Posts Tagged ‘Walter Benjamin

02
Nov
18

Text: Marcus Bunyan. ‘Death and the image’ 2018

November 2018

 

This text was written in 2017 for a special issue of the international magazine Text on the subject ‘Writing Trauma’. While the text was accepted, the peer-reviewers wanted heavy revisions, including reordering the piece and editing out my personal stories. At the time, I was going into hospital for an operation on my hand and such revisions were impossible to undertake.

Now, over a year later, I have reread the text… and I have amended and extended it, but otherwise I am going to leave it as I wrote it in the first place. I like the way I write and I like my personal stories. While it is a long read the writing addresses an important subject with, I hope, some interesting insights along the way.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 8,137

Download Death and the image (4.3Mb pdf)

 

 

Abstract

This text investigates how the act of photography visually writes trauma. Through an analysis of the context of images of death by artists such as Alphonse Bertillon, Robert Capa, Alexander Gardner, and Walker Evans the paper ponders how the camera captures human beings ante-mortem, at the death point, post-mortem and vita ad mortem.

It seeks to understand that line between presence and absence where life was there… and now death is in its place. Death was one step removed, now it is present. How does the act and performance of photography depict the trauma of death, this double death (for the photograph is a memento mori and/or the person in the photograph may already know that they are going to die).

“The text of eternity that the photograph proposes, imparts and imposes a paradoxical state of loss. The secret of telling truth in a photograph is that the more truthful, “the more orgasmic, the more pleasurable, the more suicidal” the pronouncement of the perfect paradox (you are dead but also alive) … then the more we are strangled while uttering it. The language of deferral in the writing of trauma in death and the image becomes the dissolve that seizes the subject in the midst of an eternal bliss. In death and the image we may actually die (be)coming.”

Keywords

Trauma, photography, death, art, memento mori, war, execution, memory, victim, representation, Alphonse Bertillon, Robert Capa, Alexander Gardner, Walker Evans, ante-mortem, point of death, death point, post-mortem, punctum, empathy, vita ad mortem, life after death.

 

 

Death and the image

 

 

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“Photography, because it stops the flow of life, is always flirting with death…”

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John Berger1

 

“On the most fundamental level there are transitions from continuous to discontinuous or from discontinuous to continuous. We are discontinuous beings, individuals who perish in isolation in the midst of an incomprehensible adventure, but we yearn for our lost continuity. We find the state of affairs that binds us to our random and ephemeral individuality hard to bear. Along with our tormenting desire that this evanescent thing should last, there stands our obsession with a primal continuity linking us with everything that is.”

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Georges Bataille2

 

 

German Gen. Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution

 

“German General Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution by a firing squad in the Aversa stockade. The General was convicted and sentenced to death by an American military tribunal. Aversa, Italy.” Blomgren, December 1, 1945. 111-SC-225295. National Archives Identifier: 531326

 

 

Trial and Execution of General Anton Dostler

The still photograph (above) can be seen being taken by the flash from a still camera that occurs at 5.16 secs in the YouTube film. The photographer can then be seen walking off. Later in the film another angle of the execution is shown, again with the flash of the absent camera recorded, starting at 7.10 secs. The displacement of time and space, between one point of view and another, with the absence of the still camera in both instances (in the image and in the film), is uncanny.

 

 

1

One of life’s recurrent themes is mortality. As Bataille notes, we are discontinuous beings: we live, we breathe, and we die. Photography’s recurrent theme is also mortality. In a ghostly evocation, the medium possesses an odour of death that sticks in the throat. So how then does photography visually write the trauma of death – over time, through space, in different contexts, with multiple narratives and different points of view?

As a first point of reference, we need to define trauma. Trauma can be an injury to living tissue; a disordered psychic or behavioural state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury; an emotional upset and an agent, force or mechanism that causes all or any of these conditions.3 Atkinson and Richardson note that the work of theorists such as Nicolas Abraham, Maria Torok, Shoshana Felman, Dori Laub, Dominick LaCapra, and Cathy Caruth in broad terms view trauma,

“… as the delayed manifestation of a psychic wound sustained during an experience that has happened too quickly to allow registration and processing of the event at the time of its occurrence. To study trauma in literary or cultural terms, then, is to be concerned with the tension between what is known and what is not known, and with the impact and dynamics of the woundedness and machinations of trauma – not only its purely physical instantiation, but in all its reverberations. This is what brings the study of trauma to the uncertainty of truth, the impossibility of bearing absolute witness to catastrophe, the multiplicity of historical narratives.”4

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Constitutive of trauma and its affects is the “piercing of the psychic shield” which protects a fragile subjectivity leaving in its wake shattered individuals, communities and even whole nations.5 Further, Michalinos Zembylas citing Kaplan (2005) notes that “an important distinction that needs to be made here is one’s positioning and context of encountering trauma,”6 between being a primary or secondary witness. Personally, I believe that a testimony (a formal written or spoken statement that something is true) in the first instance… becomes a testament (something that serves as a sign or evidence of a specified fact) in the second.

When looking death in the face, we can state that death is a trauma not only for the physical body and the psyche of the person involved (the direct trauma victim), but also for the witness of the event, be they a primary witness – one who actually witnesses the traumatic event – or a secondary witness, a person “who has no personal connection to the victim but may encounter trauma through other sources such as the media and oral or written accounts of a catastrophe.”7

These secondary encounters can never be the actual experience of trauma but, acting through language (be it oral, written or visual), they may embody sensations that stimulate feelings and thoughts in the secondary observer. A social construction of a testament may produce an empathetic engagement in viewers as “secondary witnesses.”8 Through an understanding of spectatorship, experience, aesthetic effects, narrative strategies and temporal shifts in the polyvocal nature of language we can begin to understand how the affect of secondary traumatisation – on memory, history and the body – can break down the subject-object dichotomy, can break down the realist norms of representation to produce “a mode of cognition involving sensuous, somatic and tactile forms of perception.”9 Here language (the photograph in this case, reinforced by the title of the photograph) stands in for that which is absent, but it is not in opposition to an intensity of feeling. The language of the photograph can intensify the affect of the image, especially if the photograph becomes transcendent, embodied, in the vitality and “aliveness” of the viewer.10

This mimetic experience “promotes a critical and self-reflexive empathy” and knowledge in the secondary witness that LaCapra observes is a “virtual, not vicarious, experience … in which emotional response comes with respect for the other and the realization that the experience of the other is not one’s own.”11 Essentially, this is a social concept, a social construction of reality, a matrix-like view of the world that draws on relational and contextual dimensions for understanding trauma. This concept requires careful consideration of issues related to history, culture, race, gender, ideology, beliefs, agency and power.

“From a social constructionist and narrative perspective, people reconstruct their selves through the stories they tell about their past and the meaning they ascribe to the present in anticipation of the future. They shape their stories through active and creative interpretation of their lives and are in turn shaped by these stories. However, the self is not only a product of narratives. People are purposeful and moral beings, having the power and agency to change scripts, discourses and ideologies…”12

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Here we can ask, what are the machinations of the image in the affective dynamics of photographs of trauma and how are they situated in a certain relation to trauma? What do photographs actually do that give rise to a way of thinking and feeling about trauma?

Although no representation can fully describe the first hand experience of trauma because of the partial nature of language – its gaps, elisions and impossibilities of speech13 – it is because of these very gaps that new spaces of interpretation can open up. Rather than just representing the perceived reality of trauma (this happened, at this time, in this location – an ordering of reality), images have the unique ability to transcend their indexical relationship to the real, pointing and touching (as if with the index finger) to the relationality of trauma as it touches human emotion. With its ability to police and regulate it subject, the implicit violence of photography is a predatory means of taking possession of both its victim (the subject) and its viewer.

Anna Gibbs has stated that we live, “in a more or less continuous state of mediatized emergency and traumatic aftermath, desensitized by the onslaught of images … to the affect we ought to feel.”14 I strongly disagree. I would argue that the traumatic numbing15 and supposed “death of experience”16 allegedly present in the world of image circulation, translation, and accumulation only occurs if the witness lets it be so.

Personally, I believe that something in the image is transferred to the witness pre-cognition – intuitively, imaginatively – which can then be interpreted cognitively and relationally with regard to history and memory, art and culture, politics and experience through an orthogonal movement through time and space. As viewers and interpreters, we are not fixed at a particular point in time and space, nor do we observe from one particular point of view. Our existential engagement provides a space to close the gap between affect and enunciation.

“Facts can vibrate; they can give of colors, sounds, smells, images. To talk of these facts with no recognition of this is to lack any awareness of the act of enunciation, of the gaps between language and experience and the unpredictable ways that sparks can break out of language, leap across the gap and ignite the tinderbox of traumatic memory.”17

 

2

Surfing Pinterest (a photo sharing website) recently, I absentmindedly clicked on an abstract image of three hanging black shapes from the pantheon of image tiles that presented itself to me. Up popped this horrific image of three Afro-Americans who had been lynched in the Southern United States in the 1920s. I was shocked and dismayed. I had such a strong emotional reaction to the image. But more than that, my feelings and memories of the bigotry that I had faced as a young gay man growing up in the 1970s swelled in my consciousness. This story is a example of how exposure to an image can bring to the surface unresolved aspects of being ‘Other’, of being different, and being persecuted for that difference. I thought about the lives of these people that had led them to that point, their families, their histories and the terror that they must have experienced on that day. You cannot begin to understand that, but you can have empathy and anger against the systems of racism and bigotry that exist in the world.

Then the cognitive part of my brain linked the image to a report I had only just seen a few days before on lynching, which told of the thousands of Afro-Americans who had been killed between 1882 and 1968.18 Mentally, I then linked this to a Facebook posting which put forward the analogy that the current killing of Afro-Americans by police in the United States was akin to a contemporary and publicly endorsed and enforced form of lynching. Finally, in my head I heard Billie Holiday singing that famous song Strange Fruit, “a dark and profound song about the lynching of African Americans in the Southern United States during the Jim Crow Era, “strange fruit,” as they hang from trees, rotting in the sun, blowing in the wind, and becoming food for crows upon being burned.”19 I watched the video of Billie Holiday singing this song on YouTube.20 Every time I think of this image I have these associations of animate thought intrinsic to the original experience,21 where the micro and macro conditions of production work to “embody and register trauma,”22 a communicable language of sensation and affect, time and time again.

 

 

Billie Holiday – Strange fruit

 

 

These chains of affect, the nexus between affect / feeling / emotion / cognition, are a form of synaesthesia where facts, emotions, feelings, memories, sounds and images vibrate against each other as an active and continuous engagement of the self with the world in which one lives. In a human being who is un/consciously aware, these real and mediated experiences may encourage a sensory intensification that elicits thought and empathic vision in the materiality of embodied experience, something (the punctum?) that takes us out of our selves into a higher register of being.

As part of this system of impressions, of an instantaneous, affective response triggered by an image,23 photographs force us to engage visually and involuntarily. “Impressions that force us to look, encounters which force us to interpret, expressions which force us to think.”24 Encounters which force us to comprehend. The conjunction of affect and critical awareness “constitute the basis of an empathy grounded … on a feeling for another that entails an encounter with something irreducible and different, often inaccessible.”25 This combination of affective and intellectual operations – about forcing oneself to look (and that process of looking/surrendering) but never forgetting your ‘point of view’, your memory, history and identity, is when empathy becomes that process of surrender, “but also the catch that transforms your perception.”26 How is this “catch” enunciated in photographs? I now want to look at a few images that explicate these phenomena.

 

Ante-mortem: present but absent

3

With the invention of photography in the late 1830s, the photograph as memento mori allows the spectator to observe death not at first hand, but through the representation of the image “taken from life.” Photographs provide a verification of reality through their apparent verisimilitude, while being woven into narratives – oral, textual, intertextual, spatial and temporal – that frame the event in multiple ways.

“Photographs … have come to stand in for reality … despite the fact that it is relatively easy to manipulate their meaning. As a result of their ability to project reality, images, and particularly those that depict death and destruction, are seen as potentially powerful pieces of documentary evidence…”27

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Photographs are embedded in “a context of the cultural circumstances at the time, and therefore exist rarely in isolation or without meaning”28 and can be seen as having a denotative level (what they physically represent) and a connotative level (the meanings attached to that representation).29 Photography quickly changed how death was displayed because it introduced a “reality” and immediacy of representation that was democratic, personal and everyday.30

 

Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' 26th April 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Lewis Paine
26th April 1865
Albumen silver print from a Collodion glass plate negative

 

 

An example of the personal, everyday and documentary nature of photography can be seen in the photograph taken by Alexander Gardner in April 1865. This portrait is of Lewis Thornton Powell (aka Lewis Payne or Paine) who was one of the conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln which occurred the same month. The photograph has a background of dark metal, and was taken on one of the ironclads U.S.S. Montauk or Saugus, where the conspirators were for a time confined. The reality is Paine was executed in July 1865 just eight short weeks after this photograph was taken, so in effect (and in the affect on us of this knowledge), he is (already) a dead man walking. This is a double death – that death buried in the very act of taking any photograph, La petite mort or “the little death,” an idiom and euphemism for the orgasm of the photographic time freeze; and the fact that we know that he was going to die, those short weeks later.

The photograph forms the central panel of a three-panel Renaissance-like altarpiece, the form in which the three photographs are usually displayed. The left and right hand photographs were taken within minutes of each other, with the camera in the same position, whereas in the centre photograph the camera has been lowered to show more of the body, and the image has been cropped at the top. In the central plate the figure of Paine has been raised up in the frame – almost prematurely brought back to life by his placement. The centre image is the only one where Paine stares directly at the camera. He surveys the viewer with a gaze I find enigmatic.

 

Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' 26th April, 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Three photographs of Lewis Paine
26th April, 1865
Albumen silver prints from a Collodion glass plate negative

 

 

This is a very modern face, a very contemporary face. His hair is similar to Justin Beiber’s. Who brushed his hair across for this picture, and would it normally be this long, or has it just been ignored because of his fate? He still has good muscle tone – has he been exercising in his ironclad cell? And finally, his clothing – are they navy issue, as his top appears to have been given to him, perhaps the coarse, navy blue wool of the Northern states. If we were to place this image within the metaphysical school of photography which peaked with Paul Caponigro and Minor White we could say: Hovering above his head, has his spirit already begun to leave his body?

One reading of his gaze is that he is interested in what the photographer is doing – almost the gaze of an apprentice wanting to apply these skills in the future. Given his fate is he insane because of his interest? Another reading could be that he is looking out to the future in the hope of finding that he will be judged in another way. And another is the immediacy of his gaze – it is a gaze that is happening now!

The other thing that I find mysterious is the distance of the photographer from the subject. Was it fear or the presence of the guards that stopped Gardner getting any closer, or are there deck fittings we cannot see that prevented his approach. Imagine being Paine, having a photographer point a damn great view camera at you, documenting your countenance for prosperity. What was going on in Paine’s mind – what is his perspective on this performance by the photographer? And what brought Paine to this place?

Michel Foucault calls the methods and techniques by which human beings constitute themselves, “technologies of the self.” Foucault argued that we as subjects are perpetually engaged in processes whereby we define and produce our own ethical self-understanding. According to Foucault, technologies of the self are the forms of knowledge and strategies that “permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of immortality.”31 As we look into his eyes he knows that we know he is going to die, has already died but the intensity of that knowledge is brought into present time. In this instant, what Paine emanates is a form of i-mortality.

Roland Barthes in his seminal work Camera Lucida observes in Section 39:

“He is dead and he is going to die… The photograph is handsome, as is the boy: that is the studium. But the punctum is: he is going to die. I read at the same time: this will be and this has been; I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is the stake. By giving me the absolute past of the pose, the photograph tells me death in the future. What pricks me is the discovery of this equivalence.”32

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This is Barthes anterior future, a moment where truth is interpreted in the mind of the photographer, not out there but in here (your head and your heart), where past, present and future coalesce into a single point in time: his death and our death connected through his gaze, and the knowledge of our joint discontinuity. In this moment in time, what we are doing is making a list about the human condition when we talk about something that is remarkable. Language can never fully describe the human condition, much as it may try… and this is why this photograph is remarkable, because it is ineffable, unknowable. The photograph inhabits you; it haunts you like few others, because it is a memoriam to a young man and his present death. Here he is present but absent at one and the same time.

As such, this is an image as triple death – the death of the photograph (past time / memento mori / remembrance of death), the death of the person in the photograph and also a third death, the knowledge that Paine is going to die. Death, like life, can be cyclical. This is the catch that transforms your perception, in Barthes terms the punctum of the image, in which the wounding, personally touching detail (past pose, future death) establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within it.

“The punctum (a Latin word derived from the Greek word for trauma [my emphasis]) … inspires an intensely private meaning, one that is suddenly, unexpectedly recognized and consequently remembered (it “shoots out of [the photograph] like an arrow and pierces me”); it ‘escapes’ language (like Lacan’s real); it is not easily communicable through/with language. The punctum is ‘historical’ as an experience of the irrefutable indexicality of the photograph (its contingency upon a referent). The punctum is a detail or “partial object” that attracts and holds the viewer’s (the Spectator’s) gaze; it pricks or wounds the observer.”33

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This trauma, prick or wound that lifts the viewer out of themselves, out of their everyday existence, “points to those features of a photograph that seem to produce or convey a meaning without invoking any recognizable symbolic system. This kind of meaning is unique to the response of the individual viewer of the image.”34 This punctum also accounts for the importance of emotion and subjectivity in interacting with photographs; memory of that photograph displaces it from its moment of origin.35 Photography enacts the trauma of death even while being enacted upon.

Now we can read Eduardo Cadava’s comments on Walter Benjamin’s analysis of the photograph:

“As Benjamin suggests … the photograph, like the souvenir, is the corpse of an experience. A photograph therefore speaks as death, as the trace of what passes into history. I, the photograph, the spaced out limit between life and death, I, the photograph, am death. Yet, speaking as death, the photograph can be neither death nor itself. At once dead and alive, it opens the possibility of our being in time.”36

 

4

Photography then, can be seen as death taken away from itself.

Through the oscillation between studium (historical, social or cultural meanings extracted via semiotic analysis) and punctum (those features of a photograph that seem to produce or convey a meaning without invoking any recognisable symbolic system) the traumatic photograph of death, death’s afterimage, transcends the initial shock inducing signifier leading to a more extended form of engagement that addresses the duration of trauma in memory – through the images elisions, slippages, and conceptual, political and historical complexities. Our negotiation with imaging and imagining, therefore, takes place within ever-expanding contexts of meaning – some relating to the past and some to the present – which impact future interpretations.

I believe that these negotiations are, firstly, linked to what Deleuze calls the encountered sign, a “sign that is felt, rather than recognized, or perceived through cognition.”37 A feeling that is a catalyst for critical enquiry or deep thought. “For Deleuze, affect or emotion is a more effective trigger for profound thought because of the way in which it grasps us, forcing us to engage involuntarily…”38 Secondly, I believe that these negotiations are linked to what Barthes calls the images “third meaning.”

“In Barthes’ view, the image’s third meaning compels viewers after they encounter and deplete both its literal/informational side and its symbolic dimensions. Barthes argued that the third meaning is difficult to locate, because it is not situated structurally or in a certain place of the image. It is similarly difficult to describe, because it involves what he called the image’s obtuseness, its accent or anaphoric side.”39

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Again, we have this idea of the catch, accent, or punctum that grasps us and takes us out of ourselves, that modulates the images “voice” (which is how the image takes on an already provided meaning upon its initial appearance), a voice which then also “helps us to understand both the image’s third meaning and the role of contingency in visual memory.”40

 

Death point

5

 

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“Ah, wretched as I am … to dwell not among the living, not among the dead.”

