17 May 2017. I am looking forward to the wondrous task of being allowed whatever materials come to my mind and painting collections, which is the main subject for Part 2 of this course. After having posted Assignment 1 this area, which is totally new to me, has settled firmly in my mind. Although the study guide advised us not to spend too long to decide on a collection to gather together from my own household, I do not want to take the opportunity too lightly. I feel that it allows me to start thinking in different dimensions. In order to set the scene, I am to research a number of artists again. It appears to me that many of these use their respective approaches to voice criticism on a large variaty of societal matters.
22 May 2017. The study guide (Open College of the Arts, p. 53) points out some crucial aspects the making and presenting collections is based on, which can be of great limiting significance to the actual value of a collection. The latter is intimately connected with the laws of history. As Walter Benjamin points out in his – at first for me hard to read and understand – essay “Theses on the Philosophy of History”: “The true picture of the past flits by. The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again.” (v, p. 255). We are thus advised to collect and treasure these images, as otherwise they will be lost and never become available again to assist the development of future generations. Benjamin sets this into a contect of class struggle against Fascism, whose success depends crucially on seizing “…hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger.” (vi, p. 255). This, I think, can only be achieved, if people are aware of the possible harm arising of such a loss and take collective action in space and time to counteract it. Benjamin points out the fact that the existence of our socalled “cultural treasures” was made possible not only by their creators but the uncounted anonymous people, who were their contemporaries (vii, p. 256), which I interpret as an instruction to makers of collections to be aware always of the mostly cruel environment giving rise to our cultural possessions and interpret their significance with respect to that knowledge. In this context, Benjamin utters a word of warning to dismiss remembrance of the past for an unfounded belief in a better future, because “This training made the working class forget both its hatred and its spirit of sacrifice …” (xii, p. 260). Crucially, he values historical subjects as soon as they can be identified as distinct entities, because by singling out these special instances on any hierarchical level, even if they are separated by long periods of time, one has a tool of change in hand. In this process the factor of time has no value. (xvii and xviii, p. 263). This seems to be one of the major tasks for curators of collections. The latter are not merely assemblages of artefacts placed in an artificially linear past, but if seen as ultimately connected in space and time, there can arise a deep understanding of the often repetitive circumstances leading to particular outcomes.
While Walter Benjamin emphasizes the societal value of remembrance, the essay written by Sigmund Freud (1909) places its focus on the personal level. Like many others I am not happy with his merely sexually biased interpretation of cause-effect relationships in the growing child, but overall he observes that however negative one’s childhood memories there remains a lasting deep connection with one’s parents from a time “when his father seemed to him the noblest and strongest of men and his mother the dearest and loveliest of women.”, and the turning away from one’s parents to higher placed new role models is an expression of regret for this loss (Freud, p. 240). For me it is difficult to read from this essay a substantial direct contribution to the subject of collections. Of course, I can interpret whatever meaning I like into Freud’s observations, but the most important will probably be an awareness that attitudes and actions in a grown-up may be heavily influenced by childhood recollections. The latter word points to a relationship with the subject of collections and may play an important role in the subconscious choice of subjects to work on. Unless one becomes aware of such influences, the bias introduced by selective memory may be considerable. In case I want to make a valid contribution to society, I need to take the responsibility for looking back and reappraising the collection I have assembled of my own history.
