendered from alternate states of being, such as lucid imaginations and dreams, hallucinations, self induced pharmaceutical aid or even alter-ego manifestation. (see Xydep) Each painting shows an interplay between the freedom of choice and the facticity of forced reality, wrapped in enigmatic ambiguity. These paintings emote escapism and fantasy fiction, largely shrouding their intentions in mystery.

Perhaps Josh takes a contemporary leaf from the Surrealist Manifesto and is able to tap into his subconscious through systematic irrational thought and self induced state, AKA: paranoic critical method. The godfather of this method is unquestionably Salvador Dali, who utilised “paralysing tricks of eye-fooling to systematise confusion and discredit completely the world of reality” [5].
Dalí believed that all objects posses power, and desired to depict subjects he considered to possess spiritual power. By using the artistic style of Classism as a core component, Dali aimed to capture and become close to the spirituality contained in all substances and, therefore, become closer to the divine.

Take Dali’s “Daddy Longlegs of the Evening-Hope!” from 1940 for example, a work showcasing the artist’s inclusive imagination and ability to exploit double imagery, showcasing the duality of softness and hardness within the one plane. This painting renders some of the strongest surrealist symbolism’s; the phenomenon of sleep, the subconscious mind and freedom of the oneiric world. This is an example of Sigmund Freud’s influence on surrealist art and Dalí’s attempts to explore the world of dreams in a dreamscape. Foley plays on the surrealist mentality by mining the unconscious and expanding perception, deliberately suspending control and reason for a period of time in a disciplined way then documenting the results with the act of painting. Look at “On the other side of a black hole there is a fish turning into a gorilla”, a work heavily influenced by Dali, both in ideology and outrageously long-winded title. In the image, the tangeable clashes with the intangible. Evanescent, yet dense organic morphology hovers between the real and the otherworldly. Contradicting, yet complimenting. Lucid formations with three-dimensional qualities warp into recognisable objects, the eye of the viewer makes appropriate connections from the visual data provided and begins to inject relevant ideas into the narrative. The imagination makes assumptions, the title, throws these assumptions away. 

The grandiose ideas proposed throughout this body of work requires room to breathe, room to contemplate. These paintings feed energy off each other and would suffer from the disruption of opposing artistic styles mashed in between. Thankfully, Despard has given a solo stage for which “New Percepts” capitalises on. The paintings compliment each other with a cross over of aesthetic and ideas, allowing the viewer to undertake a journey of discovery.

The scale of individual works varies, “Twelve Great Walks of the Cradle Valley” measures in at 14.5x 10cm, while “Helen Frankenthaler & Dr. Hannibal Lecter came to dinner” is 168x168cm.

Josh Foley “Helen Frankenthaler & Dr. Hannibal Lecter came to dinner” Oil and acrylic on canvas, 2020

The works are at their most powerful when scaled to the size of the latter or in the vicinity. Size does matter! The overall journey is interrupted by the 12 small scale works on paper with the unnecessary, tacky crochet interventions. It becomes difficult to escape into fantasy at this scale, so hopefully the artist ‘goes large’ from now on. This is the only a small stumble on this eye-opening experience.

From painting to painting, the narrative perpetually evolves as the imagery on the canvas seemingly grows. This is ever present in the central work, “Visceral Landscape”. The natural flow of the physical world, for which abides by the rules of gravity and solidarity, dually exists with a skewed and distorted fantastical land that knows no bounds. A landscape just out of our perception, reminiscent of reality, yet not of this world.

Josh Foley “ Visceral Landscape”, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 2019

Utilising abstract techniques such as the Trompe l’oeil (trick of the eye) method to play with depth and perception, everyday scenery and contextual elements melt together with historical references and suggestive ideas. Materiality wrestles with ephemerality, while deadly, acidic coloured liquids skew and morph into formations for the viewer to translate. It is here that Foley creates two paintings within the one plane, questioning and celebrating the materiality behind the painted image. Previously recognisable visual realms push and pull for supremacy, organic and ever growing, alive with potentiality.
Reality melts into sublime fantasy, solidifies and ultimately spawns all new allegorical intentions. We are witnessing a scene from an uncanny valley in a parallel universe.

“New Percepts” is the culmination of Josh Foley’s oeuvre; the artist parodies the application of paint while challenging Western conventions, all in the search for personal harmony.
Initial understanding of the art is not only betrayed by closer inspection, but deeper analysis is surely required. Forcing everyone to think twice.





1. Clement Greenberg, John O’Brian. The Collected Essays and Criticism: Affirmations and refusals, 1950-1956.

2. Breton (1924) Manifesto of Surrealism.Pierre Reverdy’s comment was published in his journal Nord-Sud, March 1918

3. Retrieved from:

4. André Breton (1969). Manifestoes of Surrealism. University of Michigan Press. p. 26.

5. Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum
of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)