Week 11: Cutting Photographic Prints

Inspired by Richard Galpin, I wanted to see what cutting into my prints would do to the stairs and how it would impact the visual simplicity that I am looking for in my work. I tested out my cutting on several of my worse photograms that I had completed earlier, using two designs – cutting out the background and, cutting out the staircase. I found both of them to work equally as well in their own right.

I then decided to do the same to some prints of stairs, to bring my work back to the ‘real world’ and to comment on the fact that we often ignore fire escapes and staircases that are outside. I used both techniques on two photographs, with each of them working well. I found that I was more attracted to the ones with more detail of the staircase, especially the one that is in front of other buildings. The simplicity of the lines coupled with the complexity of the image that are presented together allow the continual movement of the eye. I wish to do these bigger, with the staircase ending outside he boundary of the image such as in the spiral staircase.

Week 11: Cyanotypes

I first played around with cyanotypes last year in the summer school with Reading Scholars, where I was able to take away some of the paper that we used. On a very sunny day, I laid out the stairs and paper in the sun and produced 30 different cyanotypes of the staircases in varying sizes. I found that the overall look of them was very ghosted and shadowy. This does not work in some cases because they are too dark, merging into the background, however some work very successfully. Working on these cyanotypes, it has made me want to do larger scale ones with a spotlight or projector such as I did in my week 8 exhibition. I do worry that by doing it this way, I will have a very fuzzy image, but it is something that I am willing to try.

Artist Talk: Barbara Walker

Barbara Walker presented in our final artist talk of the year with her fluid work, responding to the world around her. This technique gives her a unique way into the painting and drawing that looks at the social and political.

One of the first works that was shown looked at disabled bomb experts and those who have fought in wars. Walker attempts to look at the ‘true’ perspective, with prompts from conversations, media and daily life. For this, the prompt came from a conversation that asked whether black soldiers can fight on behalf of Britain in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Walker’s collection of works and style looks at the chronology of the past 100 years of war. She doesn’t really like wars, but this was the premise to have a conversation through the artwork. She also finds that she has one foot in history and the other in a contemporary practice. Walker is regarded as a research-based artist (80% research, 20% making), to try and unpick, learn and have a foundation to build and make from.

Not only does Walker look at the past, but she also takes a look at contemporary soldiers. This is a difficult subject and it is touch-and-go when trying to have a conversation about this. Because it is a difficult conversation to have by many, she decided to put that idea aside and look more at the historical aspect, especially of her own, Caribbean, history. Immediately there was a need to know where these people came from, bringing images to the surface and using them, scavenging them from archives. Walkers’ work plays and disrupts the photographs and images that she finds in these archives. She identifies the photograph, buys the file, enlarges through certain formats and then works from these.

Charcoal is one of the preferred mediums for Walker, a medium that she is comfortable with, thus she is able to make a statement and a metaphor because of her interest in the hierarchy of constructs (those she draws are lower in the hierarchy, and charcoal is often considered ‘behind’ painting). Her works look at the individuals claiming the space again, giving rebirth and celebration, but also critically looking at images and re-framing them. You always have to disrupt to make a new, or continue an old commentary.

In some pieces, Walker drew with charcoal directly on the wall, which she has to wash away. In other pieces, she has taken an eraser or white chalk to an area of the piece. Both methods are somewhat aggressive, and make an impactful statement. If things become too familiar, she moves on, to bring challenges to her work and move forward.

Walker also looks at the female contribution as a challenge to her own work and uses the same processes as before. In one image, she may emboss one woman and drew the other two. In others, she will cut out an image which is severe, but also subtle, placing the drawing, or part of the photograph in a different place. These different techniques come together to create powerful pieces of work. A last medium that Walker has demonstrated her skills in is installation, commenting that wars should not be drawn on pieces of paper, but also on the walls in the pavilion where many of these soldiers were stationed. It brings some humanity back to such an ugly word. Walker makes a stand that these people were spoken about but not commemorated, bringing their lives to the surface in a provocative manner – ‘hitting the audience with a sledge hammer’.