18 May 2017.
Julian Walker (*?, UK)
I had a close look at the extensive website maintained by Julian Walker (Walker, 2017), which appears to me as much a collection as some of his works are. He has the most complex of all artists’ menus I have seen so far, the menu points are a jumble of personal and professional items, very hard to find my way round. I would be interested to know whether this is deliberate. Also I have not seen any artist before to have as much text coming with his work than Walker. Some of his collection pieces of work are of giant dimensions, one of these is “Acts of Faith”, which is rows upon rows of tablets carved into organs and sorted into a regular rid, whose subject he describes as “The theme then is one of consumption, faith, dependence, subjection of the self, and thankful homage” (Walker, 2003) or as explained by Coe (2013): “So Julian Walker based his ‘Acts of Faith’ piece on this idea of votive body parts by using pills, the contemporary equivalent of an object in which we can place our faith for a cure.” For all his collection pieces Walker provides a comprehensive written guide for how to read the work, e.g. in “Words and Forgetting” (Walker, 2007), where it seems that the whole adventurous life of George Vancouver was plucked apart, sorted and put in order by the lining up of an awesome 4300 items. From what I read from the associated text the work is no longer in existence today. I will have to come back to Walker’s way of approaching a subject again, because for me the following peculiarity is difficult to understand: The items on display are all small, they come together to form an orderly grid. In Walker’s work the grid as a whole has, to my understanding, no other function than to contain the collection, here to provide a framework for the leftovers of a human life. He could thus have used any other means of displaying the items without adding or losing information. Also, a piece of work like this cannot be deciphered without extensive explanation. It seems that what Walker does is to produce a museum show in two dimensions. For these reasons his overall approach does not feel comfortable to me, although of course the collections themselves are full of great ideas.
Fred Wilson (*1954, USA)
When reading the short comment in the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2017, p. 51) about Fred Wilson making “work that comments on the bias of historical and contemporary collections”, this links directly to another feeling I just realise I had about Julian Walker’s work. The former simulates, or at least appears to present, a comprehensive exhibition owed to the sheer size of each collection, but of course the selection process by the original owner of the items, the selection process by events in history, the selction process by chance and that by the artist together can add up to a whole distorted overall image, IF one is naively looking to gain one from such a work of art. Without having had a first look at Wilson’s work, another creepy feeling comes up about a possible double bias arising from such an approach. Wilson can of course only comment on the collection bias he is aware of and so, unless he is in the possession of 100% of the evidence he is commenting on, he will add more bias by his own process of selection.
19 May 2017. Wilson says of his work that that his primary goal in his life as an artist as it is today is to bring “together objects that are in the world, manipulating them, working with spatial arrangements, and having things presented in the way I want to see them.” (art21, 2005). From the tiny snippet of film showing how he uses a collection of extreme kitsch objects he wants to get out of his life to set up a presentation on a table, I cannot guess at his intentions beyond “it flows out of me”. The objects are as fun to see as they are horrible in their kitsch existence, but I need help to be able to see them as what they are: “[…] he alters traditional interpretations, encouraging viewers to reconsider social and historical narratives.” (Pace Gallery, n.d.). Also, as a museum educator he uses his inside influence to “create a series of “mock museums” that address how museums consciously or unwittingly reinforce racist beliefs and behaviors.” (Alchetron, n.d.(a)). As a museum person I can only agree with Wilson’s concern. It is in fact incredibly easy to give and leave a totally wrong impression of a subject and in case of presenting matters of grave concern museums often do not recognize their errors and degree of influence on streams of trusting visitors. It is not for no reason that the Nazi regime tried to recruit natural history and art museums for its own purposes (from own experience as science museum exhibition planner and educator). An example for Wilson’s work, for which unfortunately I could not find any background information is two life-size statues on one platform, one black and rigid, one white and playful, the former presumably of Ancient Egyptian origin, the other probably Ancient Greek (Alchetron, n.d.(b)).
20 May 2017. Both the above statues are wonderful examples of their respective cultural backgrounds, but as soon as they come to be placed side by side they initiate an awkward, unpleasant thought process of unchecked black-white comparison. Having said that I believe that this process would not have been started in my case if I had not known about Wilson’s intentions before I first saw the image. Additional bias!
Lisa Milroy (*1959, Canada)
An initial image search of Milroy’s work gives a splendid overview over her areas of interest. It appears to be a classical woman’s world including painting collections of shoes, fans, buttons, fruit, superficially trivial, but arranged with uncanny sensitivity in fascinating and tasteful ways, which my eyes want to keep returning to. While Milroy calls herself a still-life painter, she is intensely interested in the connection between stillness and movement, which is visible in her painted arrangements, especially e.g. in “Tyres” (1988). Milroy does this by placing with care different objects, objects of the same kind in well-thought-out patterns or using paint in different ways in one painting in order to draw the viewer’s attention to this aspect (Fer, 2015). While the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2015, p. 51) emphasizes her work from the 1980s and 1990s, she has increasingly moved from grid-like arrangements on monochrome backgrounds to placing collections within an environment among an multitude of other approaches (Milroy, 2017). She has been making series of paintings of places, as e.g. in “Tokyo” (Milroy, 1993), or series of painted 3D objects, as e.g. in the series “Dresses” (Milroy, 2011/12), which may also count as creating collections. If I had to make a choice, I would prefer her earlier work, however, which to me seems to be more distinct and distinguishable from other artists working now.
