Monday, 15 October 2012

Anish Kapoor at the YSP

I had the opportunity, last week, to spend a short time at the Anish Kapoor ‘Flashback’ exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park Link Here.  It’s a travelling exhibition that has also been in Manchester and Nottingham, with around a dozen or so varied pieces of work from different stages of his career. Coincidentally, I’d just read an interview with him in one of the newspapers over the previous weekend in which he’d talked about the way he always works (or directs others to work, since he clearly has a large team of assistants doing most of the day-to-day stuff) on a wide range of projects at any one time, in very different forms, materials and scales.  As the images in the link demonstrate, this small show included examples of his use of vivid colours, with varying materials and surfaces.  It was, as I say, a short visit, but I was particularly interested in his ‘voids’, for example Adam, in which he is ‘creating a state of emptiness’, as it says in the accompanying brochure, leaving the viewer with the sense of looking at nothing.  (Reminds me of walking into a room full of black paintings at the Rothko exhibition a few years ago.)  The brochure goes on to quote Kapoor as saying that he seeks to empty out content and make an empty form but that, of course, “... content is there in a way that’s more surprising than if I’d tried to make a content ... subject matter is somehow not the same as content”.

I’ve got myself into this area of subject matter and content or meaning before, in this earlier post.  It made me go off and do a bit more digging for what Kapoor had to say about it, which led me to this transcript of an interview.  Some key points emerging are:

·         He looks to put subject matter out of the way and, by that means, something else occurs; his objects primary purpose is not interpretative;

·         He believes that you cannot set out to create something spiritual; that comes from other resonances;

·         The spiritual world is latent and the artist finds this latent content;

·         He makes art for himself and then the viewer completes the circle (Barthes – the death of the author); though he acknowledges that the artist can use titling and context to manipulate and seek to invest meaning; but he is interested in the viewer’s immediate translation, and the ‘theoretical stuff comes later’.

So, he seems to see the artist as a kind of ‘medium’, through which the creativity flows from some unknown spiritual source, into the world, where the viewer reads, possibly with some guidance, a spiritual meaning and content in the work.  This almost certainly reflects his Indian roots, one feels – this mystical, spiritual explanation of his creative process.  It isn’t something with which I can comfortably relate – steeped in 60+ years of solid Western capitalist materialistic influence.  Mind you, the previous interview I’d read (Sunday Times, I think) mentioned Kapoor’s £80m+ wealth, but I will resist the temptation to be cynical.  The ‘voids’ did touch me, and I can see how his work does indeed interact powerfully with the viewer.

I did also pick up another relationship between some aspects of his work and the field of photography – surfaces, and the absorbing/reflecting of light.  It’s interesting to compare the deep matte blue surfaces of his voids that absorb light and absorb the viewer’s gaze, with the reflective, shiny surfaces, which return the gaze.  In the exhibition brochure, he refers to the matte surface as the ‘traditional sublime ... deep and absorbing’ but says that the mirrored surfaces ‘... might be a modern sublime ... absolutely present ...’.  I just wonder about this comparison in the context of photographic surfaces – the surface of the print. Personally, I have tended to work mainly with matte papers, but I know that this approach is sometimes criticised because of the absorptive nature of the surface – absorptive of the light by which the viewer is viewing, that is.  Interesting that Kapoor sees that as relating to the ‘traditional sublime’.  If what he says is right, printing on a matte surface should have the effect of drawing in the viewer’s gaze, which is surely what we want to do with a photographic print!

Friday, 5 October 2012

Assignment Two – Evolution of the Final Concept!

Something of a grand title for this post – but not entirely inappropriate, since I’m going to relate the story of the last ten days or so, & how I’ve arrived at my submission for Assignment Two.

I do have a pencil drawing of the very earliest version of this one, but it falls into the ‘not to be shared in public’ category, and so will remain private.  I’m not entirely sure of the actual source of the idea.  It might be some reflection on ‘The Outsider’ and the presence of a coffin in the story, especially since there is also reference to the screwing down (or not) of the lid and whether or not Meursault wants to view his mother’s body.  There again, it might be the couple of days recently spent tidying out our store in which, amongst myriad other rubbish, reside tools, spare screws and nails, and odd bits of wood saved for their perceived future usefulness!  It might also be that I was forming the conclusion that I might struggle to implement the two earlier versions of a cover design for the book; and that perhaps I would be better advised to find an option that was more easily under my own control.

