Uneven surfaces

Calum Colvin, Robert Burns, 2002

There are many artists who explore the relationship between painting and photography and plenty who use photography to render studio installations flat – Thomas Demand for instance, who I wrote about yesterday – what makes Calum Colvin’s approach unusual and why talk about his work now?

Colvin’s working process – yes, the preoccupation of the week, here pleasingly coupled with a timely portrait of Robert Burns – is an intriguing one and the results can be visually baffling at first sight. Often working from art historical images, Colvin projects pictures into three-dimensional spaces – often room settings, created in his studio – and then paints the projected image as it falls within the space. When photographed from the viewpoint of the initial projection, the picture is turned neatly back into two dimensions though we can see that it’s spilled out throughout the space. In a sense these are the ultimate staged photographs.

Calum Colvin, Cupid and Psyche, 1986

Of course, translation of a three dimensional space into a flat surface is fundamental to photography. It’s what the camera does. It can’t help itself. Manipulating the space that is being recorded is hardly new, nor is referring back to art history or mythology, as Colvin does here. And while the paintings work well enough within the parameters of the work they’re not what makes it interesting.

I think in part it’s the visual trickery and the challenge of trying to work out how the space works but ultimately for me it comes back to the process involved in translating a two dimensional image into another version of itself via a three dimensional intermediary. There’s something slightly crazy about that as an undertaking and for that I rather love it.

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