Deryck Healey

Salama-Caro Gallery

A red carpet welcomes one from usually sedate Cork Street, with all the connotations of social pomp and flamboyance implied. Have I got Your Number, 1985–90, the title of both Deryck Healey’s show as a whole and of the exhibition’s centerpiece, poses a question to the viewer. In the center of the space, four planks painted in saturated red, blue, gray, and black, are supported on a pile of telephone directories from various countries. Each plank holds a papier mâché lozenge also formed from telephone books.

The directories suggest communication—human contact even across international boundaries. Do I have your telephone number? Or is it, have I got you sussed? Have I read you? How do we communicate? Do I know your sexual orientation?

The artist arranges and rearranges a mix of natural and man-made materials: marble, glass, chicken wire, plastic; old and new materials; made forms and found objects. Healey’s works have the slightly shamanistic feel of Beuys’ soap forms but they seem more light-hearted, less portentous, and they evidence more underlying wit. His use of a full range of contemporary materials also reminds one of Surrealism and arte povera.

Healey’s elemental ellipse forms suggest universal archetypes. Sometimes suggesting horizons, sometimes spears, arrows, fish, leaves, even lips, these shapes appear in many of the works, and though always evocative, their referents are never specified.

In the gilt bronze series, “Soundproof Journey,” 1987–90, the form takes on a surprising softness. One can imagine the artist as an inveterate beachcomber, a collector of flotsam and jetsam, picking up stones or pieces of wood and chalk. In See Past, See Future, 1988–90, Healey opposes textures— hard, polished marble against soft, porous chalk. He uses contrasts to question appearance and identity—for what is marble but another metamorphic form of limestone, calcium carbonate (i.e., chalk)?

Three sets of six striking black heads entitled collectively Are Black Heads White, 1979–90, call into question processes of identification, labeling and, in particular, racial stereotyping. Thickly cross-hatched with discernible negroid features the faces also resemble fingerprints—another means of identification. Below each is a plastic film capsule containing bodily elements or bits of plasma, the genetic coding of DNA, and, a row of black native African carvings of the type bought by tourists. A powerful representation of race as conditioned by social stereotype, Are Black Heads White points to the strictly rule-bound racial delineation of South Africa where Healey was born, ironically contrasting the perception of the color of people and of pure color.

Windows to the Sky, 1986–90, is a boxed compilation of mirrors, shiny chrome-door handles, and mirrors glued onto photographs of views taken from Healey’s London windows. The depicted flats and houses range from Georgian town houses to ’50s-style public housing and a painted hieroglyph seems to suggest a face imprisoned. The shiny chrome plated door-handles that should provide access are, paradoxically, sealed behind glass.

If at times Healey’s arrangements seem contrived, they do successfully trigger a host of ideas, ranging from issues of identity and identification to composition and change in nature, in culture, and in the genetic make-up of man. Nonetheless, one is left with a sense of the artist’s antidogmatism—he is not propounding any clear message, but is triggering a mass of possible interpretations. In this, Healey combines a sense of open-ended pastiche typical of the post-Modern idiom with the individualism of an artist who has always gone his own way.

Natasha Edwards