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Sophocles, ‘Antigone’41

 

 

Commentators such as Barbie Zelizer observe that images, especially about-to-die images, easily “reduce complex issues and circumstances to memorable but simplistic visual frames.”42 The image,

“… depicts for its onlookers a moment in an event’s unfolding to which they attend while knowing where that unfolding leads. This means that visual work often involves catching the sequencing of events or issues midstream, strategically freezing it at its potentially strongest moment of meaningful representation.”43

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Other writers such as Susan Sontag note that these images have the potential to stir public emotions, simply because they freeze a moment in time and can be looked at again and again… but at the same time the repeated viewing of images of atrocity can have a numbing effect.44 The pain and fear evidenced in the photograph as seen in the victim’s eyes (for example in the photograph of the shooting of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy), expands the literal / informational side and its symbolic dimensions (chivalry, love, devotion, hope – Camelot!) into a Barthes’ third space. While Kennedy is a victim twice over (the victim of the assassin and the camera) in a guttural interpretation of the image he is to remain a victim for eternity in the contingency of the future, as long as we continue to look at this photograph.

For me, this is sad and painful photograph. I remember the day it happened. I was ten years old at the time. It’s one of those events that you will remember for the rest of your life – where you were, who you were with – like the moon landings or 9/11. I was in a car outside a small newsagent when the news came on the radio. Robert F. Kennedy had been shot: first aural, then visual on the black and white TV that night, then textual in the newspapers and then visual again with this photograph, then associative. The pain of the loss of those heady days of hope lessens not.

 

Boris Yaro (American, born 1938) 'LOS ANGELES. KENNEDY MOMENTS AFTER SHOOTING' June 5, 1968

 

Boris Yaro (American, born 1938)
LOS ANGELES. KENNEDY MOMENTS AFTER SHOOTING. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy Lies Gravely Wounded on the floor at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles shortly after midnight today, moments after he was shot during a celebration of his victory in yesterday’s California primary election
June 5, 1968
Gelatin silver print
17.2 x 21.1 cm (6 3/4 x 8 5/16 in.)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2010

 

While photographs of the actual moment of death are rare I have been able to find around ten images that capture this vital moment, a freezing of reality at the point of death, the death point: that line between presence and absence where life was there… and now death is in its place. Death was one step removed, now it is present.

However, I would argue that in the contextual language of the photograph, there is no singular death point. I would propose the idea of an extended period of time and space embedded in the spatio-temporal matrix of the image, so that there is no single point, no singular resolution to the traumatic moment of death – either for the person involved, nor the witness or viewer.

Setting aside the concept that the image could have been staged, in Robert Capa’s famous photograph Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936 (below), there is something about this image where space or some basic element is being democratised at the moment of death – or maybe in the choice to struggle with death. In an ontological sense of becoming, perhaps it is this that becomes the pure representation of time. In contrapunto, there is an anonymous image of a German soldier at the point of death on the steppes of Russia that is totally unknown. Why has one become famous and the other not?

Has it to do with the fame of the photographer, the pose of the person, or the agency of photography itself, where one photograph regarding the pain of others is too damning a legacy and of too plain a purpose to bare contemplating, while the other – with its masked face, outflung arm and falling, quasi-religious nature – has become possibly the most famous of war photographs through its proliferation in newspapers and magazines.

Whatever the merits of each image, these death point photographs are noteworthy for what is not said: the violence that is being perpetrated on the victim every time a person looks, and looks again, at the photograph. The writing of trauma by photography never ends, is always and forever infinite.

 

Robert Capa (1913-1954) 'Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936' 1936

 

Robert Capa (1913-1954)
Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936
1936
Gelatin silver print
Photograph by Robert Capa © Cornell Capa / Magnum

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Falling German Soldier, Eastern Front' c. 1942

 

Anonymous photographer
Falling German Soldier, Eastern Front
c. 1942
akg-images / Interfoto AKG138118

Caption: A German soldier pays the ultimate price of war. German casualties were less than those of the Red Army, but the steady attrition suffered by the Wehrmacht began to undermine its effectiveness.46

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942' 1942

Anonymous photographer. 'Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942' 1942

 

Anonymous photographer
Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942
1942
Rare Historical Photos website 2013

Caption: A Soviet spy laughs at his executioner in a picture taken in Rukajärvi, in East Karelia, in November 1942. It has been thought within the Finnish Defence Forces that the decision to withhold pictures of the fate of Russian POWs and spies may also have been prompted by concerns that pro-Soviet elements in Finnish society could have used the images for propaganda purposes. This picture was declassified by the Ministry of Defense of Finland in 2006, with the description: Unknown Soviet intelligence officer before being shot, Finland, 1942.

It’s a pretty amazing picture. To capture the last few moments of life. He knows he will die in a few seconds, in a forest in the snow. And there he will bleed out and be forgotten. His life, his experience, has come to an end. What else could he do but smile? That smile was his final defiance. Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back.47

 

 

6

Here we might ask, is it possible, through the use of encountered signs, “voice”, punctum, catch or accent, to extend the unreal time of death?

Personally, I believe it is and I would argue for a sense of a Buddhist “no-time”. A transcendent time embedded into the fabric of the image. In Walker Evans’ terms an “unconscious phenomenon” that culminates in amazing accidents of composition, where things constantly rub up against each other “in the desire to create a type of friction that tests the boundaries of representation.”48 An example of this spatio-temporal dimensionality, third meaning or Thirdspace, can be seen in the interplay between the still image and film footage of the execution of German General Anton Dostler by a firing squad in the Aversa stockade December 1, 1945. By examining the film we see a flash of light at 5.16 secs, which is the still photograph at the top of this text being taken by the flash of a camera. The photographer can then be seen walking off. Later in the film another angle of the execution is shown, again with the flash of the absent camera recorded, starting at 7.10 secs. The displacement of time and space, between one point of view and another, with the absence of the still camera in both instances (in the image and in the film), is uncanny.

The fluidity of Barthes’ third meaning, where the image’s obtuseness compels viewers, has obvious links to Edward Soja’s conceptualisation of “Thirdspace”, which emerged from the spatial trialectics established by Henri Lefebvre in The Production of Space and Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopia. Soja defines Thirdspace as, “an-Other way of understanding and acting to change the spatiality of human life, a distinct mode of critical spatial awareness that is appropriate to the new scope and significance being brought about in the rebalanced trialectics of spatiality-historicality-sociality.”49 In this amorphous space, “everything comes together… subjectivity and objectivity, the abstract and the concrete, the real and the imagined, the knowable and the unimaginable, the repetitive and the differential, structure and agency, mind and body, consciousness and the unconscious, the disciplined and the transdisciplinary, everyday life and unending history.”50

A further example of the presence of a third meaning in a still photograph can be seen in the image by an unknown photographer Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans (1944, below). Caught like a rabbit in headlights, the flash illuminates the collaborator kneeling, bound, and masked but it is not quick enough to freeze the explosion of wood, the dynamic breaking of the rope or the slight movement of the hands. The body seems to float on a bed of leaves. The cheap, dirty shoes and striped trousers leading up to the material that covers the victim’s face. Is that his hair, or a hat or another hood over his head? Although we know the what, why, and where of the photograph – an encounter with both its literal/informational side and its symbolic dimensions – the placing of the image, its accent and obtuseness is much more difficult to understand. The photograph and its protagonist seem to exist beyond time and space, the anonymous man surrounded by a death bed of leaves, bursting the bonds that wrapped him and held him tight. Like the mystery of Man Ray’s L’Enigme d’Isidore Ducasse (1920), the photograph has disturbed the trialectics of spatiality-historicality-sociality, destroying the imploring label, “Do not disturb.”

 

Unknown photographer. 'Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans. This execution took place in Rennes, France. 21 November 1944'

 

Unknown photographer
Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans. This execution took place in Rennes, France. 21 November 1944
1944
Silver gelatin photograph
U.S. Army Signal Corps
National Archives Identifier (NAID)

 

 

Post-mortem: absent but present

7

 

Letherolfsvile Oct 29 AD 1859

This is the likeness of Catherine Christ

When I am dead and in my grave

And when my bones are rotten

Remember me

When this you see

Or I shall be forgotten

The grass is green The rose is red

here is my name when I am dead 51

 

 

This short poem written on a piece of paper hidden underneath an image in a daguerreotype case implores us to remember the person – a plea to the future to remember them – through a composite narrative of portrait and text. Through the creative addition of text, the language of photographs can be supplemented which adds to the functionality of the photograph as an effective memory object.52 But what if the scene of the text (the photograph) contains an absence, no depiction of the person who has died? What happens to the writing of trauma in images of the dead then?

If we acknowledge that a photograph of a person always prefigures its subjects passing then what we are doing “in reality” is deferring the death of an/other onto the foreseen death of ourselves. In this process, we must remember that every photograph is a construct, a performative act by the photographer. What the photographer chooses to record is an act of will, whether ethical or not. Photographers have the presence of mind to attend to a certain manufacture of history. When viewing this instant narrative the viewer must acknowledge a loss of a sense of time:

“This lost sense could manifest as reliving a traumatic episode as if it is taking place in the present … In the context of trauma… a loss of sense of time deprives one of the ability of remembering and telling one’s narrative in a chronological order.”53

 

Emmet Gowin (b. 1941) 'Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia' 1972

 

Emmet Gowin (b. 1941)
Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia
1972
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Emmet and Edith Gowin
© Edith and Emmet Gowin and courtesy of Pace MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

One way that artist’s upset this chronological order is by playing with the fragmentary nature of time, space and memory – of present absence/absent presence. In Emmet Gowin’s accidentally double-exposed negative, Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia, 1972 (above), the photograph combines “a funerary image of his wife’s grandmother, Rennie Booher, with the surface of a Neolithic monumental stone he had photographed in England a few days earlier.” Floating through eternity, encased in ancient rock that nourishes her spirit, Gowin’s photograph acts as a kind of testament of absent but present, neither here not there. This loss of sense of space and time can be deeply disturbing (like trauma) as it questions one’s physical presence in the world, but it can also have a transcendental dimension as both time and space are inextricably bound to the very specific conditions of the material world. Photographs like the one of Booher have the potential to draw together what would otherwise seem to be incompatible. To form what Jacob Bronowsi calls a “hidden likeness”, one that transcends time and space, one that is reactivated with every looking.

“The poem or the discovery exists in two moments of vision: the moment of appreciation as much as that of creation; for the appreciator must see the movement, wake to the echo which was started in the creation of the work. In the moment of appreciation we live again the moment when the creator saw and held the hidden likeness. When a simile takes us aback and persuades us together, when we find a juxtaposition in a picture both odd and intriguing, when a theory is at once fresh and convincing, we do not merely nod over someone else’s work. We re-enact the creative act, and we ourselves make the discovery again…”54

.
An important fact about the nature of trauma is the compulsion of the human psyche to repeat traumatic events over and over again. The reproducibility of photographs and the ability to look at them again and again – their machine-like repeatability, their citationality or iterability to use Derrida’s signature term – feeds into this repetitive “death instinct” (Thanatos). However, Bronowsi’s “hidden likeness” (also the name of one of Emmet Gowin’s exhibitions and a form of punctum) is perhaps a liminal moment, one that may upset the death instinct. These liminal moments may occupy a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. By disrupting the threshold – between life and death, between past, present and future time – they are requisite of the ghost (the soul) in the machine (the camera).

As Derrida observes, building on the work of Barthes,

“It belongs to it without belonging to it and is unlocatable in it; it never inscribes itself in the homogenous objectivity of the framed space but instead inhabits, or rather haunts it: “it is the addition [supplement]: it is what I add to the photograph and what is none the less already there.” … Neither life nor death, it is the haunting of the one by the other … Ghosts: the concept of the other in the same, the punctum in the studium, the dead other alive in me.”57

 

8

In this scenario, perhaps the act of writing trauma through death in the image becomes the true act of learning, and the interpretation of that act becomes an act of creation rather than one of rote memorialisation. These are images that require contemplation, time, analysis, and sensation, where the subject of the photograph is transformed “from somebody merely seen to someone really felt,” which is, as Batchen says, “an emotional exchange transacted in the heart.”58

This emotional exchange can take many forms. It can be triggered when the dead body is only metaphorically represented in the image, when the physicality of death has been transmuted. For example, photographs such as Walker Evan’s Child’s grave, Hale County, Alabama (1936, below), or the documentary image Place where the corpse was found (1901-8, below) by the French photographer Alphonse Bertillon, propose a re-imaging and re-imagining of the life of the person. They do so through an un/ambiguous photographic context, that is, through the marking of place in the photograph. In the latter case, this marking of a life is represented by two pieces of wood lying on the ground and two pieces of wood propped at 45 degrees against the wall. As though this is all that is left of the existence of Mademoiselle Mercier in a street (Rue de l’Yvette) that still exists in Paris to this day. A photograph of pieces of wood and an empty space.

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Child's grave, Hale County, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Child’s grave, Hale County, Alabama
1936
Silver gelatin print
7 3/8 x 9 7/16″ (18.7 x 23.9 cm)
© 2016 Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Attributed to Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914) 'Place where the corpse was found' 1st November 1902

 

Attributed to Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914)
Place where the corpse was found
1st November 1902
From Album of Paris Crime Scenes
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 24.3 x 31 cm (9 9/16 x 12 3/16 in.)
Page: 23 x 29 cm (9 1/16 x 11 7/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2001

 

 

Other photographs picture the place of death nearly a century later in order to commemorate the traumatic death of “deserters” at the hands of a firing squad during the First World War. These are some of the most traumatic photographs of death I have seen, for they require me to imagine the mise en scène that was enacted at dawn almost 100 years ago, in the very place where these photographs were later “shot” at dawn.

The artist, Chloe Dewe Mathews, realised that “I was placing my tripod around the same spot where the firing squad had stood and looking directly at the place where the victim was placed.” It was, she says, “a solitary and sombre undertaking,” an undertaking (with that name’s etymological link to the word undertaker) which the viewer is invited to partake of, a re-imaging of those traumatic events that requires an active imagining, and thinking, in the neo-spectator. It is this duration of trauma in cultural memory which calls for an active negotiation in ways of seeing, a re-negotiation which can produce an empathic vision that “changes the terms of our engagement” with the image.

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews. 'Former Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord-Pas-de-Calais' 2013

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews (b. 1982)
Former Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord-Pas-de-Calais
2013
Eleven British soldiers were executed here between 1915-18
From the series Shot at Dawn
© Chloe Dewe Mathews

 

 

Vita ad mortem: life after death

9

 

.
“… the life of spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself.”

.
George Wilhelm Frederich Hegel61

 

 

The absence/presence contained within all photographs speaks to the ultimate affect: that of la petite mort – the “little death” – the sensation of orgasm as likened to death, a short period of melancholy or transcendence as a result of the expenditure of the “life force.” While Barthes metaphorically used the concept to describe the feeling one should get when experiencing any great literature, it can also be used when some undesired thing has happened to a person and has affected them so much that “a part of them dies inside.”

A photograph can also contain this melancholy transcendence, a catastrophe that has already occurred.

“Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe… This punctum, more or less blurred beneath the abundance and the disparity of contemporary photographs, is vividly legible in historical photographs: there is always a defeat of Time in them: that is dead and that is going to die… At the limit, there is no need to represent a body [in photographs] in order for me to experience this vertigo of time defeated.”63

.
Barthes’ concept of an extended punctum may be useful here, when he states, “I now know that there exists another punctum (another ‘stigmatum’) than the ‘detail’. This new punctum, which is no longer of form but of intensity, is Time, the lacerating emphasis of the noeme (‘that-has-been’), its pure representation.”64

Here Barthes is proposing a punctum of intensity; a punctum as lacerating “detail”; and/or “the vertigo of time defeated.” This “temporal hallucination” embedded and embodied in the photograph – the temporality of the “will-have-been”, they are dead (today), they are already dead (yesterday), Barthes’ anterior future – represents a symbolically mediated subject bound up in three extases of time (past, present, and future).65

The subject becomes lost in the language of the photograph, the intersection of Lacan’s the Imaginary (in which the human subject creates fantasy images of both himself and his ideal object of desire), the Symbolic (the social world of linguistic communication and inter-subjective relations), and the Real (defined as what escapes the Symbolic, the Real can be neither spoken nor written, it is impossible, but is ceaselessly writing itself). These concepts serve to situate subjectivity within a system of perception and a dialogue with the external world.

According to Lori Wike, the experience of punctum and the structure of iterability can be aligned to Lacan’s concept of the death drive (or death instinct) present in the Symbolic order, in which the signifier “materializes the agency of death.”66 This may account for the role of the photographic punctum as trauma, in which the punctum opens up “a kind of subtle beyond” where “a blind field is created (is divined)…”67 As Barthes notes, “Photography is a kind of primitive theater, a kind of Tableau Vivant, a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead.”68 Further, we can say that, “unlike the symbolic, which is constituted in terms of oppositions such as “presence” and “absence”, there is no absence in the real,” for the real is undifferentiated, “it is without fissure.”

“The symbolic introduces “a cut in the real,” in the process of signification: “it is the world of words that creates the world of things.” Thus the real emerges as that which is outside language: “it is that which resists symbolization absolutely.” The real is impossible because it is impossible to imagine, impossible to integrate into the symbolic order. This character of impossibility and resistance to symbolization lends the real its traumatic quality.”69

.
The “mark” of photography is eviscerated in the intensity of the real, a traumatic loss of time that confronts us with our own mortality and the knowledge that we will not be remembered. This is where images of death can take us once the initial affective connection is established – to a noumenal space where in the play of representation, the point of origin becomes ungraspable (Lacan’s différance).70

“In French, différance simultaneously contains within its neo-graphism the activities of differing and deferring, a distancing acted out temporally as well as spatially.”71 Where the moment (the time freeze of the shutter) turns in, on and around its own fulcrum, where there is always difference at the point of origin. For all of its instantaneous nature, in photography there is always a perverse moment of displacement and deferral. In its history, “a perverse complicity of continuity and resemblance with its supposed opposite, discontinuity and difference”72 … the latter only existing in a reciprocal relationship to the former.

The circle is closing and we return to where we started.

 

10

Human beings in their longing for lost continuity are mirrored by their photographs which transition from continuous to discontinuous and back again. While we yearn for our lost continuity, we must acknowledge that death is an unedited event, one that we cannot look back on. There is no following event to blank out that moment… and the dead are always dying. But what images of death in photography do is this: they allow us to approach the noumenal, that state of being of which we can have knowledge of, but can never know. We can approach, touch, feel, analyse, and have empathy for traumatic events in the representation of an unknowable reality. The photograph has the ability to go beyond the symbolic, to approach the impossible, the real.

The photograph may proffer a ‘releasement toward things’,73 a coexistence between a conscious and unconscious way of perceiving which sustains the mystery of the object confusing the distinction between real time and sensual time, between inside and outside, input and output becoming neither here nor there. As Martin Jolly notes, citing John Thompson, “… images of death can be seen a form of “mediated, non-reciprocal intimacy, stretched across time and space” in which we are increasingly unconstrained by our location or our time.”74 Further, John Thompson observes, “While lived experience remains fundamental, it is increasingly supplemented by, and in some respects displaced by, mediated experience, which assumes a greater and greater role in the project of self-formation.”75

In the sense that the photograph becomes la petite mort, the little death, it embodies our desire for the soul to become eternal in the form of this mediated experience… the displacement of the soul via the ghost in the machine, the soul remembered throughout time in the traumatic trace of the photograph. Death in the language of photography is always postponed and deferred: into the physicality of the photograph; into cultural memory; into the gaze (of the photographer, the camera and the viewer); and into the body of the observer. Here, a relationship exists between an impossible reality (an encounter with an “outside” which is unknowable) and a floating referent in an image that is both formative and transformative. And in that relationship, as Donna Haraway observes, “Relationship is multiform, at stake, unfinished, consequential.”76

The text of eternity that the photograph proposes, imparts and imposes a paradoxical state of loss. The secret of telling truth in a photograph is that the more truthful, “the more orgasmic, the more pleasurable, the more suicidal”77 the pronouncement of the perfect paradox78 (you are dead but also alive) … then the more we are strangled while uttering it. The language of deferral in the writing of trauma in death and the image becomes the dissolve that seizes the subject in the midst of an eternal bliss. In death and the image we may actually die (be)coming.

