David Pirrie’s carefully rendered remains of vehicular accidents, in pencil on vellum, over laid with a grid resonate with psychological and cultural implications. The motor vehicle is an icon that signifies positive as well as negative traits. The automobile is a symbol of wealth, status, style and even sexiness. Right down to the utilitarian vehicles for transportation - the eighteen-wheeler for example has become a pop trope, inspiring songs, literature, art and even looking like art with graphic, chrome and illuminated accessorizing. The motor vehicle is a necessity, a habit of convenience and a privilege.
The extension of the image of the automobile into wreckage - the dead body of all that the automotive industry has come to stand for - has a metonymic meaning. David Pirrie’s drawings reduce the bulky, twisted steel and rubber carcass to a comprehensible size. It is comparable to a small crucifix, a reminder of mortality and hence a prompt from which to formulate living.
Picture the artist, David Pirrie, looking at a photograph of a wrecked vehicle, carefully drawing it in miniature, paying it attention, with a modeling that caresses the images. Miniatures were used in Persia to present private delicate subjects, in East India to depict intimate erotic realms, when travelling before photography loved ones could be viewed in miniatures in lockets and now the most individual of human emotions assumes a tiny format – grief from the accidental loss or physical injury caused by an automotive accident. Man has become so mighty and clever with his technical acumen, flying over distances at speeds far beyond his actual physical capabilities. Carried by his inventiveness on wings of fire, man flits as fast as a hummingbird but not without fallout. To consider the impact of a vehicle colliding with a tree, for instance, leaves many repercussive meanings and metaphors in it’s speedy wake. There could be moral inferences, especially in the light of declining oil supplies and the wars raged to secure sources of the black gold. There could be a subtle accusation that we are killing the planet with the misuse of fossil fuels. As America becomes fatter, so does the ability to conduct one’s life (between malls and a global economy) without being ferried from the Need to the Fulfillment seem an impossibility. We are reliant on the automobile with a sickly dependency. A smashed vehicle is a loaded image, perhaps easiest to contemplate when it is rendered so tiny that the person who would have been driving it could fit into a palm like a Blackberry.
The wreckage when assigned a grid, allows an objective framework for the spectacle. The picture is quite neat and tidy, ‘nicely’ drawn, almost overly polite in addressing a subject that screams with emotional vim. Is Pirrie hoping to organise the clang of horrific associations by dividing the universally feared, yet preventatively imagined, scene into squares? As calculating as a military strategy where lives are disguised by names other than their own (the 52 Regiment, the 6th Platoon), Pirrie’s beautifully penciled crashed cars, trucks and even (shudder) school buses permits the contemplation of irreversible tragic moments in a cultural context akin to the consideration given to Yoric’s skull by Hamlet.
This sense of life’s transience is especially poignant in the crumpled bus. It is empty and has been abandoned, useless in it’s vehicular capacity, as it transformed from a transportation for people to a smashed death trap. The viewer is, after all, still amongst the living, examining the tiny depiction of the remains of an accident that happened outside of his immediate ken. It has no identity other than a culturally pervasive, violent possibility of how death can occur. The drawings are remarkable examples of the ability to resurrect, from an image associated with death, a conceptual awe at man’s trajectory from his discovery of the wheel to this contemporary, conceptual translation of where it has led him. This work speaks of the pity of progress, the fragility of human accomplishments and yet the sophistication of the overview of Pirrie’s analysis grants a divine perspective on our condition.
Yet, as in a Godard or John Waters film, the car crashes keep coming, flowing off the end of the Pirrie pencil like the plastic flowers sprouting from telephone poles and road barriers. The drawings commemorate death or at the very least injury. A vehicle crashed, after-all, was once a vehicle driven, for the Pirrie crash is not a simple slide into a ditch but a violent collision. When the collision is with nature and the cars are slung from trees like limp flung socks or forming a pliable bend like a soggy vegetable, the message is even more disturbing.
Copyright © 2007, Julie Oakes