Glass Casting Part 2: Derek the Duck

The first part of the glass casting workshop looked at moulding wax and creating a mould for the glass. The second part of the glass casting workshop worked with the cast class and hand grinding it. First step was to soak the plaster mould to weaken it and get the glass out. We were then able to break off some of the unwanted glass in a safe and controlled environment. To get rid of the larger, rougher edges, we used the technique of glass grinding with silicon carbide by hand (YouTube link). This was an intensive and very noisy process using grit and water on top of a thick piece of glass, and then grinding the object against this surface. Not only did I flatten off the bottom, but I also curved the grinding round so that some more of the bits that stuck out were smooth and in line with the bottom and the side of the design. The final product was a flat bottomed platypus/duck in a canoe.

Week 10: New Matchstick Stair Designs

I wanted to expand from the first three original matchstick staircase designs (matchstick staircase design 1, 1.2 and 2) to help produce a more varied selection of photograms and cyanotypes. I found that the first two designs were very common staircases and fire escape designs, and I wanted something that was a little bit more varied and unique. I took my inspiration from my travels around the university. Gathering these photos, and the ones I took with my analogue camera, helped to establish the next designs.

The overall look of these is a little bit rushed, as I wanted to get them completed as fast as I could, however they are completely structurally sound. With these, I also decided to face the coloured part of the cardboard together, so that you could not see the bright packaging from any position – this turned out to be useful as it created a cleaner look for the staircases. I particularly enjoyed the intricacy of these staircases as they project what is unique about the area that they are inspired from.

Week 9: Photos and Photograms

Developing on my list that I made after the week 8 exhibition, I spent a day in the dark room developing several photos that I had made of stairs around the university as well as producing photograms of the stairs. I am unsure of what to do from here with the photograms, but I enjoyed the outcome of the easy-to-produce pieces. I would like to see the juxtaposed against cyanotypes of the stairs as well as other pieces I intend to make. With the photographs, I intend to score into them to take the top photographic layer off, leaving only the stairs in the images. (There is a slight yellow tint due to the lighting when taking the photographs.)



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Artist Talk: John Russell

John Russell is a lecturer here at the University of Reading and talked to us about his practice in our weekly Wednesday artist talks. His practice grew straight after art school with a group that he was involved with; Bank. They pretended to be in shows with famous people to which they would send terrible colour photocopies of invitations to those in a large gallery mailing list. The galleries that they were advertising to be a part of started to get people to turning up to these exhibitions, despite them never existing.

It fuelled Russell and Bank’s interest in the pitching of an exhibition, when Damien Hurst caught their eye as the pitching of this particular exhibition in a warehouse was one of a kind. This inspired Bank to create their own, real, exhibition in a disused bank. This was almost like an organised party but you had to leave the work up for four weeks afterwards. Here, Russell and Bank continued to spend a lot of time and effort on the invitations because they were up against big name galleries, and this is the one thing that would be used to attract people’s attention toward the exhibition. They were able to do a whole series of exhibitions in disused buildings that were available in the middle of London, and used everything from oversized foam to fluorescent paper for the invites.

Zombie Golf was then born as it looked at the seriousness of the galleries, playing on it. They spent the summer making a golf course, using cast faces of Bank artists and members to put on the zombies. When artists were asked to exhibit, the golf course was already there so they worked around it. Some put up paintings, others allowed their piece to interact and bounce off of the golf game, as this was a working golf course. Some of the paintings were golf courses, specifically painted for this exhibition by Peter Doig, that have recently been sold for over a million pounds. It was at this point that they truly realised they were great at attracting people to their shows, but not at selling their artwork.