© Dr Marcus Bunyan 2018

Word count: 8,137

 

 

Addendum

“Empirically acknowledged as tragic, the photographic print was really just that when, at the turn of the century, it became the instrument of the three great authorities over life and death (the law, the army, medicine). This is when it demonstrated its power to reveal the unfolding of a destiny from the word go. As deus ex machina [god from the machine or, providential intervention], it was to become just as ruthless for the criminal, the soldier or the invalid, the conjunction between the immediate and the fatal only becoming more solid, inevitably, with the progress of representation.”

Virilio, Paul. The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994, p. 43.

 

“Written with her trademark flair and force, Sontag’s book [On Photography] inaugurated a wave of criticism, much of it influenced by Foucaultian theory, that underscored the instrumentality and implicit violence of photography, its ability to police and regulate it subjects, especially those lacking social and political power: the poor, presumed “deviants” or “criminals,” and workers. As Sontag herself acknowledged, however, photography is not only a predatory means of taking possession, but also a mode of conferring value; it can potentially be put to counter-hegemonic uses, used to see and frame in ways that affirm and legitimate, rather than strictly contain and control, the presence of culturally disenfranchised persons.”

Entin, Joseph. “Milton Rogovin’s Approach: Photography, Class, and the Aesthetics of Making Space (2008),” on the ASX website July 12, 2010 [Online] Cited 27/10/2018

 

Adrien Constant de Rebecque (Swiss, Lausanne 1806-1876 Lausanne) '[Man in Chainmail Tunic Posing as a Dying Soldier]' c. 1863

 

Adrien Constant de Rebecque (Swiss, Lausanne 1806-1876 Lausanne)
[Man in Chainmail Tunic Posing as a Dying Soldier]
c. 1863
Albumen print from collodion glass negative
17.9 x 24.2 cm (7 1/16 x 9 1/2 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2012
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo. 'Ouvrier en grève, assassiné (Striking worker, assassinated)' 1934

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Ouvrier en grève, assassiné (Striking worker, assassinated)
1934
Silver gelatin print

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'La Buena Fama Durmiendo (The Good Reputation Sleeping)' 1939, printed c. 1970s

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
La Buena Fama Durmiendo (The Good Reputation Sleeping)
1939, printed c. 1970s
Silver gelatin print

 

 

One of my early heroes in photography was Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Many Mexican photographs tell such stories based on the mythology of the country: there are elements of the absurd, surrealism, macabre, revolution, political and socio-economic issues, also of death, violence, beauty, youth, sexuality and religion to name but a few – a search for national identity that is balanced in the photographs of Bravo by a sense of inner peace and redemption. This potent mix of issues and emotions is what makes Mexican photography so powerful and substantive. In the “presence” (or present, the awareness of the here and now) of Mexican photography there is a definite calligraphy of the body in space in most of the work. This handwriting is idiosyncratic and emotive; it draws the viewer into an intimate narrative embrace. Two famous photographs by Bravo illustrate some of these themes (Apollonian/Dionysian; utopian/dystopian). When placed together they seem to have a strange attraction one to the other.

 

Anne Frank, photograph inscribed with her wish to go to Hollywood, October 10, 1942

 

Anne Frank, photograph inscribed with her wish to go to Hollywood, October 10, 1942

 

 

References

Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson 2013 ‘Introduction: At the Nexus’, in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 1-21

Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson (eds) 2013 Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Barthes, Roland 1981 Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography New York: Hill and Wang

Bataille, Georges 1962 Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo New York: Walker and Company

Batchen, Geoffrey 2004 Forget Me Not: Photography & Remembrance New York: Princeton Architectural Press

Batchen, Geoffrey 1997 Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography paperback 1999 Massachusetts: MIT Press

Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press

Berger, John 1985 The Sense of Sight New York: Vintage International

Brett, Donna West 2016 ‘Damaged: Ruin and Decay in Walker Evans’ Photographs’ Walker Evans Symposium Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography

Bronowski, Jacob 1958 Science and Human Values New York: Harper and Row

Brown, Andrew (ed. and trans,) 1987 Sophocles: Antigone Wiltshire: Aris and Phillips Ltd.

Cadava, Eduardo 1992 ‘Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History’ Diacritics 22 no. 3-4 (Fall-Winter), 84-114

Chaouat, Bruno 2005 ‘Image malgré tout’ (review) L’Esprit Créateur vol. 45 no. 1, 110-111

Deleuze, Gilles 1964 Proust and Signs New York: George Braziller, 1972 in English

Edwards, Janis L. 2012 ‘Visual Literacy and Visual Politics: Photojournalism and the 2004 Presidential Debates’ Communication Quarterly vol. 60 issue 5, 681-197

Foucault, Michel 1988 ‘Technologies of the self’ in L H Martin and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 16-49

Gibbs, Anna 2013 ‘Apparently Unrelated: Affective Resonance, Concatenation and Traumatic Circuitry in the Terrain of the Everyday’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 129-147

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect and the Images from Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 125-142

Hanusch, Folker 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan

Haraway, Donna and Cary Wolfe 2016 Manifestly Haraway Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Hegel, George Wilhelm Frederich 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit Preface (trans. A. V. Miller 1977) Oxford: Oxford University Press

Heidegger, Martin 1966 Discourse on Thinking New York: Harper & Row

Houlihan, Kasia 2004 ‘Annotation on Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography’ New York: Hill and Wang 1981 in Theories of Media, Winter

Jolly, Martyn 2015 ‘An Australian Spiritualist’s Personal Cartes-de-Visite Album’, in A Maxwell and J Croci (eds) Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 71-87

Kopelson, Kevin 1990 ‘Wilde, Barthes, and the Orgasmics of Truth’ in GENDERS no. 7 Spring, 22-31

Lacan, Jacques and Jeffrey Mehlman 1972 ‘The Seminar on the ‘Purloined Letter” in Yale French Studies no. 48 French Freud: Structural Studies in Psychoanalysis Yale University Press, 39-72

Martin, Luther H and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) 1988 Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press

Maxwell, Anne and Josephine Croci (eds) 2015 Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing

O’Hagan, Sean 2014 ‘Chloe Dewe Mathews’s Shot at Dawn: a moving photographic memorial’ The Guardian website

Papastergiadis, Nikos and Mary Zournazi 2002 ‘Faith without certitudes’ in M Zournazi Hope: New Philosophies for Change Annandale NSW: Pluto Press Australia, 78-97

Randell, Karen and Sean Redmond (eds) 2008 The war body on screen, New York: Continuum

Rastas, David and Maria Schlachter 2016 Art as a Sanctuary for the Mad: Six characteristics of mystical experience and their visual accompaniment in contemporary art

Rogobete, Ileana Carmen 2011 Reconstructing Trauma and Recovery: Life Narratives of Survivors of Political Violence during Apartheid PhD thesis Cape Town: University of Cape Town

Rutherford, Anne 2013 ‘Film, Trauma and the Enunciative Present’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 80-103

Sontag, Susan 1977 On Photography New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Staines, Deborah (ed) 2007 Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Strawberry 2013 ‘Roland Barthes: studium and punctum’ Museum of Education website

Thompson, John 1995 The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media Cambridge: Polity Press

Virilio, Paul 1994 The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Walsh, Stephen 2000 Stalingrad: The Infernal Cauldron, 1942-43 London: Simon and Schuster

Wike, Lori 2000 ‘Photographs and Signatures: Absence, Presence, and Temporality in Barthes and Derrida’ In[]Visible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Studies issue 3, 1-28

Zelizer, Barbie 2002 The Voice of the Visual in Memory Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania

Zembylas, Michalinos 2008 The Politics of Trauma in Education New York: Palgrave Macmillan

 

 

Endnotes

[1] Berger, John 1985 The Sense of Sight New York: Vintage International, 122

[2] Bataille, Georges 1962 Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo New York: Walker and Company, 15

[3] Anonymous 2016 Definition of Trauma by Mirriam-Webster, at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/trauma (accessed 8 November 2016)

[4] Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson 2013 ‘Introduction: At the Nexus’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 5

[5] Rutherford, Anne 2013 ‘Film, Trauma and the Enunciative Present’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 82

[6] Michalinos Zembylas 2008 The Politics of Trauma in Education, New York: Palgrave Macmillan 4

[7] Ibid., 4

[8] Rutherford Op. cit., 87

[9] Rutherford Op. cit., Footnote 49, 93

[10] Rutherford Op. cit., 94

[11] Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 9

[12] Rogobete, Ileana Carmen 2011 Reconstructing Trauma and Recovery: Life Narratives of Survivors of Political Violence during Apartheid PhD thesis Cape Town: University of Cape Town, at https://open.uct.ac.za/handle/11427/10884 (accessed 8 November 2016)

[13] Rutherford Op. cit., 85

[14] Gibbs, Anna 2013 ‘Apparently Unrelated: Affective Resonance, Concatenation and Traumatic Circuitry in the Terrain of the Everyday’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 130

[15] “Perhaps rather than numbness, what we actually feel is our own helplessness or impotence, and the shame of helplessness, which robs us of agency. Helplessness is what Tomkins calls an affect complex, and within it distress is the dominant affect, although there may be admixtures in it of fear, anger and shame… Helplessness immobilises, and this is what induces the shame which, as a reduction of interest, makes us lower our gaze and look away.”

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect and the Images from Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 139-140

[16] “To suffer is one thing; another thing is living with the photographed images of suffering, which does not necessarily strengthen conscience and the ability to be compassionate. It can also corrupt them. Once one has seen such images, one has started down the road of seeing more – and more. Images transfix. Images anaesthetize…”

Sontag, Susan 1977 On Photography New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux 20

“Are we making too much of images? Are we lured by our own voyeurism and iconophilia, numbed as we are by the democracy of the spectacle? Or, on the contrary, do images open the eyes of our conscience? In other words do images merely entertain and anaesthetize us or do they shame us and awake our conscience?”

Chaouat, Bruno 2005 ‘Image malgré tout’ (review) in L’Esprit Créateur vol. 45 no. 1, at https://muse.jhu.edu/article/265181/pdf (accessed 8 November 2016)

[17] Rutherford Op. cit., 89

[18] Anonymous 2016 ‘Lynching in the United States’, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynching_in_the_United_States (accessed 11 November 2016)

[19] Anonymous 2016 ‘Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday’, at http://genius.com/Billie-holiday-strange-fruit-lyrics (accessed 11 November 2016)

[20] ‘Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit’, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnlTHvJBeP0 (accessed 11 November 2016)

[21] Rutherford Op. cit., Footnote 55, 95

[22] Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 4 quoted in Rutherford, 95

[23] Ibid., 11

[24] Deleuze, Gilles 1964 Proust and Signs New York: George Braziller (1972 in English) 7, in Bennett 161

[25] Bennett Op. cit., 10

[26] Papastergiadis, Nikos and Mary Zournazi 2002 ‘Faith without certitudes’ in M Zournazi Hope: New Philosophies for Change 94-95, in Bennett, 10

[27] Hanusch, Folker 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan, 55

[28] Ibid., 56

[29] Ibid., 56

[30] Randell, Karen and Redmond, Sean (eds) 2008 The war body on screen New York: Continuum, cited in Hanusch, 30

[31] Foucault, Michel 1988 ‘Technologies of the self’, in L H Martin and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 18

[32] Barthes, Roland 1980 La Chambre Claire (Camera Lucida) (1981 in English) New York: Hill and Wang Section 39, 94

[33] Houlihan, Kasia 2004 ‘Annotation on Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography’ New York: Hill and Wang 1981 in Theories of Media, Winter at http://csmt.uchicago.edu/annotations/barthescamera.htm (accessed 12 November 2016)

[34] Strawberry 2013 ‘Roland Barthes: studium and punctum’ Museum of Education website 12 March, at https://educationmuseum.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/roland-barthes-studium-and-punctum/ (accessed 11 November 2016)

[35] “For memory is always in a state of ruin; to remember something is already to have ruined it, to have displaced it from its moment of origin. Memory is caught in a conundrum – the passing of time that makes memory possible and necessary is also what makes memory fade and die.”

Batchen, Geoffrey 2004 Forget Me Not: Photography & Remembrance New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 78

[36] Cadava, Eduardo 1992 ‘Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History’ Diacritics 22 no. 3-4 (Fall-Winter), 110 in Batchen 172

[37] Bennett Op. cit., 7

[38] Ibid., 7

[39] Zelizer, Barbie 2002 The Voice of the Visual in Memory, at http://www.sas.upenn.edu/folklore/center/ConferenceArchive/voiceover/voice_of_the_visual.html (accessed 13 November 2016)

[40] Ibid.,

[41] Brown, Andrew (ed. and trans,) 1987 Sophocles: Antigone, lines 850-52 Wiltshire: Aris and Phillips Ltd., 91

[42] Edwards, Janis L 2012 ‘Visual Literacy and Visual Politics: Photojournalism and the 2004 Presidential Debates’ Taylor Francis Online at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01463373.2012.725000 (accessed 13 November 2016)

[43] Zelizer Op. cit.,

[44] Sontag Op. cit., 18 cited in F Hanusch 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan, 105

[45] See ‘Robert Capa: The Falling Soldier’, The Met website, at http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/283315 (accessed 13 November 2016)

[46] Walsh, Stephen 2000 Stalingrad: The Infernal Cauldron, 1942-43 London: Simon and Schuster, 23

[47] Anonymous photographer 2013 ‘Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942’, Rare Historical Photos website 29 December, at http://rarehistoricalphotos.com/russian-spy-laughing-execution-finland-1942/ (accessed 13 November 2016)

[48] Brett, Donna West 2016 ‘Damaged: Ruin and Decay in Walker Evans’ Photographs’ Walker Evans Symposium Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography October 7, 5 at https://www.academia.edu/29201498/Damaged_Ruin_and_Decay_in_Walker_Evans_Photographs (accessed 13 November 2016)

[49] Soja, Edward W. 1996 Thirdspace Malden (Mass.): Blackwell, 57

[50] Ibid., 57

[51] Batchen Op. cit., 47

[52] Ibid., 48

[53] Rastas, David 2016 Art as a Sanctuary for the Mad: Six characteristics of mystical experience and their visual accompaniment in contemporary art, at http://www.davidrastas.com/kunstglaube/madness&mysticism/essays.html (accessed 19 November 2016)

[54] Bronowski, Jacob 1958, Science and Human Values New York: Harper and Row, 31

[55] Anonymous 2015. ‘Hidden Likeness: Photographer Emmet Gowin at the Morgan’, The Morgan Library & Museum website May 22 through September 20, 2015 https://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/emmet-gowin (accessed 08 May 2018)

[56] See Turner, Victor 1966 The Ritual Process: Structure and Antistructure Chicago: Aldine. For a definition of liminality see Anonymous ‘Liminality’, Wikipedia website https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liminality (accessed 08 May 2018)

[57] Batchen, Geoffrey 1997 Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography (paperback 1999) Massachusetts: MIT Press, 194

[58] Batchen Forget Me Not, 94

[59] O’Hagan, Sean 2014 ‘Chloe Dewe Mathews’s Shot at Dawn: a moving photographic memorial’ The Guardian website 29 June, at https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/jun/29/chloe-dewe-mathews-shot-at-dawn-moving-photographic-memorial-first-world-war (accessed 25 November 2016)

[60] Bennett 2005 Empathic Vision 69

[61] Hegel, George Wilhelm Frederich 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit Preface (trans. A. V. Miller 1977) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 10

[62] Anonymous 2016 ‘La petite mort’ Wikipedia website at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_petite_mort (accessed 25 November 2016)

[63] Barthes Op. cit., 96

[64] Barthes Op. cit., 96

[65] See Wike, Lori 2000 ‘Photographs and Signatures: Absence, Presence, and Temporality in Barthes and Derrida’ in In[]Visible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Studies issue 3, at http://www.rochester.edu/in_visible_culture/issue3/wike.htm#BackFromNote10 (accessed 25 November 2016)

[66] Lacan, Jacques and Jeffrey Mehlman 1972 ‘The Seminar on the ‘Purloined Letter’’ in Yale French Studies, no. 48, 53 quoted in Wike 2000

[67] Barthes Camera Lucida, 57-58 quoted in Wike 2000

[68] Barthes Camera Lucida, 31-32 quoted in Wike 2000

[69] Anonymous 2016, ‘The Real’, Wikipedia website at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Real (accessed 25 November 2016)

[70] “Derrida sees differences as elemental oppositions working in all languages, systems of distinct signs, and codes, where terms don’t have absolute meanings but instead draw meaning from reciprocal determination with other terms… Différance is the systematic play of differences, of the traces of differences, of the spacing by means of which elements are related to each other… the a of différance also recalls that spacing is temporization, the detour and postponement by means of which intuition, perception, consummation – in a word, the relationship to the present, the reference to a present reality, to a being – are always deferred.”

Anonymous 2016 ‘Différance’ at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Différance (accessed 25 November 2016

[71] Batchen Burning with Desire 179. Information on photography and differance 178-179.

[72] Batchen Burning with Desire 186

[73] “We stand at once within the realm of that which hides itself from us, and hides itself just in approaching us. That which shows itself and at the same time withdraws is the essential trait of what we call the mystery… Releasement towards things and openness to the mystery belong together. They grant us the possibility of dwelling in the world in a totally different way…”

Heidegger, Martin 1966 Discourse on Thinking New York: Harper & Row, 55-56

[74] Thompson, John 1995 The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media Cambridge: Polity Press, 208 quoted in M Jolly 2015 ‘An Australian Spiritualist’s Personal Cartes-de-Visite Album’ in A Maxwell and J Croci (eds) Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 84

[75] Thompson 233 quoted in Jolly 2015

[76] Haraway, Donna and Cary Wolfe 2016 Manifestly Haraway Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 122, at https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed 26 November 2016)

[77] Kopelson, Kevin 1990 ‘Wilde, Barthes, and the Orgasmics of Truth’ GENDERS no 7 Spring, 26

[78] You are dead but also alive, the dissolution of the distinction between objective and subjective realities, “the image is an interface connecting inner and outer, past and future, affect and cognition.”

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect And The Images From Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 130

 

 

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01
Nov
16

Exhibition: ‘London Calling: Bacon, Freud, Kossoff, Andrews, Auerbach, and Kitaj’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Centre, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 26th July – 13th November 2016

Curators: Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum; Julian Brooks, curator of Drawings at the Getty Museum; and Elena Crippa , curator, Modern and Contemporary British Art at Tate.

 

 

While there are a selection of non-figurative paintings in this exhibition, I decided to focus this posting on the figurative work. It seemed a logical and strong thematic choice.

I love these British artists. They get to the essence of contemporary life and portray it in an embodied, emboldened way. As curator Julian Brooks observes, “By pursuing painting as an activity that records and revitalizes an intense sensory experience, these artists rendered the frailty and vitality of the human condition, translating life into art and reinventing the way in which their surroundings could be represented.”

For me, the fluidity and gravitas of the Bacon drawings are a standout, as are the distended faces of the early Freud paintings. It’s almost as if the artist had a fish eye lens to observe his sitters; apparently his approach to them at this time had distinct psychological and spatial aspects, as most of the work in this exhibition does. “The artist admits his early portraits emerged from his ‘visual aggression’ with sitters. He claimed, ‘I would sit very close and stare. It could be uncomfortable for both of us’.” Photography and film have a distinctive influence upon these artists.

Nearly all of the works radiate an evocative psychological intensity. These are feelings about life and the world that come from deep within and… erupt and explode into life. Whether controlled realism (Freud) or molten accretions (Auerbach) these essential works challenge how we inhabit the world and how we see that in/habit-ation. Demons, refugees, murder, rape, suicide (George Dyer), illness, building sites, fascist grotesque bather, surreal-automatic women, nude, self-portrait are all grist to the mill – helping portray certain philosophical or fundamental truths extant to the human condition. The body is destablised in space and destabilized in the landscape of human existence. Anything is possible as long as the artist (and we) recognise it and represent it as such.