Paul Westcombe (*1981, UK)
Westcombe’s cartoon-like style of painting and drawing is highly colourful. Other than mentioned by the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2015, p. 51) he does not restrict himself to coffee cups (as e.g. shown by the Saatchi Gallery, 2017) to create his small images, but uses many different 3D surfaces, e.g. used batteries, eggs or tins, and also he paints large street-art-like murals in different inside settings (Westcombe, 2015). His choice of subject is not exactly what I would prefer myself, but his style combining ink drawings with watercolour is quite attractive in its own way. What makes his work classify as “collection” is not obvious to me, because the mere repetitive usage of a certain type of surface seems too vague, but it is maybe the unusual surfaces which made him appear in the list in the study guide.
Lee Edwards (*1981, UK)
Edward’s work immediately stands out for its incredible amount of detail, whether on standard surfaces, as e.g. in “Tight” (Edwards, 2014), which was drawn using graphite on paper and appears to show rolled up pieces of cloth or knitwear, or in equal detail on tiny pieces of limb wood or conkers as in “Babes in the Wood” (Edwards, 2010). Looking at other work he did in the past, as e.g. cutting out tiny pieces from photographs and placing one each on a comparatively giant piece of MDF board, and together with many – what I believe – telltale titles I guess that Edwards takes the mickey now and then. While I very much like Edward’s new work on paper, both his style of drawing and unusual compositions, I am not so much taken by the mini portraits he makes. In some of the latter there is a lovely subtlety of interaction of the facial expressions of the portrayed persons and the characteristics of the wood immediately surrounding them (Edwards, 2011). But others remind me of the romanticizing lockets people used to wear around their necks, while the wonderful detail can only be appreciated after artificially enlarging them.
David Dipré (*1974, UK)
It is strange how some well-known artists do not seem to be featured in any of the leading art websites. David Dipré is one of them, at least with my search engine. I got mostly Saatchi online, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook, but hardly any external media. One website presenting a new exhibition format ((detail), n.d.(a)) introduces him in the following way: “David Dipré uses portraiture as a basis for exploring the language of painting. Repeated subjects are refined through an accumulative body of work, that sets out to challenge traditional notions of representation. More recently, the work has moved from the flat surface into painted, sculptural objects that further explore ways of recording the physical world.” ((detail, n.d.(b)), 2014). Which, in my opinion, says exactly nothing. On Saatchi Art (n.d.) Dipré explains himself: “My work is an attempt to push further the language of painting, by adopting processes that disrupt a straightforward depiction of a traditional subject matter.” When looking closely at samples of his work, e.g. “Compressed” (Dipré, n.d.(a)), there is a weird 3D effect, as if the colours had been painted on layered acetate sheets, but as far as I can see it is a 2D painting in oil, in fact a self-portrait. The study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2015, p. 51) mentions his impasto technique, but as this is nothing I would consider unusual, I went to look further to find self-portraits on various surfaces, e.g. concrete as in “Face Form Painting” (Dipré, n.d.(b). Dipré’s style is nothing I would consider for myself, but will nevertheless try and copy one of his weird self-portraits.
Cathy Lomax (*1963, UK) and Alli Sharma (*?, UK)
21 May 2017. When writing my first research post (Lacher-Bryk, 2017), I found that I was not too much drawn to the work of either Cathy Lomax or Alli Sharma, but since they keep coming back, I am looking forward to discovering what I missed the first time. The study guide mentions that both painted onto handbags (Open College of the Arts, 2015, p. 51), so I went to have a look at if and how they might be working together now and then.