Whatever the origins, here, in the absence of a drawing, is a description of what was in my mind.  I envisaged what we might refer to as a ‘still life’ construction, which used nails, wood and a screw, to evoke the concept of ‘difference’, in particular, the ‘difference’ of Meursault, the ‘outsider’ or the ‘stranger’.  There would be a row of nails, probably on their heads, with points upwards, interrupted at one point by a screw (probably a brass one, to further emphasise ‘difference’) that was partially fixed, at an angle, into the wood on which the whole ‘scene’ is placed.  Once I’d got the idea, I could also see the possible oblique reference to the coffin and screws in the text.  Also, having the nails pointing upwards, with the screw fixed amongst them, hinted at the difference between being firmly focused on the physical world – Meursault – and the (absurd) high-minded spiritual aspirations of his fellow humans.
Over the last ten days or so, I’ve been able to turn that into reality (not least because, having tidied it, there was room in the store to set up the scene and leave it there for a few days!).  I’ve retained a number of the various images made over that period and put some of them together below.  Without relating the whole story here, it begins, top left, with a few random nails on a plank of wood, and moves left to right, firstly with the appearance of brass screws and a more substantial base; then to the purchase of some 2 inch nails to match the 2 inch brass screws and the beginnings of some experimentation with lighting and layout.  The murder victim makes a brief appearance in two of the early versions, but was felt to be a step too far.  One early decision was what lens to use to give the feeling of being close to the action.  The right hand middle image is significant in that context.  I don’t possess a macro lens and was wondering whether to explore that.  My Ricoh compact does have macro & this image is taken with it, at about a 35mm equivalent focal length.  I liked the way this one worked, and made the decision to use a 35mm prime on my DSLR, which does focus reasonably close.  That enabled me to concentrate on working out the best overall layout (bottom left) so that I could fix the screw into the wood and test out different angles for the nails, different forms & position of lighting (using an off camera flash), eventual arriving at the version (bottom right) that I have used for my submission.

By this point I had also begun to try out the image with some text.  I already know the overall size and had some text prepared from the previous concept with which I’d been experimenting.  It got me thinking about the idea of combining this new image with a background of blue sky to simulate the idea of sun and heat – especially since the colour of the wooden surface resembled that of sand.  So I played around a little more with the lighting – moving it higher, diffusing it etc, to produce other, interesting versions of the scene.  Here is my simulated high, Mediterranean sunlight.

And here are two in which the light is heavily diffused, creating a more even and ‘democratic’ light – perhaps more reminiscent of a room in which a coffin might be kept (although, in the book, the description is of a glaring electric light in the room).

Beginning with the right hand version above, three have been converted into possible book covers.

Then there is the Mediterranean version, with a sky replacing the black background.


There is a fundamental problem with this version.  I have struggled to make a selection in Photoshop that effectively matches the nails to the new background.  I’ve played around with different original version – ones with more even lighting, for example – but I can’t make it work.  Perhaps with more ‘studio’ lighting available, better Photoshop skills, and more time, there could be a way to make this one work.  I even had the idea that the ‘horizon’ could have a hint of the sea to really bring home the idea of a beach.  However, firstly, I think that might all be a step too far, but secondly and importantly, I’m not convinced it is effective a cover as the one I’ve chosen.  ‘Clever’ as it might be, it begins to look like a light-hearted holiday read, which ‘The Outsider’ is definitely not.

Which brings me to the version that I’ve chosen to submit.  It uses the last image from the ‘Evolution of a Concept’ set earlier in this post and was actually produced before the two above.  They have simply been attempts to try out some other ideas, neither of which came out to be as effective as the first.  Going right back to where this started, I do feel it evokes the idea of ‘difference’.  On its own, it is an interesting image, but combined with the book’s title, I feel that the concept works.  For a potential buyer (and they are most likely to be people who already know something about the novel) it could be intriguing enough to encourage them to pick it up and explore.  It is, of itself, absurd, even a touch surreal, which isn’t too far away from the mood of the novel.  It also has the merit of simplicity – whilst also, for those who do know the story, just having a few direct links with the narrative itself.
So, there we have it – just remains to write up some notes for my tutor and submit it for his feedback!