These palimpsestic paintings superimpose a new rendition on earlier writings of the body (Velázquez, Titian, Muybridge, Durer etc…). They contain within them the very DNA of our being, now effaced, reused and altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form. These are deep and timeless paintings which upset our apparently secure equilibrium through the representation of a fundamental understanding of life in this very moment. Ego. Self. Other. Culture. Existence. They hold up a mirror to things that we would rather not see, an outsiders (mis)recognition of all that has gone before and all that is to come.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

.
Many thankx to the J. Paul Getty Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“From the 1940s through the 1980s, a prominent group of London-based artists developed new styles and approaches to depicting the human figure and the landscape. These painters resisted the abstraction, minimalism, and conceptualism that dominated contemporary art at the time, instead focusing on depicting contemporary life through innovative figurative works.

On view at the J. Paul Getty Museum from July 26 to November 13, 2016, London Calling: Bacon, Freud, Kossoff, Andrews, Auerbach, and Kitaj represents the first major American museum exhibition to explore the leaders of this movement, often called the “School of London,” as central to a richer and more complex understanding of 20th century painting. The exhibition includes 80 paintings, drawings, and prints by Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Leon Kossoff, Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, and R.B. Kitaj.

“The majority of paintings and drawings in the Getty Museum’s collection are fundamentally concerned with the rendition of the human figure and landscape up to 1900,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum and one of the exhibition curators. “This significant exhibition shows an important part of ‘what happened next’, highlighting an innovative group of figurative artists at a time when abstraction dominated avant-garde discourse in the U.S. and much of Europe. Working with our partners at Tate in London, we have brought together a fabulous group of pictures that exemplify the radical approaches to figure and landscape pioneered by this influential coterie of artists, illuminating their crucial place in modern art history.”

London Calling is a collaboration between Tate and the J. Paul Getty Museum and is curated by Julian Brooks, curator of Drawings at the Getty Museum, Timothy Potts, and Elena Crippa , curator, Modern and Contemporary British Art at Tate. Drawn largely from the unrivaled holdings of Tate, the exhibition has been enriched by a number of loans from other museums and private collectors.

“By pursuing painting as an activity that records and revitalizes an intense sensory experience, these artists rendered the frailty and vitality of the human condition, translating life into art and reinventing the way in which their surroundings could be represented,” said Brooks. “The ‘School of London’ artists doggedly pursued forms of figurative painting at a time when it was considered outmoded. In recent decades the work of these artists has rightly been reassessed. It is timely to look at them as a group and deepen our appreciation of their contribution.”

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)

Francis Bacon was born in Dublin in 1909 to English parents. After traveling to Germany and France he settled in London. He received guidance from an older friend, the Australian artist Roy de Maistre, but was otherwise largely self-taught. In 1945, the showing of a number of his paintings at London’s Lefevre Gallery established his critical reputation, and he became central to an artistic milieu in Soho that included Lucian Freud and Michael Andrews. From the mid-1940s, he began taking as a starting point for his work reproductions of paintings, sculpture, photographs, and film stills, mostly relating to the imagery of angst that resonated with both historical and personal circumstances. From 1962 he expanded the range of his photographic sources by commissioning particular shots of models, mostly friends and lovers. For example, Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne, 1966, on view in the exhibition, was based on a photo of his friend and regular subject, the artist Isabel Rawsthorne (1912-1992).

A highlight of the exhibition, Triptych – August 1972 forms part of a series of so-called “Black Triptychs,” which followed the suicide of Bacon’s longtime lover, George Dyer, in 1971. In the composition, Dyer appears on the left and Bacon himself is on the right. The image on the central panel is derived from a photograph of wrestlers by Eadweard Muybridge.

Bacon’s well-known Figure with Meat, 1954 belongs to a large series of works based on reproductions of Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. In this version, Bacon depicts the Pope between two halves of a hanging animal carcass, a motif relating to the first portrait of Bacon taken by the photographer John Deakin, in 1952, in which the painter is stripped to the waist and holds a split carcass. In establishing a connection between the raw, butchered meat and human flesh, Bacon expresses a sense of emotional turmoil and reminds the viewer of the vulnerability of the human body.

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Triptych August 1972' 1972

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Triptych August 1972
1972
Oil and sand on three canvases
Each 198.1 × 147.3 cm (78 × 58 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1980 ©
The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2016
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This work is generally considered one in a series of Black Triptychs which followed the suicide of Bacon’s lover, George Dyer. Dyer appears on the left and Bacon is on the right. The central group is derived from a photograph of wrestlers by Edward Muybridge, but also suggests a more sexual encounter. The seated figures and their coupling are set against black voids and the central flurry has been seen as ‘a life-and death struggle’. The artist’s biographer wrote: ‘What death has not already consumed seeps incontinently out of the figures as their shadows.’

September 2016

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Collapsed Figure' c. 1957-1961

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Collapsed Figure
c. 1957-1961
Oil on paper
34 × 27 cm (13 3/8 × 10 5/8 in.)
Tate: Purchased with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and a group of anonymous donors in memory of Mario Tazzoli 1998
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2015
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

Although no source has been identified it is likely that Collapsed Figure derived from sports photographs which, in a 1974 interview, Bacon specified as a valued stimulus: ‘I look all the time at photographs in magazines of footballers and boxers and all that kind of thing – especially boxers.’ He noted that he trawled them in the same way that he used Eadweard Muybridge’s stills of figures in motion.

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Blue Crawling Figure, No. 1' c. 1957-1961

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Blue Crawling Figure, No. 1
c. 1957-1961
Oil on paper
34 × 27 cm (13 3/8 × 10 5/8 in.)
Tate: Purchased with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and a group of anonymous donors in memory of Mario Tazzoli 1998
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2015
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

These pages almost certainly came at the end of the dismembered sketchbook. They represent the most coherent programme of drawing through which Bacon explored compositional possibilities in a succession of images. The sense of structure of the body, as well as the degree of abstraction of  form, are progressively modified across the ‘Crawling Figure’ images. They were probably achieved by tracing from one to the other. Although no related oil painting is known to survive, the extent to which the possibilities are explored testifies to the significant role of sketches within Bacon’s working process.

September 2004

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Figure with Left Arm Raised, No. 2' c. 1957-1961

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Figure with Left Arm Raised, No. 2
c. 1957-1961
Oil on paper
34 × 27 cm (13 3/8 × 10 5/8 in.)
Tate: Purchased with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and a group of anonymous donors in memory of Mario Tazzoli 1998
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2015
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Figure in a Landscape' c. 1952

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Figure in a Landscape
c. 1952
Oil on paper
33.9 × 26.3 cm (13 3/8 × 10 3/8 in.)
Tate: Purchased with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and a group of anonymous donors in memory of Mario Tazzoli 1998
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2016
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Reclining Figure, No. 1' c. 1961

 

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Reclining Figure, No. 1
c. 1961
Oil and ink on paper
23.8 × 15.6 cm (9 3/8 × 6 1/8 in.)
Tate: Purchased with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and a group of anonymous donors in memory of Mario Tazzoli 1998
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2015
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

These two works on paper by Bacon are the only ones in the display in which the page has been filled. As the pose remains the same, they may have served as colour studies and may even be a response to Mark Rothko’s contemporary work (seen in London in 1959). The male nude, and the horizontal bands (derived from a sofa against a wall) are common to a series of Bacon’s oil  paintings from 1959 and 1961. The sketches appear to be later, as an impression of writing from another sheet but visible on ‘Reclining Figure, no.1’ gives his address as ‘7 Reece Mews’, the studio which he occupied in the autumn of 1961.

September 2004

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Portrait of George Dyer Riding a Bicycle' 1966

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Portrait of George Dyer Riding a Bicycle
1966
Oil on canvas
198 x 147.5 cm (77 15/16 x 58 1/16 in.)
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, Beyeler Collection
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2016
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Figure with Meat' 1954

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Figure with Meat
1954
Oil on canvas
129.9 × 121.9 cm (51 1/8 × 48 in.)
The Art Institute of Chicago, Harriott A. Fox Fund
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2016
Photography © The Art Institute of Chicago

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Study for Portrait II (after the Life Mask of William Blake)' 1955

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Study for Portrait II (after the Life Mask of William Blake)
1955
Oil on canvas 61 × 50.8 cm (24 × 20 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1979
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2015
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This is one of a series based on the life mask of poet and painter William Blake. Bacon first saw the mask at the National Portrait Gallery in London, but he also used photographs and, at some point, he even acquired a cast of it. His response to the source is typical of his preference for a mediated image of the body. The painting is more complex than it seems: it is built up with delicate layers of paint against a rich black ground. One commentator wrote, ‘broad strokes of pink and mauve, with which Bacon establishes an equivocation between waxen mask and human flesh, drag pain and loneliness and imperturbable spirit in their wake’.

May 2007

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne' 1966

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne
1966
Oil on canvas
81.3 × 68.6 cm (32 × 27 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1966
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2016
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

Lucian Freud (1922-2011)

Grandson of the creator of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Lucian Freud was born in Berlin in 1922 and moved with his family to London in 1933 to escape Nazism. He trained at the Central School of Art in London and at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing in Dedham. Freud had his first solo exhibition in 1944 at London’s Lefevre Gallery. Throughout his career he focused on the human figure, rendered in a realist manner and imbued with a stark and evocative psychological intensity. He described his work as autobiographical, most of his work taking his surroundings and people he knew intimately as his subjects, as in the case of friends, lovers, and family members.

Between 1947 and 1951 Freud made eight portraits of his first wife Kathleen (“Kitty”) Garman (1926-2011). On view in the exhibition, Girl with a Kitten, 1947 is a psychologically charged composition featuring Garman holding a kitten by its neck in a tense grip, her white knuckles especially prominent. The precision in this work is achieved through the use of fine sable brushes on finely woven canvas.

One of Freud’s frequent subjects was the performance artist, designer, and nightclub personality Leigh Bowery (1961-1994). In an intimate and vulnerable small portrait from 1991 Freud depicts Bowery sleeping. In contrast, the monumental Leigh under the Skylight, 1994 renders his starkly naked form as theatrically statuesque.

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Man with a Thistle (Self-Portrait)' 1946

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Man with a Thistle (Self-Portrait)
1946
Oil on canvas
61 × 50.2 cm (24 × 19 3/4 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1961
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This is one of a number of self-portraits painted by Freud during the 1940s. Freud has used a realistic, but emblematic, style which derives from Old Master paintings of the Northern Renaissance. The artist shows himself looking through a window at a spiky thistle resting on a ledge in the foreground. At the same time, the thistle may also be read as an emblem occupying flattened space at the bottom of the painting. This ambiguity allows the thistle to be interpreted as a real object, but also as a device which suggests the mood of the painting and Freud’s own psychological state. 

September 2004

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Girl with a Kitten' 1947

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Girl with a Kitten
1947
Oil on canvas
41 × 30.7 × 1.8 cm (16 1/8 × 12 1/16 × 11/16 in.)
Tate: Bequeathed by Simon Sainsbury 2006, accessioned 2008
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

In 1946-7 Freud traveled to Paris and Greece, returning to London in February 1947. Here he began a relationship with Kitty Garman, the eldest daughter of the sculptor Jacob Epstein and the model and collector Kathleen Garman. The subsequent marriage between Freud and Kitty was short-lived – they wed in the spring of 1948 and divorced in 1952 after having two daughters. Freud’s portraits of Kitty include four oil paintings – beginning with Girl in a Dark Jacket 1947 and finishing with Girl with a White Dog 1950-1 (Tate N06039) – as well as two etchings, a work in pastel, and a drawing in ink and crayon.

The portraits of Kitty Garman mark the culmination of Freud’s early portrait style, which evoked the tradition of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) – a form of realist painting that emerged in Germany in the early 1920s, and was characterised by its sharp and unsentimental style. (Freud, grandson of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, was born in Berlin in 1922 and came to Britain in 1933, and studied at a number of art schools during the war.) The intensity of Girl with a Kitten, and especially the manner in which Garman dominates the pictorial frame, might also stem from Freud’s approach to his sitters at this time, which had distinct psychological and spatial aspects. The artist admits his early portraits emerged from his ‘visual aggression’ with sitters. He claimed, ‘I would sit very close and stare. It could be uncomfortable for both of us.’ (Quoted in Michael Auping, ‘Freud from America’, in Howgate, Auping and Richardson 2012, p.41.) By the mid-1950s Freud had abandoned the highly controlled style of portraiture seen in this work, and he began to paint in a looser and more viscous style.

Text from the Tate website

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Narcissus' 1948

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Narcissus
1948
Ink on paper
Image: 21 × 13.7 cm (8 1/4 × 5 3/8 in.) Framed: 36 × 28.9 × 2.9 cm (14 3/16 × 11 3/8 × 1 1/8 in.)
Tate: Bequeathed by Pauline Vogelpoel, Director of the Contemporary Art Society, 2002, accessioned 2004
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

In the late 1940s the publishers MacGibbon & Kee commissioned Freud to illustrate Rex Warner’s book Men and Gods on classical mythology. He produced four drawings for the book, of which Narcissus is one. The others are Man of Hyacinths (Colin St John Wilson Collection), Hercules (private collection) and Actaeon (private collection). The figures in all the drawings are in modern dress. The publishing house rejected the drawings because they did not illustrate the stories sufficiently, and instead chose Elizabeth Corsellis’s drawings for the book, which was published in 1950. Freud made illustrations for several other books during the 1940s, though few were ever selected for publication.

The close-up view and tight framing of Narcissus are typical of Freud’s many portraits of this early period, which frequently emphasize the subjects’ large, almond-shaped eyes. These are depicted in a meditative mood looking down, as in Narcissus, or looking upwards and away from the viewer. Reflection and mirroring were to become recurring themes in Freud’s work, particularly in his many self-portraits. The pose portrayed in Narcissus is later echoed in the painting Man’s Head (Self-Portrait I) 1963 (Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester) in which the artist’s head, propped with one arm cutting aggressively into the frame, looks down at a mirror not included in the work. Another self-portrait, Interior with Hand Mirror (Self-Portrait) 1967 (private collection), shows the artist’s face isolated in a hand mirror propped between two sections of window. His expression is contorted in a winking grimace as though he is attempting to see, a reminder that viewing is central to Freud’s process as a painter. In this image the mirror’s cropping has cut off the viewing part of him from his body. In a similar manner, Narcissus shows the subject cut off from the viewer by the exclusion of his viewing eyes, omitted from the bottom of the image. A more recent image, the print Self-Portrait: Reflection 1996 (Tate P11509), again refers to this circular process of mirroring and interior looking which is emphasised in its title.

Text from the Tate website

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Boy Smoking' 1950-1951

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Boy Smoking
1950-1951
Oil on copper
15.5 × 11.5 × 0.2 cm (6 1/8 × 4 1/2 × 1/16 in.)
Tate: Bequeathed by Simon Sainsbury 2006, accessioned 2008
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

The painting was made by the British artist Lucian Freud in his studio in London in 1950. To create this work Freud took a used copper etching plate and prepared it with a thick layer of white primer. He then employed sable paintbrushes (as opposed to hogshair, which he would use almost exclusively from 1956 onwards) to apply a smoothly blended mixture of oil paint and tempera to the copper plate in fine, even brushstrokes. The white primer was left exposed by Freud to produce the lighter areas of the painting, except for the very brightest parts, which he created using a fresh application of white paint. Freud used thin washes of grey and brown underpaint to create areas of shadow around the boy’s eyes and hair. Each section of the painting has been given equal focus by Freud, establishing a uniformity of detail and flatness, characteristics not present in many of the artist’s later portraits.

The oversized almond shaped eyes and the plump mouth in Boy Smoking are features that recur in the portraits Freud made early in his career, as can be seen in Girl with a Kitten 1947 (Tate T12617), Narcissus 1948 (Tate T11793) and Francis Bacon 1952 (Tate N06040). Furthermore, the subjects of these early head-and-shoulder portraits are all presented in isolation, divorced from any context, with no indication of their personal history or social status. In this sense, they evoke the tradition of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), a form of realist painting that emerged in the early 1920s in Germany and was characterised by its unsentimental style. (Freud was born in Berlin in 1922 and moved to Britain in 1933, and studied at a number of art schools during the war.) According to the art historian and Freud biographer William Feaver, Freud painted portraits such as Boy Smoking by sitting uncomfortably near to his subjects, often knee-to-knee, staring at them intently for periods of up to eight hours at a time during multiple sittings that extended over a period of several months (Feaver 2002, p.26).

The boy in the painting has been identified as Charlie Lumley, a neighbour and friend of Freud’s whom the artist painted regularly while occupying a studio in Delamere Terrace near Paddington during the 1950s. The inhabitants of this part of London at the time have been characterised by curator Catherine Lampert as ‘costermongers, villains and thieves’ (Lampert 1993, p.15), a description that could be applied to Lumley, whom Freud first encountered when Lumley and his brother were attempting to break into Freud’s studio (see Wilson 2008, p.112).

Text from the Tate website

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Girl with a White Dog' 1950-1951

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Girl with a White Dog
1950-1951
Oil on canvas
76.2 × 101.6 cm (30 × 40 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1952
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This picture shows the artist’s first wife when she was pregnant. The style of the painting has roots in the smooth and linear portraiture of the great nineteenth-century French neoclassical painter, Ingres. This, together with the particular psychological atmosphere of Freud’s early work, led the critic Herbert Read to make his celebrated remark that Freud was ‘the Ingres of Existentialism’. The sense that Freud gives of human existence as essentially lonely, and spiritually if not physically painful, is something shared by his great contemporaries, Francis Bacon and the sculptor Alberto Giacometti.

April 2005

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Man Posing' 1985

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Man Posing
1985
Etching on paper
Image: 69.5 × 54.3 cm (27 3/8 × 21 3/8 in.) Framed: 99 × 84 × 4 cm (39 × 33 1/16 × 1 9/16 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1987
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Leigh Bowery' 1991

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Leigh Bowery
1991
Oil on canvas
51 × 40.9 cm (20 1/16 × 16 1/8 in.)
Tate: Presented anonymously 1994
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This is a small portrait of the maverick gay performer and nightclub personality Leigh Bowery (1961-94). It portrays Bowery’s head and naked upper torso framed against dark red upholstery. His bald head rests against his raised left shoulder, his eyes are closed and his cheeks and mouth hang loosely as though he is asleep. Freud’s manner of painting emphasises the fleshiness of Bowery’s face. This is achieved through the application of paint in different textures – in some areas relatively smooth, in others thickly but delicately built up. Apparently unconscious of the artist’s gaze, Bowery has a vulnerable appearance which belies the bulk of his physical form.

