In less than four weeks I open my solo show at the CWC Gallery, the contemporary branch of the renowned Galerie Camera Work in Berlin. I have been working on this series for over three years now. Initially the working title had been The Sacred & the Profane, but the project has evolved so much that I feel a need to separate the series into two parts.
I’m in the process of finalising my Artist Statement. That’s probably every artist’s favourite sentence, along with “I’m currently updating my website.” But before I finish the statement, I thought it would be a good idea to summarize how I got to this point.
The project was originally about religion, and how I felt about the sacred and profane. I was pissed off about cancer, and death, and the interruptions of life that I’d gladly blame on a higher power, except that I don’t hold such beliefs. I created narrative images using religious iconography, and the Baroque language of light and color, but I put a more modern spin on it. I was creating images that told timeless stories with modern characters in old light. Some of the images were a little snarky, it was part of placing the stories within a more modern context. But a lot of them were reverential, and quite honest in their approach. I was gaining a respect for the stories that were being told. I’m not sure beatification was the obvious conclusion to every story, but they certainly described a human condition that honoured the human spirit.
But at a certain point, I got frustrated with the project. I knew where I wanted to go but I wasn’t satisfied with what I had. I wanted the grace, I continue to believe in the human ideal of beauty, but I found myself caring less about the story. Narrative serving as a vehicle to transport the viewer into visual ecstasy wasn’t necessary in modern times. The reference points were a distraction, not a departure point. As modern people we deal with imagery differently than post-Renaissance viewers.
I realized that I was ultimately more interested in the beauty that is inherent to Baroque art than being critical of religion. I spent considerable time in museums and churches, exploring Florence, idling at the Gemälde Galerie, or poring over books. If you’re an artist, it’s hard not to be captivated by the beauty. It’s real. The artists put all their adoration into their work. I wanted to do that, too.
At the same time I was dealing with illness, the death of my father, and big issues around the family business. I didn’t have the time or bandwidth to actually be creative and to make new images, but I would explore my existing images and rework them endlessly on the computer.
The idea of the crop arose during those days. It came out of time spent zooming into details, seeing close-ups of an image segment, and identifying isolated elements that I enjoyed. I would get up from the desk to get a cup of coffee, and when I returned all that filled the screen were a pair of hands or the clavicle leading toward a shoulder. Often it would be hands or the arch of a back, body parts intersecting, a moment, an expression or some gestures. These visual snippets were beautiful by themselves.
But just isolating those highlights made no sense, they lacked context and weren’t enough to be stand-alone images. The simple crops were not enough. They needed the original surrounding image, without it the snippet was incoherent. The duality of liking an element and wanting to provide context gave rise to the language of crops, in which I highlight an element within an image while leaving the rest of the picture somewhat obscured. I had watched the restoration of aged paintings. During that process you can see areas come back to life. The painting’s real color and beauty come through in the full clarity and saturation, which had been obscured by layers of smoke and soot and filth. It suddenly made a part of the image more important, and the eye would travel there first. Sometimes it was a key element of a painting, but other times it was something unimportant, and the eye was forced to hunt around the rest of the image, trying to make sense of what it was seeing.
This gave me the opportunity to create a whole new language, separate from telling stories. I gave myself permission to abandon the stories, and to focus just on the vulnerability and grace of the human body. Rather than tell small stories of religious adoration, I could move beyond the narrative style to show what I was feeling without giving too much away. And so I have decided to rename the early part of this series Quiet Devotion and the second part Personal Disclosure.
I’ve explained the material choices and physicality in a prior post. Using the matte acrylic Diasec to obscure segments of the overall image while high-lighting the crops with a richer, more saturated Di-Tone waxed paper is key to the project. Using a rolled, oiled steel as vestigial reference to gilded, ornate baroque frames recontextualizes it into a modern language.
This triptych that I’ve added to this post is one of the key transition pieces between the early series, and what it became. There is still a distinct narrative element to the work. This is the story of the First Mourning. Cain leads his brother Abel to his death, and then immediately realises the irrevocable horror that he’s caused. But I was no longer worried about telling the story, and found myself more interested in the beauty of the bodies and how they interact. I reduced the images to a bare minimum: the landscape of hard, geometric shapes, the human figure, and fabric to bridge these two elements.
I will write more in the coming days. Stay tuned, I’m pleased to finally show some work.