This was then the Bank group set up a newspaper as though they were the ‘art world tabloid newspaper’. They were able to pick on people in a funny way, which became relatively successful. This mockery quickly led onto FaxBak as Bank were receiving a lot of press releases from other galleries. Press releases are often nonsense that people think is the effective way of describing art, but Bank would then correct their press releases and give them a mark out of ten before faxing them back from where they came from. Bank even had their own stamp that they would use before sending them back. These were displayed in a pretend gallery in their exhibition space, framed and lined up. FaxBak was also done for New York exhibitions, where the group would receive threats and aggressive replies on answer machines. These answer machine messages were then played in the background of the show in New York, adding to the exhibition. These pieces are now part of the Tate Britain permanent collection.

Russell left Bank not so long ago and moved on to performance and digital work with a concentration on digital painting. He described his work as ‘a Jackson Pollock but made out of meat’. Russell was interested in the way that you can only see a tiny bit of the thing you’re working on when it is digital, with a constant motion of zooming in and out to see the whole. These are printed on large-scale vinyl for impact. Russell realised that he kind of hated them and when he finally sees them printed, they are crude and cumbersome in an inelegant fashion. The work that he produces flicks between heavy handed and spectacular but this intrigues him, and continues to do so as he makes his work today.

Richard Galpin

Richard Galpin strips photographs to reveal a fragmented set of forms in spatial compositions. His work began with scaffolding, scouring and peeling away the surface emulsion in specific areas to leave only the scaffolding part. This transformed through to rollercoasters, cities and into futuristic spaces. Galpin engages with modernist abstraction, constructivism and futurism, as well as the formality of the photography process. Through this profess, there is a reconfiguration of space where new forms emerge. It is not quite a representation of negative versus positive space, but it certainly leaves you to think.

Week 9: Scanning and Planning

I did not know what to do or where to go after the Week 8 Exhibition critique, so brainstormed all of my ideas. A part of me wanted to return to my original idea of placing the stairs in realistic settings, but another part of me wanted to play with the light and shadow aspect that I have bought into my work within the past week. This has bought photography and sculpture together in a way that I did not expect or plan. I now plan on:

  • Block sculpture: project a negative or an image onto a large plain block sculpture for the sculpture itself to become a photographic form
  • Project a negative on the wall and hang the stairs in the same position
  • Photograms of the stairs
  • Cyanotypes of the stairs
  • Make prints from photographs of stairs, cutting around and taking the background out (inspired by Richard Galpin)
  • Scanning all negatives onto the computer for archiving and future use

I would like to play around further with the circular form, as I found this intriguing in the week 8 exhibition, allowing the viewer to question where the stairs disappeared to.

This week I also began the long task of scanning my negatives into the computer. This ensures that I will always have a copy of them, edit them easily, and print them off onto acetate and in different formats and sizes quickly and efficiently. I do not know whether I will use this further in my project, but it is a good starting place. [Below is the second roll of film I scanned in.]

Week 8 Exhibition

Within the Week 8 Studio 3 Exhibition, I displayed in the AV Room, down the corridor from the studio space. This area was curated by four of us, ensuring that everyone had the space that they needed, and the audience were able to interact with each piece in the intended fashion. I displayed all three designs of the matchstick stairs, hanging them from the ceiling with a different coloured spotlight on each. The different colours of these was an unintentional element that added to the work, highlighting the differences between them and allowing the evaluation of the individual staircases. There is also a practical element to the spotlights, as they ensured people did not walk into the staircases that were suspended from the ceiling. When people did walk past them, there was an element of motion that was carried forth into the staircase as they would slowly rock back and forth.

The blurriness of each image added to the element of optical illusion. This somewhat stepped in the opposite direction that I originally intended with the stairs, as I wanted them as real as possible, such as in the negatives I have recently developed. However, as they are hanging you can see their positioning, but you are more captivated by the almost primal draw of the shadow from the spotlight.

I found that I enjoyed these elements coming together, and I want to explore the elements of real versus optical illusions through the use of shadow and light. One way to do this may be through the use of photograms, or using some of the negatives that I have already produced. I am not sure what my next steps will truly be as there are now multiple paths I could go down.

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