Freud was introduced to Bowery by their mutual friend, the artist Cerith Wyn Evans (born 1958), in 1988. He had recently seen Bowery’s performance at Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London. In his first public appearance in a fine art context, Bowery posed behind a one way mirror in the gallery for two hours a day over the period of a week. He was dressed in the flamboyant outfits he usually wore in the London nightclubs where he had become a leading figure in the underground scene, known for his outrageous and frequently offensive performances. Born and bred in Australia, he had come to London in 1980 in search of glamour. The extraordinary costumes he created for himself played on fashion, fetishism and carnival aesthetics and transformed his sixteen stones of flesh into an androgynous spectacle. Bowery used his body to construct an identity through which he could express aspects of his personality. This involved moulding and taping his torso, often quite masochistically, as though it were his sculptural material and masking his face or covering it with outlandish makeup. Holes in his cheeks, visible in Freud’s portrait, were pierced for the insertion of large safety-pins which would attach fake smiling lips to his face. Freud said of Bowery ‘I found him perfectly beautiful’ (quoted in Bernard, p.19). He also commented ‘the way he edits his body is amazingly aware and amazingly abandoned’ (quoted in Feaver, p.43). Bowery said of Freud: ‘I love the psychological aspect of his work – in fact I sometimes felt as if I had been undergoing psychoanalysis with him … His work is full of tension. Like me he is interested in the underbelly of things.’ (Quoted in Sue Tilley, Leigh Bowery: The Life and Times of an Icon, London 1997, p.220.) …

Freud frames his subjects in the manner of a photographer; they are often viewed close-up and cropped dramatically. His treatment of bodies emphasises the tactile attributes of flesh almost to the point of viscerality. From his earliest paintings, his treatment of nudes was unorthodox and frequently viewed as shocking at the time of their making. At the age of fourteen he had painted a bearded, naked male figure Old Man Running 1936 (collection unknown), an irreverent representation of the patriarch whose nakedness is considered taboo in Western cultures. Man with Rat 1977 (Art Gallery of Western Australia) depicts a red-haired man lounging naked, legs splayed on a sofa and genitals almost painfully exposed, holding a black rat, the tail of which is draped sensuously over his thigh. Freud considers his paintings of nudes to be as much portraits as they refer to the traditional genre of the nude and it is significant that he chose to paint Bowery naked rather than in the costumes through which Bowery expressed his public identity. Rather than glorifying the body, Freud’s ‘realistic’ representation presents it in all the vulnerability of nakedness, emphasising his subject’s humanity.

Text from the Tate website

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Leigh under the Skylight' 1994

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Leigh under the Skylight
1994
Oil on canvas
270.5 × 119.4 cm (106 1/2 × 47 in.)
Private Collection
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service
Image: Bridgeman Images

 

 

Bowery posed regularly for Freud over a four year period. Freud’s first painting of him was Leigh Bowery (Seated) 1990 (private collection). To accommodate and emphasise Bowery’s enormous scale, it was one of the largest paintings Freud had ever made (2437 x 1830mm). In an even larger painting of Bowery, Leigh Under the Skylight 1994 (2972 x 1207mm, collection unknown), the model stands on a draped table towering over the artist and viewer as though he is a monumental sculpture. This contrasts markedly with the majority of Freud’s portraits and nudes which are almost exclusively painted looking down at his subject.

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Woman Sleeping' 1995

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Woman Sleeping
1995
Etching on paper
Image: 73 × 59.4 cm (28 3/4 × 23 3/8 in.) Framed: 89.8 × 124.5 × 3 cm (35 3/8 × 49 × 1 3/16 in.)
Tate: Presented anonymously 1997
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Naked Portrait' 2001

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Naked Portrait
2001
Oil on canvas
167.6 × 132.1 cm (66 × 52 in.)
Michael Moritz and Harriet Heyman
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service

 

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)

Leon Kossoff was born in London, where he still resides and works, to first-generation immigrants of Russian Jewish ancestry. He studied at Saint Martin’s (where he and Frank Auerbach became close friends), at Borough Polytechnic, and at the Royal College of Art. He had his first exhibition at London’s Beaux Arts Gallery in 1957. From the early 1950s, Kossoff began painting a close circle of family and friends, producing pictures in which they acquired a solid, material presence, similar to that of the buildings and streets of London that he knew intimately and to which he also constantly returned. He developed a painterly style with thickly applied, constantly reworked layers of paint in characteristic earth tones.

In the early 1950s, Kossoff and Auerbach were fascinated by building sites, abundant in London at the time as the bomb-damaged city was being rebuilt after the war. For these artists, they were places where the earth beneath the city was revealed, and ladders and scaffolding offered ready-made linear structures. Early drawings such as Building Site, Oxford Street, 1952 were intensively worked, as Kossoff constantly erased and restarted the image.

Children’s Swimming Pool, Autumn Afternoon, 1971, depicts a newly built swimming pool near the artist’s North London studio where he took his son to learn to swim. Kossoff made five large paintings of the pool and its light-filled space from 1969-1972, each distinguished by an expansive treatment of space and vibrant sense of energy.

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926) 'Building Site, Oxford Street' 1952

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)
Building Site, Oxford Street
1952
Crayon, charcoal and gouache on paper
112 × 133.5 cm (44 1/8 × 52 9/16 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1996
© Leon Kossoff Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

Like his close friend Frank Auerbach Kossoff was fascinated by building sites during the 1950s. These abounded in London as its bomb-damaged fabric was rebuilt after the war. Perhaps they stood for the transient and ever-changing nature of the modern city. They were also places where the earth beneath the city was revealed. This drawing, like Auerbach’s painting on the same theme, shows how they also offered a  ready-made linear structure for the artist’s picture. 

September 2004

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926) 'Man in a Wheelchair' 1959-1962

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)
Man in a Wheelchair
1959-1962
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
213.4 × 123.2 cm (84 × 48 1/2 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1963
© Leon Kossoff Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

Kossoff developed a manner of painting with exceptionally thick paint which is deposited on the board in places almost untouched, giving a sense of three-dimensional form. The model for this painting was the painter John Lessore, who sat for Kossoff once or twice a week for three years. For most of that time, Kossoff recalled, he concentrated on developing the subject through drawings. The discipline of drawing every day is at the heart of Kossoff’s practice.

July 2012

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926) 'Woman III in Bed, Surrounded by Family' 1965

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)
Woman III in Bed, Surrounded by Family
1965
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
185.4 × 124.5 cm (73 × 49 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1981
© Leon Kossoff
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

‘Woman Ill in Bed, Surrounded by Family’ was painted at a time when there was illness in the artist’s family. In common with all his work Kossoff worked on the painting in his studio, basing it on drawings made from life. However, it departs from Kossoff’s usual practices in that the composition was based, not on preliminary sketches, but on an engraving of the Virgin in bed by Albrecht Durer. The sombre colours and great density of paint evoke vividly a sense of human suffering and the tragic nature of human existence, themes which are at the heart of Kossoff’s work.

September 2004

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926) 'Children's Swimming Pool, Autumn Afternoon' 1971

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)
Children’s Swimming Pool, Autumn Afternoon
1971
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
168 × 214 × 5.6 cm (66 1/8 × 84 1/4 × 2 3/16 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1981
© Leon Kossoff Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

Kossoff’s principal subjects are his immediate family and friends and the parts of London which he knows best. In the 1960s he set up a studio in Willesden, north London and in 1967 a swimming pool opened close by. He began taking his son there to teach him to swim, and the pool and its space provided him with a new subject. He made four large paintings of the pool between 1969 and 1972 of which this is one. All are distinguished by a lightness of touch and a sense of movement, noise and space.

August 2004

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926) 'Two Seated Figures No. 2' 1980

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)
Two Seated Figures No. 2
1980
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
243.8 × 182.8 cm (96 × 71 15/16 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1983
© Leon Kossoff
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This painting is a unique departure from Kossoff’s usual methods. Normally he works on paintings for months and even years, continually scraping back and repainting the image. Instead, Kossoff completed this work ‘in two or three hours. There are no other attempts on this board’. He sees it as ‘a direct urgent extension’ of two drawings made earlier the same day. The thread-like traces of paint resulted from the brush dripping onto the painting’s surface while it was in a horizontal position. Its subject is Kossoff’s parents – Jewish immigrants from Russia – who arrived in England as children early this century. Kossoff has painted his parents ‘all my painting life’.

September 2004

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926) 'Booking Hall, Kilburn Underground' 1987

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)
Booking Hall, Kilburn Underground
1987
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
198.2 × 182.7 cm (78 1/16 × 71 15/16 in.)
Tate: Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery and the Mail on Sunday through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1989
© Leon Kossoff
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This large and imposing oil painting belongs to a series of works – which began in 1976 and continued until the late 1980s – by the British painter Leon Kossoff depicting Kilburn Underground station in north-west London. In the foreground of this work, two men and three women walk through the station’s booking hall, and more shadowy human forms can be glimpsed on the staircase leading up to the platforms in the background and on the right-hand side of the painting. With the exception of the brighter clothing worn by some of the figures in the foreground, the palette is distinguished by cloudy blues, pinks and whites, and the painting seems filled with a distinct gloom, perhaps reflecting the drudgery of the daily commute. The figures are locked into a loose structure of vertical and diagonal lines formed by the booking hall’s roof and tilted-up floor.

Kossoff has said that, when painting public scenes such as Booking Hall, Kilburn Underground 1987, portraits of people close to him begin to appear within the crowds (see Rose 2013, p.18). Without exactly specifying the figures, curator Paul Moorhouse has identified the group in the foreground of this painting as comprising Kossoff’s wife, Peggy, his brothers, and his long-time model and friend Fidelma (Moorhouse 1996, p.24).

Text from the Tate website

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926) 'Christ Church, Spitalfields, Morning' 1990

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)
Christ Church, Spitalfields, Morning
1990
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
198.6 × 189.2 cm (78 3/16 × 74 1/2 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1994
© Leon Kossoff Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995)

Andrews studied painting under William Coldstream at the Slade School of Art between 1949 and 1953. Lucian Freud, who also taught at the school, was an important example and offered encouragement, while Francis Bacon visited to talk about his work, also making a memorable impression. His first solo exhibition was presented at London’s Beaux Arts Gallery in 1958. From the early 1950s photographs became important sources in the creation of his work. During this early period Andrews concentrated on portraits of his friends and contemporaries as well as party scenes, developing his characteristic combination of meticulous observation with imaginative elements and implied narrative. From the mid-1970s the landscape he encountered while traveling became the subject of many paintings. In the 1990s, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, he chose the river Thames as his final, major subject.

The Deer Park, 1962 was inspired by Norman Mailer’s 1955 novel of the same title. For Andrews, the novel seemed to describe the world of the Soho clubs and bars he frequented. Rather than illustrating the text, however, the painting creates a new, imaginary situation involving a cast of different characters exhibiting various social behaviors and interactions. The figures are all based on photographs and film images of people from the entertainment and literary worlds, past and contemporary. They include Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, and the poet Rimbaud. The background landscape is based on Diego Velasquez’s Philip IV Hunting Wild Boar (about 1632-37) in the National Gallery, London.

Melanie and Me Swimming, 1978-79 is a painting of Andrews and his daughter, then aged six, swimming together in a rock pool, based on a color photograph taken by a friend while they were on holiday at Glenartney Lodge, in Scotland, in the summer of 1976. As with many of his paintings, this one is a combination of real elements and his own memories of the event.

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995) 'A Man Who Suddenly Fell Over' 1952

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995)
A Man Who Suddenly Fell Over
1952
Oil on hardboard
120.6 × 172.7 cm (47 1/2 × 68 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1958
© the Estate of Michael Andrews, courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

In common with much of Andrews’s work this picture is partly autobiographical. It was painted for his Diploma Examination shortly before leaving the Slade School of Art to face a period of uncertainty. He later commented that this painting was ‘about the complete upsetting of someone’s apparently secure equilibrium and about their most immediate efforts at recovery and their attempt to conceal that they have perhaps been badly hurt or upset’. This might explain why the man seems to grin instead of crying out in shock. The image of the body destablised in space was of interest to a number of artists in the 1950s, including Francis Bacon and Anthony Caro.

September 2004

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995) 'Study for a Man in a Landscape (Digswell)' 1959

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995)
Study for a Man in a Landscape (Digswell)
1959
Oil on canvas
40.6 × 35.9 cm (16 × 14 1/8 in.)
Tate: Presented by the executors of the estate of David Wilkie 1993
© the Estate of Michael Andrews, courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

Many of the works owned by Wilkie held a particular, often personal, significance for him. He was interested in philosophy and he saw the art he admired as expressing certain philosophical or fundamental truths. This painting by Michael Andrews demonstrates this principle. It portrays a tramp whom the artist sometimes saw when he occupied a communal studio in Digswell, Hertfordshire, in the late 1950s. Wilkie’s attitude to such social outcasts – outsiders looking in on society – was compassionate and respectful. He observed that characters like Digswell Man, as Andrews called him, ‘possess a true knowledge of human life… through their fundamental life’.

September 2004

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995) 'The Deer Park' 1962

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995)
The Deer Park
1962
Oil on board
214 × 244.5 cm (84 1/4 × 96 1/4 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1974
© the Estate of Michael Andrews, courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

‘The Deer Park’ was inspired by Norman Mailer’s novel of the same title. For Andrews, the novel seemed to describe ‘the world of Soho’ whose clubs and bars he had frequented. Rather than illustrating the text, however, the painting creates a new, imaginary situation involving a cast of different characters. Its subject is social behaviour ‘where people are relaxed and project images close to themselves’. The figures are all based on photographs of people from show business and literary worlds, past and present. They include Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot and the poet Rimbaud. The background is based on ‘The Boar Hunt’ by Velasquez in the National Gallery, London.

August 2004

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995) 'Melanie and Me Swimming' 1978-1979

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995)
Melanie and Me Swimming
1978-1979
Acrylic on canvas
182.9 × 182.9 cm (72 × 72 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1979
© the Estate of Michael Andrews, courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931)

Born in Berlin in 1931, Auerbach was sent to Kent, England at age seven to escape Nazism. In 1947 he moved to London, where he continues to live and work. After the war, he performed in small London theaters and studied painting at the Borough Polytechnic at Saint Martin’s School of Art and at the Royal College of Art. Auerbach’s early work focused on the human figure and numerous building sites in the British capital scarred by the war and undergoing reconstruction. In 1956 he had his first solo exhibition at the Beaux Arts Gallery. He quickly became known for his thick application of paint. In the 1960s he began employing brighter colors and scraping down entire canvases rather than working on top of previous attempts, often spending months or years on a single painting. Recurring subjects are regular portrait sitters, Primrose Hill (a part of Regent’s Park in north London), and the streets of Camden Town, where he has been living and working since 1954. He still draws and paints 365 days a year.

Mornington Crescent with the Statue of Sickert’s Father-in-Law, 1966, depicts the area of North London in which Auerbach works, an area that has long captivated other artists such as Walter Sickert and the Camden Town Group. While Auerbach acknowledges this, he has stated that he doesn’t paint this area to ally himself with such history, rather that he simply sees London as a raw unpainted city. A streetlight can be seen at upper right, and the multitude of railings and lampposts in this view give the composition an almost grid-like formal structure, animated by the bright, bold pigments that Auerbach began to favor during the 1960s.

One of the most recent paintings in the exhibition, Mornington Crescent – Summer Morning, 2004 refers to the same location and captures the intense process of its making, with the use of large brushes to apply the paint energetically and rapidly. Elements of the composition – such as the windows and edges of buildings, rooftops, cars, and passersby – are highlighted with thick strokes. These straight marks contrast with the gestural quality of the marks that build up the large areas of the sky, road, and buildings.

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931) 'E. O. W. Nude' 1953-1954

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931)
E. O. W. Nude
1953-1954
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
50.8 × 76.8 cm (20 × 30 1/4 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1959
© Frank Auerbach, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

Auerbach studied with Bomberg longer than anyone else. He started at Borough Polytechnic in January 1947 and went to evening classes there until 1953, while officially attending St Martin’s School of Art and the Royal College of Art. Auerbach said he learnt from Bomberg not technique but ‘a sense of the grand standards of painting.’ He developed a distinctive manner of painting in which thick paint is given an independent reality of its own, as well as being used as a means of representing a physical object.

September 2004

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931) 'Self-Portrait' 1958

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931)
Self-Portrait
1958
Charcoal and paper collage
77.2 × 56.5 cm (30 3/8 × 22 1/4 in.)
Courtesy of the Daniel Katz Gallery, London
© Frank Auerbach, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931) 'Study after Titian II' 196

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931)
Study after Titian II
1965
Oil on canvas
67.3 × 62.2 cm (26 1/2 × 24 1/2 in.)
Tate: Presented by the executors of the estate of David Wilkie 1993
© Frank Auerbach, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

Both this painting and the related work, ‘Study after Titian I’, shown nearby, were inspired by Titian’s ‘Tarquin and Lucretia’. Although the original work exists in two versions, one being in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, Wilkie specified that the version in question was the one in the Akademie der Bildenden Künst in Vienna. Titian’s subject is Tarquin’s rape of Lucretia. Auerbach created his versions of that image by working from a reclining female model who adopted the pose of Lucretia, and from a drawing made from a reproduction of the original work. In both works a gash in the paint surface forcefully conveys a sense of violence and violation.

September 2004

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931) 'J. Y. M. Seated No. 1' 1981

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931)
J. Y. M. Seated No. 1
1981
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
71.1 × 61 cm (28 × 24 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1981
© Frank Auerbach, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

The subject of this painting is Juliet Yardley Mills (JYM), Auerbach’s principal model since 1963. Auerbach has completed over seventy portraits and studies of Mills. This, the first of three paintings of her executed in 1981, was completed in about twenty sittings. As in nearly all his studies of her, Mills is shown looking out of the picture and is seen slightly from below. In contrast to Auerbach’s earlier paintings, in which the paint surface is built up to a thick accretion, this portrait demonstrates the freedom of drawing and fluid movement of paint which characterise his later style.

August 2004

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931) 'Self-Portrait II' 2010

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931)
Self-Portrait II
2010
Graphite on paper
76.5 × 57.5 cm (30 1/8 × 22 5/8 in.)
Private Collection
© Frank Auerbach, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art

 

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)

R. B. Kitaj was born in Cleveland. After high school Kitaj sailed extensively as a merchant seaman and served in the U.S. Army in Europe. Between those assignments he studied painting at Cooper Union and the Academy of Fine Art, Vienna. Following his army stint, he moved to England to attend the Ruskin School, Oxford, and the Royal College of Art, London. His first exhibition was held at Marlborough Fine Art in 1963. It was around this time that Kitaj met Andrews, Auerbach, Bacon, Freud, and Kossoff, who were also with the gallery. During the early 1960s Kitaj concentrated on combining figurative imagery with abstraction and began to incorporate collage into his paintings, drawing on photography and cinema and referring to historical events and political circumstances. In the mid-1970s he began to work increasingly from life, moving away from complex compositions to more straightforward figure studies. During the late 1980s he continued to read widely in Jewish culture – studying Walter Benjamin, Sigmund Freud, and Franz Kafka – and positioned himself more explicitly as a Jewish artist. In 1989 he published his First Diasporist Manifesto, analyzing the Jewish dimension in his art and his role as an outsider. In 1997 he left London and moved to Los Angeles, where he died in 2007.

Cecil Court, London W.C.2. (The Refugees), 1983-84 is set in the London thoroughfare famous for its secondhand bookshops and a favorite haunt of Kitaj. The artist is shown reclining on a sofa in the foreground, while figures from his life jump out in the background. Kitaj has explained that this theatrical composition was inspired by the peripatetic troupes of the Yiddisher Theatre in Central Europe, which he had learned about from his grandparents and from Kafka’s diaries.

The Wedding 1989-93 is a major work by Kitaj that brings together crucial themes in his practice – including his Jewish identity and his friendships and associations as a School of London artist. Depicting Kitaj’s wedding to the American artist Sandra Fisher (1947-94), which took place in 1983, the painting prominently depicts School of London artists Freud, Kossoff, and David Hockney, painters who were linked by both friendship and shared artistic concerns.

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) 'Erasmus Variations' 1958

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)
Erasmus Variations
1958
Oil on canvas
104.9 × 84.2 cm (41 5/16 × 33 1/8 in.)
Tate: Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Tate 2007
© R.B. Kitaj Estate, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

The work’s title refers to the initial source for the image, a series of doodles the Dutch humanist scholar Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) made in the margins of a manuscript he was annotating. Kitaj encountered Erasmus’s scribbled faces in one of the first books he read while in Oxford, the biography of the scholar by the historian Johan Huizinga (1872-1945). Kitaj’s composition follows the grid-like arrangement imposed on Erasmus’s doodles in the reproduction in Huizinga’s book, and his faces have broadly the same exaggerated features as those drawn by Erasmus.