Transition Gallery (http://www.transitiongallery.co.uk/) was founded by Cathy Lomax and has had Alli Sharma on show. This is where I found the handbags mentioned in the study guide. They were part of a group project called “ORNAMENT. A subversive look at female adornment played out on found handbags and real faces” (Transition Gallery, 2013). While the idea is quite original, I still do not feel comfortable with what they do. This is probably because I have never been attracted by clothes, shoes or handbags and generally have few of the characteristics usually classifying with the “female” stereotype. So I feel that I have no right to utter either a straight or subversive opinion in that respect. Overall, with respect to the subject of this post this is another example of how a support chosen with care may add to or emphasize the message of the work itself.
Tabitha Moses (*?, UK)
Textile artist Tabitha Moses appears to belong to the Cathy Lomax/Alli Sharma type of approach by focusing heavily on female subjects, especially after her own traumatic experience of IVF (Moorhead, 2014). Also before that she made collections of typically female items, as e.g. in “Bride” (Moses, 2007), where she arranged a number of vintage wedding accessories. She now produces embroidered “drawings” of complex phenomena circling around fertility. Like Lomax and Sharma she also uses dedicated surfaces, e.g. hospital gowns.
As we are required to try and find additional artists working with unusual surfaces or collections and I often find myself unable to fulfill the task using a combination of books and the computer, I went through a list of names I came across when doing the above research. Here I chose only those artists whose work had an immediate appeal to me:
Michael Ajerman (1977, USA)
Ajerman’s expressive use of line in combination with tone is something I want to remember. While he mostly uses conventional materials and methods I found some of the attractive results to have been painted in oil on aluminium (e.g. “Window”, 2011-2013) or oil on copper (“Brighton & 10th”, n.d.(a)). I am very impressed by the way Ajerman sometimes produces a luminous layer of bright colour as the background, painting over that with dark colours and leaving parts of the background to either shine through or uncovered, as e.g. in “Sleepwalker” (Ajerman, 2010-2014). Sometimes he uses joined paper as his background as e.g. in “Early September” (Ajerman, n.d.(b)). Both Ajerman’s style of painting and his weird sense of humour I will keep in mind and hopefully come back to in the exercises to follow.
Juliette Losq (*1978, UK)
When I first saw the work of Juliette Losq I hardly believed my eyes. The detail, painted in watercolour and ink, is just breathtaking. Recently she appears to have focused on making collections of similar views of abandoned concrete walls covered in graffti with nature about to reclaim that land (Losq, 2016). Some of these, the last few in the series, are on unusual backgrounds like layered sheets of paper or 3-dimensional objects, which add to the impression of abandonment and decay, which is described as follows: “Her fragmented works inhabit these environments, transforming them into theatrical spaces that the viewer is able to navigate almost like a stage set.” (Coates and Scarry, n.d.). They left a lasting impression on me, so that I may come back to try out the layering technique with one of the collection paintings I am required to do for the exercises in this part of the course.
I am aware that I could write a nearly endless post about the usage of unusual materials in painting, so I decided to stop researching artists at this point. Having a final look at unusual materials I came across Tape Art, artwork created using duct tape (Bock, 2015), which is used to create mostly large-size geometrical patterns but also representative “drawings” and “paintings”. Most of it remains two-dimensional, but some work amounts to room-filling installations. For a good overview over the range of applications see e.g. Pinterest (2017).
Having concentrated on the unusual for a relatively long time, I realized that strangely enough one of the personal outcomes here was the decision to finally get my ancient oil paints out of the cupboard. I had bought them 15 years ago, had a very reluctant unthinking start without getting the right type of information on how to use oils properly, then went back to watercolours for a very long time, before making the jump into the world of acrylics. Now, as I do seem to be making some progress using painting materials, I keep reading how much superior oils are to acrylics. I do not know yet how to use them in my home workshop because of the fumes, but I might try some small scale experiments while preparing for Assignment 2.
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Cathy Lomax and Alli Sharma
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played out on found handbags and real faces
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2 thoughts on “Research Point: Collections and Unusual Materials”