‘Semiconscious,’ which doubles as the title of the show, alludes to a certain state of existence – one that can be experienced in the work and in contemporary life. When making a painting, Thorpe does so in a semiconscious state; on one hand, with a clear idea of certain elements that will be included in the paintings, their purpose and function, yet on the other, various objects, patterns and designs enter intuitively, aspects that happen instinctively, whose purpose and function are not at the time understood.
On a broader level, the work also relates to a wider, societal state of semiconsciousness, where people exist half aware and half distracted by societal pressures or external stimuli. The latter is especially relevant in the discourse around the overwhelming reliance on technology, including social media, video games, and here arcade machines. Arcades began appearing in Thorpe’s paintings about two years ago, first as small, ambiguous games obscured by furniture and other objects, but over the past year, they have slowly crept to the fore and now take center stage. Initially considered self-portraits due to their life-like size and figurative presence, they have recently been re-interpreted as social markers or manifestations of the collective unconscious, the sum total of all shared human experience, and represent a metaphor for our times – a longing to escape this kind of in between, semiconscious state.
Psychiatrist and Jungian analyst Dr. Alex Esterhuyzen recently commented on the arcades: “In terms of the collective… there is something about meaning or lack of meaning in life and how for many people life can seem like a treadmill that they’re having to go through, these repeated acts to survive, make money or manage life and the routineness of it and perhaps the lack of meaning of it. Maybe also a kind of addiction to external stimuli if people haven’t found enough internally to find meaning within themselves.” The arcades then become a vehicle for viewers to reflect upon themselves and embrace a fully conscious state.
The painting also encompasses a core theme in Thorpe’s work, that of ‘polarity’ or ‘duality,’ which Jung considered a fact of human life. The Spoonbill graphic is placed on either side of the arcade, yet set within an asymmetrical frame. The birds represent the natural world, organic beings, yet they are deliberately placed next to an inanimate, candy-colored manmade machine. And while the Spoonbill harks to the natural world, they are not portrayed here as living things, only wallpaper, mere decoration. This polarity is further present in the handling of the paint. The arcades are treated with thick, viscous layers, distressed and fading, while beside the arcade is the sensitive rendering of the wings and intricate patterns of a rug, with every detail carefully considered and controlled. Chaos and order represented.