To Kitaj, Erasmus’s absent-minded doodles suggested a prefiguration of the method of automatic drawing (that is, drawing made without the intervention of reason) that would later be favoured by the surrealists. In Erasmus Variations, the artist employs a loose and gestural method of painting evocative of abstract expressionism. The work thus links the surrealist belief that automatic drawing provides an insight into the workings of the mind with a similar idea implied in gestural abstraction: that the artwork reveals the personality of the artist (Livingstone, 2010, pp.16-7).

Kitaj derived the style and technique of painting that he used in Erasmus Variations specifically from the Dutch-born abstract expressionist painter Willem de Kooning (1904-97), in particular the images of female nudes de Kooning made in the late 1940s. Kitaj explained: ‘De Kooning’s surreal-automatic ‘Women’ were my favourite action paintings of the School of New York, a recalcitrant or truant of which I had been during my Manhattan years, and so I adapted something of that mode here; Double Dutch (Erasmus and De Kooning, both of Rotterdam).’ (Quoted in Livingstone, 2010, p. 232.)

Text from the Tate website

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) 'The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg' 1960

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)
The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg
1960
Oil, ink, graphite and paper on canvas
153 × 152.4 cm (60 1/4 × 60 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1980
© R.B. Kitaj Estate, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This is an early example of Kitaj’s many paintings on the theme of the unjust infliction of human suffering. Its ostensible subject is the murder in 1919 of the Jewish agitator and theoretician Rosa Luxemburg, who was killed by troops opposed to the revolutionary movement that swept Germany in the wake of the First World War. In the centre of this painting a figure holds Luxemburg’s corpse, while at top right is a collaged transcription of an account of the murder. Kitaj associated Luxemburg with his grandmother Helene, who was forced to flee Vienna in the 1930s. The veiled figure at top left represents his maternal grandmother, who fled Russia as a result of earlier pogroms of the Jewish people.

September 2004

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) 'Boys and Girls!' 1964

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)
Boys and Girls!
1964
Screen print on paper
Image: 52.7 × 41.3 cm (20 3/4 × 16 1/4 in.) Framed: 87 × 62.5 × 3 cm (34 1/4 × 24 5/8 × 1 3/16 in.)
Tate: Presented by Rose and Chris Prater through the Institute of Contemporary Prints 1975
© R.B. Kitaj Estate, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) 'The Rise of Fascism' 1975-1979

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)
The Rise of Fascism
1975-1979
Oil, charcoal and pastel on paper
85.1 × 158.4 cm (33 1/2 × 62 3/8 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1980
© R.B. Kitaj Estate, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

‘The central grotesque bather is the fascist. The bather at the left is the beautiful victim. The righthand bather is the ordinary European watching it all happen. A bomber appears in the upper left corner which will cross the English Channel and bring an end to it all one day.

‘The three figures were originally drawn on separate sheets of paper from women who posed for me in New York and London. Later, between 1975 and 1979, when I took it into my head to make a composition, I asked a few other women to assume the poses that would represent the bathers in fascist Europe. After the drawings were glued together, the images began to change many times.

Much of the drawing was ultimately invented but the pose of the righthand figure is based on a picture by the Cordoban painter Romero de Torres (d. 1930).’ ~ R. B. Kitaj

The method of fusing together drawings done on separate pieces of paper to produce a single image, which can be seen in several other pastels of this period … contributes to the ambiguous relationship, both physical and psychological, between the three figures… While one effect of this cutting and joining is to emphasise the fragmentary nature of the composition, Kitaj also makes use of the edges of the paper to reinforce contour and volume. When questioned about the extreme anatomical foreshortening in the torso of the left-hand bather the artist replied that it was in fact possible and that a source existed for it in a pornographic magazine. ‘The often unlikely joining’, Kitaj added, ‘of limbs and postures in Cézanne’s Bather compositions are also entrenched in one’s memory … but the pose was taken from the life.’

Text from the Tate website

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) 'Cecil Court, London W. C. 2. (The Refugees)' 1983-1984

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)
Cecil Court, London W. C. 2. (The Refugees)
1983-1984
Oil on canvas 183 × 183 cm (72 1/16 × 72 1/16 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1985
© R.B. Kitaj Estate, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This painting is set in Cecil Court, a street famous for its second-hand bookshops and a favourite haunt of the artist. It is one of many paintings made by Kitaj arising out of an increasing awareness of his own Jewishness. He wrote, ‘I have a lot of experience of refugees from Germany and that’s how this painting came about. My dad and grandmother … just barely escaped.’ The work shows the artist reclining on a sofa while figures from his life pop out of the street behind him. Kitaj has explained that this theatrical composition was inspired by the peripatetic troupes of the Yiddisher Theatre in Central Europe, which he had learned about from his grandparents and from in the diaries of the writer Franz Kafka.

September 2004

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) 'The Wedding' 1989-1993

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)
The Wedding
1989-1993
Oil on canvas
182.9 × 182.9 cm (72 × 72 in.)
Tate: Presented by the artist 1993
© R.B. Kitaj Estate, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This painting depicts the wedding of Kitaj and the American artist Sandra Fisher (1947-94) which took place in 1983, some six years before this painting was begun. The couple first met in Los Angeles, where Kitaj was teaching. Upon his return to London in 1972, they became reacquainted. Kitaj wrote the following text to accompany the painting’s exhibition in the 1994 Tate Gallery retrospective:
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Sandra and I were married in the beautiful old Sephardic Synagogue founded in London by Rembrandt’s friend, Menasseh ben Israel. Under the chupa (canopy), aside from my children and the Rabbi in top hat, Freud is on the left, Auerbach in the middle, then Sandra and me, and Hockney (best man) is to the right of us. Kossoff appears at the far right, transcribed from a drawing by John Lessore. I worked on the painting for years and never learned how to finish it even though painter friends, including most of those in the picture, gave me good advice about it which I took up and changed things all the time. In the end, instead of finishing it, I finished with it and gave it away to a deserving old friend.

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Kitaj has described Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon as ‘the most important influence’ on this picture, ‘not a source but a hovering presence’ (unpublished Board note presented to Tate Gallery Trustees, July 1993). The Wedding brings together several crucial themes in Kitaj’s art and thought, including his increasing awareness of his identity as a Jew. The prominent depiction of several of the so-called ‘School of London‘ artists relates to Kitaj’s identification of these artists as part of a group of painters who were linked by friendship, their response to great masters, their emphasis on drawing and their concern with the human subject.

Text from the Tate website

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) 'My Cities (An Experimental Drama)' 1990-1993

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)
My Cities (An Experimental Drama)
1990-1993
Oil on canvas
183.2 × 183.2 cm (72 1/8 × 72 1/8 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1997
© R.B. Kitaj Estate, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

For his 1994 Tate Gallery retrospective exhibition, Kitaj wrote the following text to accompany this picture:
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The three main actors represent myself in youth, middle age and old age. Behind them is a drop-curtain inscribed with historiated capital letters of cities where I’ve lived or loved. Over the course of a few years these capital letters (inspired by William Blake and the paintings of Victor Hugo) have been sublimated by white paint for the most part because they got too emphatic, so not they’re not too easy to read or even see, some of them representing faded (whitened) memories anyway. The idea for the painting comes from a page I’ve kept as long as I can remember, torn from a copy of the old American magazine Theater Arts, showing a scene from what is described as ‘an experimental drama’, ‘A Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden’ by Thornton Wilder. The catwalk stage upon which the figures tread and stumble through life becomes the roof of a baseball dugout in which I’ve tried half-heartedly to draw some of my demons (Don’t Ask!), colourless spectres only thinly isolated from the three leading players above as in a predella.

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The painting develops an idea in Kitaj’s 1960 A Reconstitution (private collection), whereby the map of the Americas is presented in a radically distorted form. In the earlier work, the map was prominent. In My Cities, however, it is virtually buried, running down the left side of the painting. The contour of the east coast of South America can be seen between the left and central figures. Although My Cities celebrates various places that were of special significance in Kitaj’s life, only the Americas are represented in map form…

Kitaj combines painting and drawing in a manner which recalls the techniques of Cézanne, Degas, Matisse and Giacometti. The lower or predella section of the picture relates to the theme of American baseball, which the artist views as a compelling human drama. The players sit in a limbo-like dugout, awaiting a call which may not come, or which, if it does, may lead to heaven or hell. Combined with the upper section, the predella contributes to a reading of the painting as an allegory of life.

Text from the Tate website

 

 

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20
Oct
13

Review: ‘Joyce Evans: Edge of the road’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 3rd October – 3rd November 2013

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At close range

This exhibition at the Monash Gallery of Art features the series Edge of the road by Melbourne photographer Joyce Evans. It is an intense, if less than fully successful, presentation of a body of work completed between 1988 and 1996. The photographs were made with a Widelux F7 35mm panoramic camera, a camera that has a rotating fixed focus lens (see images of the camera below). Rather than the normal horizontal panoramic orientation, Evans has mostly used the camera in a vertical orientation to shoot these images. At the same time she has twisted the camera along unfamiliar axes, sometimes on a diagonal line, which has produced unexpected distortion within the final images.

Evans professed aim in her artist statement (below) is to let go of control of what is captured by the camera, to let go of some previsualisation (what the photographer imagines that they want the photograph to be in their mind’s eye before they press the shutter) and rely on a certain amount of planning and chance. She cites the example of the American photographer Minor White (1908-1976) who popularised the idea of previsualisation as a means of aesthetically controlling the outcome of what the camera captures. Evans wants little of this and sees her photographs as using the camera’s inherent capabilities to image the minutiae of the world, using “the camera’s capacity to see detail, which in the 60th of a second of the firing of the shutter my subconscious may perceive, but may not fully know.” In this sense, the artist is appealing to Walter Benjamin’s idea of film serving as an optical unconscious, a medium that captures everyday objects of ordinary experience which are revealed as strange and unsettling, a “different” nature presenting itself to the camera than to the naked eye.1 As Richard Prouty has noted, “Film changed how we view the least significant minutiae of reality just as surely as Freud’s Psychopathology of Everyday Life changed how we look at incidental phenomenon like slips of the tongue.”2

This enrichment of human perception by a scientific technology, the camera, happens at a level below human recognition, for although the retina frequently receives these aspects, they are not transformed into information by the perceptive system.3 “These new technical images helped discover hitherto unknown – ie. unacknowledged and analysed by perception and therefore restricted to the space of the unconscious or, as he [Benjamin] called it, of an “optical unconscious” – movements and dimensions of reality.”4 In other words, these new technical images may include information that was not retained, processed or even intended by the operator (hence the hoped for serendipity of the images). These images then surprise with the unexpected. As François Arago has observed, “When observers apply a new instrument to the study of nature, what they had hoped for is always but little compared with the successions of discoveries of which the instrument becomes the source – in such matters it is on the unexpected that one can especially count.”5 This is evidenced in Evans photographs through the POTENTIAL of chance. Not chance itself, but the potential of chance of the optical unconscious (of film) to capture something unexpected.

I must disagree with Evans, however, about the photographic process of Minor White and the process of “letting go” that she proposes to adhere to in this body of work. In fact, I would go so far as to invert her rationalisation. Having studied the work of Minor White and visited his archive at Princeton University Museum of Art I understand that previsualisation was strong in White’s photographs, but there was an ultimate letting go of control when he opened the shutter to his camera. In meditation, he sought a connection from himself to the object, from the object back through the camera to form a Zen circle of connection which can be seen in one of his famous Canons: “Let the Subject generate its own Composition.” Then something (spirit?) might take over. This is the ultimate in paradoxical letting go of control for a photographer – to previsualise something, to see it on the ground glass, to capture it on film, to then print it out to find that there is something amorphous in the negative and in the print that you cannot quite put your finger on. Some indefinable element that is not chance, not the unexpected, but spirit itself. Evans photographs are not of this order.

What these photographs are about is an intimate view of the land and our relationship to it, an examination of something that is very close to the artist, but evidenced through the subjectivity of the artist’s control and the objectivity of the cameras optical unconscious. They are shot “at close range,” the picture being taken very close (both physically and psychologically) to the person who is taking the photograph. In their multifaceted perspectives – some images, such as Flood on Murray River on Wodonga side, Victoria (1996) have double horizon lines – the viewer is immersed in the disorientating sweep of the landscape. The photographs become almost William Robinson-esque in their panoramic distortion of both time and space. For example, the descent from the light of the trees, to ferns, to the mulch of palaeontological existence in Mount Bulla Ferns, Victoria (1996, below) is particulalry effective, as is the booted front prints of Anzses Trip, Talaringa Springs, Great Victorian Desert, South Australia (1993, below). The transition of time is further emphasised by the inclusion of the film sprocket holes in some of the works, such as Pine Barbed Wire Fence and Orchard, Tyabb, Mornington Peninsula (1992, below). However, out of the thirteen photographs presented from the series some photographs, such as Bin, Toorak, Victoria (1990, below) simply do not work, for the image is too didactic in its political and aesthetic definition.

At their best these photographs capture an intensity that is at the boundary of some threshold of understanding (edge of the road, no man’s land, call it whatever you will or the artist wills) of our European place in this land, Australia. There are no bare feet on the ground, only booted footprints, barbed wire, gravel roads, dustbins, tyre tracks and hub caps. The reproductions do not do the work justice. One has to stand in front of these complex images to appreciate their scale and impact on the viewer. They resist verbal description, for only when standing in front of the best of these images does one observe in oneself a sense of disorientation, as though you are about to step off the edge of the world. They do not so much attempt to capture the energy of the landscape but our fragmented and possessive relation to it.

Ultimately, Evans photographs are highly conceptual photographs. Despite protestations to the contrary her photographs are about the control of the photographer with the potential of chance (through the recognition of the process of the optical unconscious of the camera) used knowingly by the artist to achieve the results that she wants. They are about the control of humans over landscape. Evans knows her medium, she knows the propensities of her camera, she plans each shot and despite not knowing exactly what she will get, she roughly knows what they results will be when she tilts the lens of her camera along different axes. These are not emotionally evocative landscapes but, because of the optical unconscious embedded in their construction, they are intimate, political statements about our relationship to the land.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Marcus is a friend of Joyce Evans

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Many thankx to Joyce Evans and Monash Gallery of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Joyce Evans. 'Wilcannia, New South Wales' 1990

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Joyce Evans
Wilcannia, New South Wales
1990
Silver gelatin photograph
© Joyce Evans

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Joyce Evans. 'Wilcannia, New South Wales' 1990

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Joyce Evans
Wilcannia, New South Wales
1990
Silver gelatin photograph
© Joyce Evans

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Holden,-Victoria-1990-WEB

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Joyce Evans
Holden, Victoria
1990
Silver gelatin photograph
© Joyce Evans

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“Evidenced in these photographs is one of the things that attracted me to photography – namely, its ability to capture the millisecond. While there are many schools of photography, the one popularised by the American photographer Minor White (1908-1976) suggests that the photographer pre-visualises the image prior to pressing the shutter. In other words, the photographer is in control and is the controller of what is captured by the camera. In terms of the resolution of the final image this is technically an important concept. However aesthetically, I enjoy the camera’s capacity to see detail, which in the 60th of a second of the firing of the shutter my subconscious may perceive, but may not fully know.

This appreciation of aesthetics goes back to my university days in 1969-71 when I did a degree in fine arts at Sydney University. Here the ability to deconstruct imagery was passed on to us by Dr Anton Wilhelm and the understanding of the limits and potentials of two-dimensional imagery (with constant reference to the picture plane), was demonstrated by Professor Bernard Smith. This understanding was further enhanced when I painted at the Bakery Art School in Sydney, 1977-78. Studying under the inspiring tutelage of John Olsen (b.1928) he made me aware of the power of the edge of the image to relate to what was not shown in the image.

This awareness is reflected in the exhibition through my fascination with, and imaging of, the Edge of the Road, that no man’s land which has a rarely noticed life of its own. I use the 180 degree vista of the Widelux camera, with its ability to capture elongated elements of the landscape, to conceptually explore the lack of control that is offered by the camera. The results are serendipitous: the cigarette butts, the spiders home, the intruding foot, the fecund compost under snow laden ferns. All of these elements combine with the time freeze of the camera to image places of survival and change.

While the images may not be fully visualised they rely on both planning and chance. I choose to point the camera at the subject and let the ‘snap’ of the shutter do the rest. The images that emerge from the flow of time are images that I have imagined in my mind but which the camera has interpreted through an (ir)rational act: the fixity of the image frame challenged by the very act of taking the photograph at the edge of consciousness. As such they ask the question of the viewer: what exactly is being imaged and did it really exist in the first place?”

Joyce Evans with Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Joyce Evans 'Edge of the road' installation photographs and artist talk at Monash Gallery of Art

Joyce Evans 'Edge of the road' installation photographs and artist talk at Monash Gallery of Art

Joyce Evans 'Edge of the road' installation photographs and artist talk at Monash Gallery of Art

Shaune Lakin, Director of the Monash Gallery of Art, speaking to the assembled

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Shaune Lakin, Director of the Monash Gallery of Art, speaking to the assembled

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Joyce Evans 'Edge of the road' installation photographs and artist talk at Monash Gallery of Art

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Joyce Evans Edge of the road installation photographs and artist talk at Monash Gallery of Art.
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

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View of the Widelux F7 camera

View of the Widelux F7 camera

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Two views of the Widelux F7 camera

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marcus-posting

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Shaune Lakin, Director of the Monash Gallery of Art, speaking to the photographer Joyce Evans
Photo: Jason Blake

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“Joyce Evans (b. 1929) has been a key figure in Australian photography for many decades. As a gallerist, Evans introduced audiences to the work of many young and established photographers, and as a photographer she has assiduously documented the Australian landscape and the Australian cultural scene.

Evans’s initial contribution to photography in Australia was largely as an advocate for the medium. She established Church Street Photographic Centre in 1976, which became one of Australia’s most significant commercial photographic galleries. Church Street encourage a broad interest in photography and assisted the careers of many of Australia’s most important photographers. At Church Street. Evans also introduced Melbourne audiences to the work of many of the key figures in international photography, including Julia Margaret Cameron, Eugène Atget, Alfred Steiglitz, Berenice Abbott, Paul Strand, Brett Weston, Henri Cartier-Bresson and André Kertész.

Evans devised to become a photographer well before she opened Church Street. But it was in the early 1980s that she began to focus more productively on her own practice. This exhibition includes a selection of colour photographs drawn from the MGA Collection, each of which demonstrates Evans’s quite formal interest in landscape. The exhibition mainly features the series Edge of the road, large panoramic prints that have only rarely been exhibited and which reflect a decidedly different photographic relationship to landscape.

Evans’s landscapes are often political. They reflect her keen interest in the way that we relate to land, and engage with the politics of Indigenous land ownership. Evans is also interested in the way that landscape has featured in Australian art history, and often draws on the work and lessons of the legendary painter of abstract landscapes John Olsen, who taught her during the 1960s.

A fine example is Edge of the road, a series of landscapes made between 1988 and 1996 with a Widelux F7 35mm camera. The Widelux is a swing-lens panoramic camera which provides only basic functionality. Its rotating lens is fixed focus at 3.3 metres. Evans embraced these limitations, and in fact played with them by introducing chance to the photographic process. During exposure Evans twisted her camera, sometimes on a diagonal line which produced unexpected distortion. Rather than the straight vertical or horizontal axis usually associated with panoramic photographs, the axis of some of these landscapes chops and changes. In doing so, Evans is attempting to capture the energy of the landscape. These large panoramas were printed by the artist and her assistant Christian Alexander in her darkroom.”

