Nicola Blumenthal, X painting, oil and acrylic on canvas, 2023

Blumenthal’s ‘X painting’ (the second so far), with its toner ink Xerox logo, evokes a photocopied page. The work has a forbidding and lifeless quality, yet its painterly expressiveness saves it from vacant serialism. Stabbing and scratchy brush marks are smothered under layers of smudged, biro-blue paint that resemble the automatic drawings of an admin worker, a scribble from a meeting or phone conversation.

X is less a logo than a stand-in for a monogram. ‘Clotted’, her first show, was littered with a different monogram: an ornate ‘N’. Envelopes, stuffed with raw sausages and then stomped and strewn across the dirt floor, were sealed with a burgundy-red wax N stamp. The seal, ordinarily a generic means of identification, achieved the officialdom of the artist’s signature. The repetitive act of stamping documents and sealing envelopes, the most robotic of stereotypical clerical duties, became in Blumenthal’s work a near-tender gesture.

Replacing her own signature with the X – a metonym for the photocopier itself – the new work is about creative anxiety: the fear of copying others, of repeating others, of failure to be original, etc. The logo becomes an object of worship tinged with fear; expectations of self-expression and originality assume a cultish quality, the anxious contortions of identity appear ceremonial. Even the renunciation of colour in the X painting seems to have a penitential quality. The search for a personal style becomes a fetishistic act, the X here a whipping post erected for self-flagellation.

—Jarrod Zlatic