Wall text from the exhibition

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Joyce Evans. 'Bin, Toorak, Victoria' 1990

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Joyce Evans
Bin, Toorak, Victoria
1990
Silver gelatin photograph
© Joyce Evans

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Joyce Evans. 'Anzses Trip, Talaringa Springs, Great Victorian Desert, South Australia' 1993

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Joyce Evans
Anzses Trip, Talaringa Springs, Great Victorian Desert, South Australia
1993
Silver gelatin photograph
© Joyce Evans

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Joyce Evans. 'Pine Barbed Wire Fence and Orchard, Tyabb, Mornington Peninsula' 1992

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Joyce Evans
Pine Barbed Wire Fence and Orchard, Tyabb, Mornington Peninsula
1992
Silver gelatin photograph
© Joyce Evans

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Mount-Bulla-Ferns,-Victoria-1996-WEB

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Joyce Evans
Mount Bulla Ferns, Victoria
1996
Silver gelatin photograph
© Joyce Evans

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1. Prouty, Richard. “The Optical Unconscious,” on the One-Way Street blog, October 16th 2009 [Online] Cited 20th October 2013. http://onewaystreet.typepad.com/one_way_street/2009/10/the-optical-unconscious.html

2. Ibid.,

3. Flores, Victor. “Optical unconscious,” on the Fundação Côa Parque website [Online] Cited 20th October 2013.
http://www.arte-coa.pt/index.php?Language=en&Page=Saberes&SubPage=ComunicacaoELinguagemImagem&Menu2=Autores&Slide=39

4. Ibid.,

5. Arago, Francois. “Rapport sur le daguerréotype,” in AA.VV. Du Bon Usage de la Photographie: une anthologie de textes. Paris: Centre National de la Photographie, 1987, p. 14 quoted in Flores, op. cit.,

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Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill
Victoria 3150 Australia
T: + 61 3 8544 0500

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri: 10am – 5pm
Sat – Sun: 12pm – 5pm
Mon/public holidays: closed

Monash Gallery of Art website

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17
Sep
13

Exhibition: ‘Lifelike’ at The Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas

Exhibition dates: 23rd June – 22nd September 2013

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Life (like).

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“For the French theorist Jean Baudrillard, this consciousness of construction finds its most powerful expression in the concept of hyperreality. To appreciate Baudrillard’s view, recall the treatment of literary deconstruction… Deconstruction therorists propose that words gain their meaning through their reference to other words; literary works gain their significance by the way they are related to other writings. Thus language does not derive its character from reality, but from other language. Now consider the media – newspapers, television, the movies, radio. For Baudrillard, media portrayals of the world are not driven by the way the world “is,” but by the steadily emerging histories of portrayal itself. As these histories unfold, each new lamination is influenced by the preceding, accounts are layered upon accounts, and reality is transformed into hyperreality. For example, Baudrillard asks, what is the reality of the “Holocaust”? One cannot deny that certain events took place, but as time goes on these events become subject to myriad re-presentations. Diaries become subject to redefinition by television and movies; biographies influence the writing of historical novels; narrated history is transformed into plays, and each “telling” lays the experiental groundwork for subsequent retellings. Realities accumulate, accentuate, interpenetrate, and ultimately create the world of hyperreality – itself in continuous evolution into the future. We feel we possess an intimate acquaintance of the events in themselves; they are sharply etched in our consciousness. For Baudrillard, however, this consciousness moves increasingly toward hyperreality.

And thus the culture opens to the possibility of selves as artifacts of hyperreality. As political events, health and illness, and world history slip from the realm of the concrete into the domain of representation, so a commitment to obdurate selves becomes increasingly difficult to maintain. What, after all, is the reality of our motives, intentions, thoughts, attitudes, and the like? …

As we find, the current texts of the self are built upon those of preceding eras, and they in turn upon more distant forms of discourse. In the end we have no way of “getting down to the self as it is.” And thus we edge toward the more unsettling question: On what grounds can we assume that beneath the layers of accumulated understandings there is, in fact, an obdurate “self” to be located? The object of understanding has been absorbed into the world of representations.”

Gergen, Kenneth. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York: Harper Collins, 1991, pp.121-122.

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Many thankx to The Blanton Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the artwork in this posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the art.

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Daniel Douke. 'Ace' 1979

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Daniel Douke
Ace
1979
Acrylic on masonite
8 x 8 x 12 1/4 in.
Courtesy Minnesota Museum of American Art, Saint Paul

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Evan Penny. '(Old) No One – in Particular #6, Series 2' 2005

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Evan Penny
(Old) No One – in Particular #6, Series 2
2005
Silicone, pigment, hair, aluminium
40 x 32 x 7 1/2 in.
© Evan Penny
Courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York

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Vija Celmins. 'Eraser' 1967

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Vija Celmins
Eraser
1967
Acrylic on balsa wood
6 5/8 x 20 x 3 1/8 in.
Collection Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA
Gift of Avco Financial Services, Newport Beach

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Maurizio Cattelan. 'Untitled' 2001

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Maurizio Cattelan
Untitled
2001
Stainless steel, composition wood, electric motor, electric light, electric bell, computer
23 1/2 x 33 5/8 x 18 5/8 in.
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York

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Keith Edmier. 'Bremen Towne' 2008

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Keith Edmier
Bremen Towne
2008
Installation dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist and Friedrich Petzel Gallery

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Bremen Towne was an idea I’d been thinking about prior to [my 2008] show at Bard College. It had been floating in my head for a number of years based on the sales brochure of my parents’ home I had obtained around 1999 off of eBay. It was just one of these things I had around… I didn’t really have the idea of constructing this house back then… As it turned out, the interior dimensions of my parents’ home from the original blueprints fit directly into one of the galleries at the museum. At that point I started considering it more as an art object, or as a sculpture more than an installation… The main visual references were family photographs, mostly taken during critical events or holidays or birthday parties. My process involved going through the photo album – everything. They were all pictures of people posing, so I started looking at the spaces [in the background]… I ended up buying the whole decade of both Sears and JCPenney catalogues up until that time, the early ’70s. Through that I was able to identify some products based on visual descriptions or in the family photographs… I initially went to a place that has all kinds of wallpapers and floorings from other periods, used a lot for movies and things like that. I heard they had thousands of wallpapers. It turned out I couldn’t find the exact wallpaper that was in the house. I guess at that point I started thinking it was more interesting for me to remake it, and to remake it more or less new. I wanted to represent the time element, the moment before the day of the family moving into the new house. It wasn’t supposed to look lived in.

I think I was initially interested in doing that to have some kind of separation from taking a real object that was loaded with personal history or some sentimental thing. It was a way of moving from a subjective to an objective position… [I was interested] in just thinking about the whole interior of the house itself as a cast, or this negative space. I thought about how the house is essentially the space that shapes us, that shapes oneself… I think that my reason to make it, or to make almost anything, went beyond just the visual aspects of it, or the idea of re-creating an illusion of the thing. I’ve always been more interested in a certain level of representation or pictorial literalness… I like words or descriptions like “actual” or “actual scale.” I like the idea of “what is real?” (Text from the Walker Art Center website)

Keith Edmier

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“The exhibition Lifelike, on view at the Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin June 23 to September 22, 2013, invites a close examination of artworks based on commonplace objects and situations, which are startlingly realistic, but often made of unusual materials in unexpected sizes.

Organized by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, this international, multigenerational group exhibition features 75 works from the 1960s to the present by leading figures in contemporary art, such as Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter, James Casebere, Vija Celmins, Keith Edmier, Robert Gober, Ron Mueck, Mungo Thomson, and Ai Weiwei, and illuminates artists’ enduring fascination with realism.

Avoiding the flashiness embraced by 1960s Pop Artists and the slick urban scenes introduced at that time by the Photorealists, the contemporary artists in Lifelike investigate often overlooked items and moments as subject matter: a paper bag, an eraser, an apple core, a waiting roo, an afternoon nap. Favouring a handmade, labour intensive practice rather than technological enhancements, the works in the exhibition – including painting, sculpture, photography, drawing and video – transform the seemingly ordinary into something beguiling, loaded with narrative and metaphor.

The exhibition explores the many ways artists have pursued realism through a range of media. Some artists featured, such as Vija Celmins, Chuck Close, and Peter Rostovsky, paint from photographs, creating works that exhibit an astonishing degree of likeness and detail. Others work in sculpture often fashioning objects from materials that belie the pedestrian nature of the subject – Ai Weiwei’s jar of hundreds of sunflower seeds, hand painted on to cast porcelain, or Tom Friedman’s bee, made out of clay, plastic, and paint. In photography, artists including James Casebere and Isaac Layman play with the hyperreal, through fabricated scenes or clever layering of images. In video, artists including Thomas Demand and Jeon Joonho create moving images that at first seem familiar, but deceive us through sly use of animation.

Conspicuously absent in most of the works in Lifelike is a reliance on technological intervention. Instead, in seemingly inverse proportion to the ease of producing goods for the marketplace, many artists are slowing and complicating their own working methods, remaking banal things into objects of fixation and desire: Catherine Murphy’s details of textured fabric on the seat of a chair, or Ron Mueck’s strikingly “real” sculpture – down to the last hair and pore – of human subjects. Frequently these artists work from photographs, but just as often, their inspiration is the observed world, and the notion that a tangible, perhaps ephemeral object or moment can somehow be brought back to life – reinterpreted through the artist’s hand as re-made readymades.

To address the nuances of this subject, the exhibition presents several key conceptual sections:

Common Objects gathers a group of late 1960s and early 1970s works that borrowed strategies from Pop, but rejected that movement’s brand-name emphasis in favor of conceptual, more process-oriented approaches to subject matter.

Another section presents the notion of  The Uncanny, which features work by a generation of artists in the 1980s and 1990s who inflected realism with a psychologically-laden, surreal sensibility, such as Robert Gober’s child-sized chair and flower-covered box of tissues, resting mysteriously atop a floor drain; or Charles Ray’s disarming photograph of himself as a mannequin.

A third section entitled Realism into Abstraction presents a range of works by artists such as Peter Rostovsky, Catherine Murphy and Tauba Auerbach, in which lushly painted surfaces such as velvet curtains, the seat of a chair, and other ordinary items are cropped in such a way that they resemble abstract paintings, their original sources difficult to discern.

Handmade Sleight of Hand, the fourth section, presents work by artists who make objects that are indistinguishable from their real-life counterparts, but made with the traditional techniques of painting, sculpture, or drawing. Highlights include Jud Nelson’s trash bag carved from Carrara marble and Susan Collis’s checkered plastic shopping bag painstakingly rendered in ballpoint pen on paper.

A fifth section, Special Effects: The Real as Spectacle, presents artists making work that engages an instant response – be it astonishment, fear, confusion, or delight – through their surprising size or unusual installation.”

Press release from The Blanton Museum of Art website

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Peter Rostovsky. 'Curtain' 2010

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Peter Rostovsky
Curtain
2010
Oil on linen
72 x 48 in.
Courtesy of the artist

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What does it mean in Warholian fashion to “want to be a machine,” to long for a kind of inhumanity that has to be constantly performed and repeated? Is this not a radical disavowal of an all too human vulnerability? Can we not read in the mechanical appeals of photorealism a kind of excessive sentimentality, a naïve expressionism that uses the camera and the photograph as a shield against trauma?

And likewise in expressionism’s hyperbolic restatement of its humanity, is there not a silent concession to its opposite, a founding anxiety about inauthenticity, a mortal dread regarding the total triumph of simulation and technology?

However, it is important to stress that these are unfulfilled desires. No photorealist painting completely fools the viewer into the fact that it is machine-made; it entertains the fantasy, much like electronic music. And each autonomous artwork is only a temporary escape, a utopian space, “an orchid in the land of technology,” to borrow a phrase that Walter Benjamin applied to the illusion of reality in film.

What these two positions in fact represent are two negative theologies that stand as sentinels, forever pointing to and away from a traumatically unresolved subject position – a position of the never sufficiently technological, and the never completely human. They are both Romantic positions and should be read as such: as positions of longing and disavowal, not of identity.

Why would this be important to emphasize? Because it answers the familiar question asked to every painter painting photographs. It’s not about the ends, it’s about the means. It’s about the performance of painting that re-states the position, not the photolike product that it yields. In other words, it’s about trying and failing to be a machine. Therein resides the futility and poetic nature of the practice. The failure marks the fragility and evanescence of the subject negatively, knowing that the alternative is to misname, to misrepresent, to conjure the opposite. This poetic is more latent, and seldom acknowledged in art that aspires toward indifference and inhumanity, but I hope that I have shown that every tin man has a heart, just like every photorealist hides an abstract painter.  (Text from the Walker Art Center website)

Peter Rostovsky

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Matt Johnson. 'American Spirit' 2010

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Matt Johnson
American Spirit
2010
Paper, plastic, foam, paint, and magnets
1 x 3 1/2 x 2 1/4 in.
Edition of 3
Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
Photo credit: Joshua White
© Matt Johnson

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Ron Mueck. 'Untitled (Seated Woman)' 1999

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Ron Mueck
Untitled (Seated Woman)
1999
Silicone, acrylic, polyurethane foam and fabric
25 1/4 x 17 x 16 1/2 in.
Collection of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

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Alex Hay. 'Paper Bag' 1968

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Alex Hay
Paper Bag
1968
Fiberglass, epoxy, paint, and paper
59 1/4 x 29 x 18 in.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
© Alex Hay
Courtesy of the artist and Peter Freeman, Inc., New York Photograph by Jerry L. Thompson

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Jonathan Seliger. 'Heartland' 2010

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Jonathan Seliger
Heartland
2010
Enamel on bronze
103 x 29 x 29 in.
Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY

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Yoshihiro Suda. 'Weeds' 2008

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Yoshihiro Suda
Weeds
2008
Painted on wood
Size varied according to site
© Yoshihiro Suda
Courtesy of Gallery Koyanagi, Tokyo

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The Blanton Museum of Art

The museum is located at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Congress Avenue and is open Tuesday though Friday from 10 AM – 5 PM, Saturday from 11 AM – 5 PM, and Sunday from 1 – 5 PM. Thursdays are free admission days and every third Thursday the museum is open until 9 PM.

The Blanton Museum of Art website

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26
Jan
13

Exhibition: ‘Flatlands: photography and everyday space’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney

Exhibition dates: 13th September 2012 – 3rd February 2013

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This posting contains one of my favourite early works by Fiona Hall, Leura, New South Wales (1974, below) which is redolent of all the themes that would be expressed in the later work – an alien landscape that examines “the relationship between humankind and nature and the symbolic role of the [fecund] garden in western iconography.” In her work the “nature” of things (plants, money, videotape, plumbing fittings, birds nests, etc…) are re/classified, re/ordered and re/labelled.

Another stunning photograph in this posting is Minor White’s Windowsill daydreaming (1958, below). It is one of my favourite images of all time: because of the power of observation (to be able to recognise, capture and present such a manifestation!); because of the images formal beauty; and because of its metaphysical nature – a poetry full of esoteric allusions, one that addresses a very profound subject matter that is usually beyond ordinary knowledge or understanding. This alien presence, like the structure of an atom, is something that lives beyond the edges of our consciousness, some presence that hovers there, that we can feel and know yet can never see. Is it our shadow, our anima or animus? This is one of those rare photographs that will always haunt me.

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Many thankx to the Art Gallery of New South Wales for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All text accompanying photographs © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007.

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Cecil Bostock (Australia 1884–1939) 'Phenomena' c. 1938

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Cecil Bostock Australia 1884-1939
Phenomena
c. 1938
gelatin silver photograph
26.3 x 30.5cm
Gift of Max Dupain 1980

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Bostock remains an enigmatic personality in Australian pictorial and early modernist photography. This is at least in part due to his body of work being scattered on his death in 1939 as it was auctioned to cover his debts. Fortunately Phenomena was left to his former assistant Max Dupain who had worked with him from 1930 to 1933.

Phenomena was one of 11 photographs Bostock exhibited with the Contemporary Camera Groupe and it was placed in the window at David Jones along with other photographs such as Plum blossom 1937 by Olive Cotton and Mechanisation of art by Laurence Le Guay. Phenomena is a wonderful modernist work with its plays of light and dark and disorienting shapes and curving lines. It is impossible to tell exactly how the shapes are made or where the light is coming from, nor what the objects are. It could easily be exhibited upside down where the viewer could be looking down on objects arranged on a flat surface. Phenomena is a tribute to Bostock’s restless, inventive and exacting abilities.

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Fiona Hall. 'Leura, New South Wales' 1974

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Fiona Hall Australia b.1953
Leura, New South Wales
1974
Gelatin silver photograph
27.8cm x 27.8cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney purchased 1981
© Fiona Hall

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The rich tones and fine detail of Leura, New South Wales were made possible by Hall’s use of a large-format nineteenth-century view camera. The antiquated technology, once used by colonial photographers to document nature and the taming of the Australian landscape, here records instead the verdant foliage of a floral-patterned couch and carpet. Made at the beginning of Hall’s career, it demonstrates her burgeoning interest in the representation of nature. The relationship between humankind and nature and the symbolic role of the garden in western iconography has since been a recurrent theme in her work, which ranges across photography, sculpture and installation. Leura… differs from Hall’s other photographs in that it documents a “found” object. Hall’s later works, such as The Antipodean suite 1981 and her large-format polaroids of 1985, are of her own constructions and sculptures. Her Paradisus terrestris series 1989-90, 1996, 1999, of aluminium repousse sculptures takes the garden of Eden as its subject and treats it as an Enlightenment florilegium, wherein nature is classified, ordered and labelled. This kind of botanical transcription, like photography, was the process through which the alien Australian landscape was ‘naturalised’ by its colonists – a process which Hall wryly comments on in this acutely observed encounter within a domestic interior.

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David Moore. 'Light pattern, camera in motion' c. 1948, printed 1997

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David Moore Australia 1927 – 2003
Light pattern, camera in motion
c. 1948, printed 1997
Gelatin silver photograph
50.7cm x 40.3cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Gift of Karen, Lisa, Michael and Matthew Moore, 2004

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Simryn Gill. From 'A long time between drinks' 2005

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Simryn Gill Singapore/Malaysia/Australia b.1959
From A long time between drinks
2005
Portfolio of 13 offset prints
29.8cm x 29.7cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
© Simryn Gill

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Among Simryn Gill’s multi-disciplinary explorations of identity and belonging, investigations of suburban locations carry a particular resonance due to their often autobiographical nature. A long time between drinks 2009 is an intensely focused look at suburban Adelaide which was the artist’s first experience of Australia when she arrived in 1987 from Kuala Lumpur, and the city where she first exhibited. Gill returned to Adelaide in 2005 to revisit this early point of contact, producing an evocative series of 13 images.

The photographs impart an ostensible sense of alienation and isolation that corresponds to the artist’s position as an outsider looking in. Gill’s viewpoint of these empty streets that seem to lead nowhere is forensic and detached. But surprisingly, as repetitious compositions and details culminate across the photographs, the prosaic subject matter becomes increasingly surreal, abstract and even poetic.

As Sambrani Chaitanya has stated, “Gill’s work is an investigation of the limits of categorisation,”1 and this group of works, just as in Gill’s examination of Marrickville (where she now lives) in May 2006, emphasises the difficulty of defining an idea of place through mere description. Memory, time and pure invention are required to fill in the gaps. The eerie, yet evocative environment in these photographic prints is further enhanced by their presentation in a square box emulating those of sets of vinyl LP recordings.

1. Sambrani, C “Other realties, someone else’s fictions: the tangled art of Simryn Gill,” [Online], Art and Australia Vol.42, No.2, Summer 2004, p.220/

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David Stephenson USA/Australia b1955 'Sant’ivo alla Sapienza 1645-50 Rome, Italy' 1997

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David Stephenson USA/Australia b.1955
Sant’ivo alla Sapienza 1645-50 Rome, Italy
1997
From the series Domes 1993-2005
Type C photograph
55 × 55 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney purchased with funds provided by Joanna Capon and the Photography Collection Benefactors Program 2002
© David Stephenson

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With poetic symmetry the Domes series considers analogous ideas. It is a body of work which has been ongoing since 1993 and now numbers several hundred images of domes in countries including Italy, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, England, Germany and Russia. The typological character of the series reveals the shifting history in architectural design, geometry and space across cultures and time, demonstrating how humankind has continually sought meaning by building ornate structures which reference a sacred realm.2 Stephenson photographs the oculus – the eye in the centre of each cupola. Regardless of religion, time or place, this entry to the heavens – each with unique architectural and decorative surround – is presented as an immaculate and enduring image. Placed together, the photographs impart the infinite variations of a single obsession, while also charting the passage of history, and time immemorial.

2. Hammond V 2005, “The dome in European architecture,” in Stephenson D 2005, Visions of heaven: the dome in European architecture, Princeton Architectural Press, New York p.190

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“A new exhibition, Flatlands: photography and everyday space, examines photography’s role in transforming the way we perceive, organise and imagine the world. The 39 works by 23 Australian and international artists included in the exhibition have been drawn from the Gallery’s permanent collection of 20th century and contemporary photography.

Definitions of space have always depended on the scientific, social and cultural aspects of the human experience. At its birth in the 19th century, photography’s monocular vision was seen as the ultimate tool for representation and classification. Elusive phenomena such as distance, depth and emptiness seemed within grasp. Yet, limited to freezing single moments or viewpoints in time, the photograph’s ability to objectively represent the world was under question by the turn of the 20th century. Technological advancements, such as faster exposure times transformed the potential of the medium to not only show things that escaped the eye but new ways of seeing them as well.

Embracing partiality and ambivalence, modernist photography sought to capture the fragments, details and blurred boundaries in the expanses we call personal space. What the photograph began to reveal were dimensions which German cultural theorist Walter Benjamin described in 1931 as the ‘optical unconscious’ of reality. The works of photographers such as Melvin Vaniman, Frederick Evans, Harold Cazneaux, William Buckle, Franz Roh, Olive Cotton, David Moore, Josef Sudek, Minor White and Robert Rauschenberg explore the intangible in spaces which define our physical and spiritual relationship with reality. Windows, doorways, ceilings, staircases – these mundane and ordinary passageways suddenly acquire a centrality and metaphysical depth normally denied to them.

The edges between sacred and profane, public and private, natural and artificial, real and dreamed environments became further entangled in the subjective visions of late 20th century and contemporary photographic work. For Daido Moriyama, Fiona Hall, Pat Brassington, Simryn Gill, Christine Godden, Geoff Kleem, Leonie Reisberg, Ingeborg Tyssen, David Stephenson and Justine Varga, space is seen to be a product of the perception of the individual. Photographs are able to reveal realms outside of the scientific – that is those created by emotion, memory and desire.

As Fiona Hall commented in 1996, our belief might be maintained, for at least as long as the image can hold our attention, in the possibility of inhabiting a world as illusory as the two-dimensional one of the photograph.” Collectively, these images destabilise naturalised certainties while activating the imaginary dimension and the unsettling, albeit poetic potential of photography to impact and alter our view of the world.”

Press release from the AGNSW website

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Olive Cotton Australia 1911-2003 'By my window' 1930

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Olive Cotton Australia 1911-2003
By my window
1930
Gelatin silver photograph
20.3 x 15.1cm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2006

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Olive Cotton. 'Skeleton Leaf' 1964

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Olive Cotton Australia 1911-2003
Skeleton Leaf
1964
Gelatin silver photograph
24.7 × 19.6 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2006
© artist’s estate

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Minor White America 1908-1976 'Christmas ornament, Batavia, New York, January 1958' 1958

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Minor White America 1908-1976
Christmas ornament, Batavia, New York, January 1958
1958
From the portfolio Sound of one hand 1960-1965
Gelatin silver photograph mounted on card
Gift of Patsy Asch 2005
Reproduction with permission of the Minor White Archive
© Princeton University Art Museum

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Minor White. 'Windowsill daydreaming' 1958

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Minor White American 1908-1976
Windowsill daydreaming
Rochester, New York, July 1958
From the portfolio Sound of one hand 1960-1965
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Reproduction with permission of the Minor White Archive
© Princeton University Museum of Art

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Informed by the esoteric arts, eastern religion and philosophy, Minor White’s belief in the spiritual qualities of photography made him an intensely personal and enigmatic teacher, editor and curator. White’s initial experience with photography was through his botanical studies at the University of Minnesota where he learned to develop and print photomicrography images, a view of life that he saw as akin to modern art forms. White advocated Stieglitz’s concept of ‘Equivalence’ in which form directly communicated mood and meaning, that ‘darkness and light, objects and spaces, carry spiritual as well as material meanings’.1 White disseminated his photographic theories through the influential quarterly journal ‘Aperture’, which he edited and co-founded with his contemporaries Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Beaumont Newhall and others.

Like Stieglitz, White also worked in sequences that through abstraction, expression and metaphor emphasised his mystical interpretation of the visual world. The sequences allow for a dialogue to continue through and in-between the images, engaging the viewer in a visual poem rather than any strict or formal narrative. The series, Sound of one hand, exemplifies White’s study of Zen and esoteric philosophies, reflecting his meditation of the Zen koan from which he saw rather than heard any sound. The first of the series, Metal ornament, Pultneyville, New York, October 1957 presents an abstracted form that is both sensual and elusive, slipping in and out of ocular register. The ambiguous graduated tones and reflected light pull the eye into the centre of the image before vicariously dragging it back. This broken semi-elliptical shape is mirrored in Windowsill daydreaming, Rochester, New York, July 1958 as the gently moving curtains play with the light and shadows of White’s flat, creating abstracted organic forms. Abstracted forms of nature were of great interest to White as can be seen in the rest of the series that capture the frosted window of his flat with its crystallised ice, condensation and glimpses of the outside world.

1. Rice S 1998, “Beyond reality,” in A new history of photography, ed M Frizot, Könemann, Cologne pp.669-73

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Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

Opening hours:
Open every day 10am – 5pm
except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Art Gallery of New South Wales website

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11
Dec
12

Exhibition: ‘Janina Green: Ikea’ at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 28th November 28 – 15th December 2012

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Installation photograph of 'Ikea' by Janina Green at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

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Installation photograph of Ikea by Janina Green at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

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“It is necessary to revisit what Walter Benjamin said of the work of art in the age of its mechanical reproducibility. What is lost in the work that is serially reproduced, is its aura, its singular quality of the here and now, its aesthetic form (it had already lost its ritual form, in its aesthetic quality), and, according to Benjamin, it takes on, in its ineluctable destiny of reproduction, a political form. What is lost is the original, which only a history itself nostalgic and retrospective can reconstitute as “authentic.” The most advanced, the most modern form of this development, which Benjamin described in cinema, photography, and contemporary mass media, is one in which the original no longer even exists, since things are conceived from the beginning as a function of their unlimited reproduction.”

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Jean Baudrillard. ‘Simulacra and Simulation’. 1981 (English translation 1994)

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“To apprehend myself as seen is, in fact, to apprehend myself as seen in the world and from the standpoint of the world. The look does not carve me out in the universe; it comes to search for me at the heart of my situation and grasps me only in irresolvable relations with instruments. If I am seen as seated, I must be seen as “seated-on-a-chair,” … But suddenly the alienation of myself, which is the act of being-looked-at, involves the alienation of the world which I organize. I am seated on this chair with the result that I do not see it at all, that it is impossible for me to see it …”

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Jean-Paul Satre. ‘Being and Nothingness’ (trans. Hazel Barnes). London: Methuen, 1966, p.263.

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“It must be possible to concede and affirm an array of “materialities” that pertain to the body, that which is signified by the domains of biology, anatomy, physiology, hormonal and chemical composition, illness, age, weight, metabolism, life and death. None of this can be denied. But the undeniability of these “materialities” in no way implies what it means to affirm them, indeed, what interpretive matrices condition, enable and limit that necessary affirmation. That each of those categories [BODY AND MATERIALITY] have a history and a historicity, that each of them is constituted through the boundary lines that distinguish them and, hence, by what they exclude, that relations of discourse and power produce hierarchies and overlappings among them and challenge those boundaries, implies that these are both persistent and contested regions.”

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Judith Butler. ‘Bodies That Matter’. New York: Routledge, 1993, pp.66-67.

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Fable = invent (an incident, person, or story)

Simulacrum = pretends to be a faithful copy, but it is a copy with no original

Performativity = power of discourse, politicization of abjection, ritual of being

Body / identity / desire = imperfection, fluidity, domesticity, transgression, transcendence

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Intimate, conceptually robust and aesthetically sensitive.
The association of the images was emotionally overwhelming.
An absolute gem. One of the highlights of the year.

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Marcus

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Many thankx to Edmund Pearce Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Janina Green. 'Waterfall' 1990

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Janina Green
Waterfall
1990
Silver gelatin print on Kentmere Parchment paper, tinted with coffee and photo dyes
58 x 48 cm
Vintage print

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Janina Green. 'Pink vase' 1990 reprinted 2012

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Janina Green
Pink vase
1990 reprinted 2012
Silver gelatin print on fibre based paper, handtinted with pink photo dye
85 x 70 cm

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Janina Green. 'Blue vase' 1990 reprinted 2012

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Janina Green
Blue vase
1990 reprinted 2012
Silver gelatin print on fibre based paper, handtinted with blue photo dye
85 x 70 cm

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Janina Green. 'Nude' 1986

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Janina Green
Nude
1986
Silver gelatin print on fibre based paper, handtinted with blue photo dye
60 x 45 cm
Vintage print

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“My photographs are always about the past.

The Barthesian slogan, “this has been,” is for me, “I was there.” This series of images of a vase from Ikea consists of silver gelatin prints tinted in different coloured photographic dyes; photographs of a simple mass produced vase – its form the familiar vessel which so dominates Art History. “Ikea” for me is symbolic of the useful homely object and of the ideal home. The vase from Ikea no longer exists. The picture of that vase stands in for the vase that once existed. The photograph can be seen now – at this moment. It will continue to exist in the future. Its representation crosses time barriers.

My photographs are always documentations of a private performance.

Every photograph records what is in front of the camera, but my interest is in the occasion and the complex conditions of the making of the photograph – first the negative then the print. Each photograph ends up being a documentation of my state of mind during this intensely private moment as well as something for other people to look at. Because of changing conditions, every one of these prints from that same negative is different. For me each analogue print is an unsteady thing. They are now relics from another era, as is the vase.

As a counterpoint to the repetition of the vase prints, I have selected four vintage works from my archive.”

Artists statement by Janina Green

Janina is represented by M.33

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Janina Green. 'Orange vase' 1990 reprinted 2012

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Janina Green
Orange vase
1990 reprinted 2012
Silver gelatin print on fibre based paper, handtinted with orange photo dye
85 x 70 cm

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Janina Green. 'Green vase' 1990 reprinted 2012

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Janina Green
Green vase
1990 reprinted 2012
Silver gelatin print on fibre based paper, handtinted with green photo dye
85 x 70 cm

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Janina Green. 'Interior' 1992

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Janina Green
Interior
1992
C Type print
38 x 30 cm
Vintage print / edition of 5

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Janina Green. 'Telephone' 1986 reprinted 2010

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Janina Green
Telephone
1986 reprinted 2010
Silver gelatin print on fibre based paper, tinted with coffee
58 x 48 cm

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Janina Green. 'Yellow vase' 1990 reprinted 2012

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Janina Green
Yellow vase
1990 reprinted 2012
Silver gelatin print on fibre based paper, handtinted with yellow photo dye
85 x 70 cm

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Edmund Pearce Gallery
Level 2, Nicholas Building
37 Swanston Street (corner Flinders Lane)
Melbourne Victoria 3000

Opening hours:
Wed – Sat 11 am – 5 pm

Edmund Pearce Gallery website

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22
Sep
12

Review: ‘Jenny Reddin: The Art of Catastrophe’ at Anita Traverso Gallery, Richmond

Exhibition dates: 5th September – 29th September 2012

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“Each epoch dreams the one to follow, creates it in dreaming”

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Jules Michelet

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“Each epoch dreams of itself as annihilated by catastrophes”

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Theodor Adorno

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A star is born

The origin of the word catastrophe is Greek (kata + strophein) and its literal meaning was “overturn”. According to its definition, it is an event that causes trauma due to its capacity to destroy most of a community. Catastrophes are extreme events that affect a large number of victims in the affected community, and are easily identified as events that cause physical suffering.1 The use of words such as disaster (origin in the Italian word disastro (dis + astro, “bad star”)) and catastrophe create the idea of a “disaster taxonomy,” one which is based on the principle that there are variable emotional responses that depend on the type of disaster, the degree of personal impact, the size of the group affected, and the geographical and temporal range of the event.2 These pure words define the event itself and the havoc they wreak without incorporating the perceptions of the victims; in other words they are an objective reflection on the subjective performativity of the act itself.

Catastrophes fascinate humans as they clearly show them the limits of their own existence. The dystopian catastrophe challenges the temporal linearity of a utopian dreaming in which the darkness of the lived moment is illuminated by the anticipatory daydreams of the “not-yet-conscious” future. What catastrophe codes is a dialectical relation to Utopianism, a rejection of the holistic vision of an anticipatory consciousness of a utopian future. As Matthew Charles observes,

“The catastrophic signifies the dialectical intrusion of the whole of history (including the present in which it is represented) into the construction epoch, and by extension the whole of the epoch into the life of the artist, and the whole life of the artist into a particular work. Benjamin’s messianic account of the experience of truth imposes the theological concepts of the infinite, fulfilled and perfected state of the world into the immanence of finite, particular, existing phenomenon. In this way, the intrusion of the historical Absolute contributes to the catastrophic ruination of the work.”3

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As can be seen in the Jenny Reddin’s artist statement, the whole of the artist’s history is bound up in the creation of the work. The infinite possibilities of a subjective understanding of truth are bound together with the immanence of finite, particular, existing phenomenon, that of the art of catastrophe, the objective presentation of ruination, in the art itself. Reddin’s anticipatory daydreams become an anticipatory illumination as an image, a constellation, a configuration tied closely to the idea of the concrete/fluid utopic/dystopic landscapes of the body and the earth. Reddin’s paintings work at both a macro and micro level, a phenomenon that is cross-disciplinary like the phenomenon of catastrophe itself. The work reminds me of cellular structures at the micro level (cross-sections of diseased kidneys, the veins of the heart or scientific slides of blood cells) and of aerial views of the earth at the macro level (alluvial deltas and views of open cast mines). They balance beauty with serendipity, the manipulation of the “flow” of paint (from one point in time to many points) that captures light, the light of the cosmos and of the subconscious. These magnificent works of art have emerged from the artist’s life – much as Immanuel Velikovsky argued that the planet Venus is a former “comet” which was ejected from Jupiter – in an act of catastrophic creation. They are dreaming of the future and yet also dreaming of catastrophe. 

Running with these ideas you might argue that these dream images are both an act of emergence and an emergency, a catastrophe. For some thinkers the sociology of emergences aims to identify and enlarge the signs of possible future experiences, under the guise of tendencies and latencies, that are actively ignored by hegemonic rationality and knowledge. For Ernst Bloch the concept of The Not Yet, “is the way in which the future is inscribed in the present. It is not an indeterminate or infinite future, rather a concrete possibility and a capacity that neither exists in a vacuum nor are completely predetermined. Subjectively, the Not Yet is anticipatory consciousness, a form of consciousness that is extremely important in people’s lives. Objectively, the Not Yet is, on the one hand, capacity (potency) and, on the other, possibility (potentiality).”4

Here the field of possibility has a dimension of darkness (disaster) as it originates in the lived moment whilst the sociology of emergences inquires into the alternatives that are contained in the horizon of concrete, utopian possibilities in order to identify therein the tendencies of the future (the Not Yet): the light of the future. Hence these images contain both emergency (of the catastrophe, of the lived moment) and an emergence (into the future). A (bad) star is born. I also believe that in this artist another star has been born, one that will shine strongly in future dreamings.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Anita Traverso Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs of the paintings in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Jenny Reddin
Caught in an Effervescent Breeze
2012
Oil on canvas
122 x 122 cm

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Jenny Reddin
Ms. Broadhurst’s Poppy
2012
Oil on canvas
122 x 122 cm

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Jenny Reddin
A Shifting Reality
2012
Mixes media on linen
137 x 122 cm

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“At the heart of a catastrophe there is a massive burst of energy. Jenny Reddin’s works seek to capture that energy in an alchemic process that involves the dissolving of pigments in various solutions and pouring the viscous mixes onto prepared structures. Due to the varying specific gravities the pigments drop out at different rates offering alternately dry, textured or smooth, mirror-like fields. This series presents works inspired by the natural phenomenon and the interaction of the human form, capturing the juxtaposition of the beauty of the Australian country with the ongoing cycle of natural catastrophe.”

Text from the gallery website

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“I have been painting for around 14 years. At a time when I should have been at Art School, I was studying for a bachelor of business. When I should have been exhibiting my work, I was running a consulting practice and managing people. It wasn’t until my husband and I adopted a little girl from India that I was able to take the time to explore my creative side. I have been painting ever since.

Catastrophe plays an important role in my life. I am an idea, act, plan person in everything I do. It’s how I live my life and it’s how I paint. I had to make a decision early on in my painting career that I either learned to celebrate the spontaneous nature of catastrophes or go mad trying to paint in a conventional manner. I found also that it was becoming increasingly important for me to find my own style and form of expression. I would cringe when people would compliment me by telling me that a work looked just like a Fred Williams or a John Olsen.

To a large extent, I have had to learn to paint from the subconscious. The more deliberate and planned I am at the commencement of a work, the less spontaneous and evocative the result. I go through what feels like long periods where the works are muddy and unsatisfying and I have to rip off the canvas and start again. I usually find when I take the time to analyse why, I have been trying to force an outcome and then all of a sudden, as my consciousness steps back and my subconscious takes over, they work.

Catastrophe is a piece that was painted early this year. It is a good example of the elements that I am looking for in my work, drama and light. The dramatic effect is created by dissolving pigments in viscous solvent solutions and then pouring them onto prepared canvas supports. I often pour two and three colours together so that they bump into each other creating riverlets and craters as the pigments drop out of solution at different rates. Light is captured by manipulating the flow of paint to trap sections of blank, white canvas which to my eye increase the sense of drama and luminance of the work.

It’s hard to say who inspires my work because I am unaware of anyone else painting in quite the same way. What I take from other artists would be honesty and integrity from artists such as Andy Goldsworthy; simplicity of form from the likes of Anthony Gormley and Antonio Tapies; the love of limited palette from Godwin Bradbeer; the beauty of gesture and rhythm from Yvonne Audette and Susan Rothenburg.”

Jenny Reddin’s opening speech at the exhibition The Art of Catastrophe

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Jenny Reddin
Space within space within space
2012
Oil in linen
122 x 122 cm

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Jenny Reddin
Amillaria
2012
Oil on canvas
120 x 100 cm

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Jenny Reddin
Suspended Journey
2012
Oil on linen
138 x 97 cm

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1. Braga, Luciana L., Fiks, Jose P., Mari, Jair J. and Mello, Marcelo F. “The importance of the concepts of disaster, catastrophe, violence, trauma and barbarism in defining posttraumatic stress disorder in clinical practice,” in BMC Psychiatry 2008, 8:68 [Online] Cited 22/09/2012

2. Ibid.,

3. Charles, Matthew. “The Future is History: Dreams of Catastrophe in Ernst Bloch and Walter Benjamin,” Proceedings of the No Future
conference, Institute of Advanced Studies, Durham University, 25-27 March 2011 [Online] Cited 22/09/2012.

4. Anon. “Sociology of Emergences,” on the P2P Foundation website [Online] Cited 22/09/2012.

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Anita Traverso Gallery
7, Albert Street
Richmond, Vic 3121

Opening hours:
Wed – Sat 11 – 5

Anita Traverso Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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