The relationship between painting and photography is has also been explored by Wolfgang Tillmans in work made over the last decade or so. For Tillmans the work starts and ends with photographic process, but in making the images the fundamental notion of photography as drawing with light is used to make images that feel much closer to painting than photography. These are large-scale, painterly abstract pictures are made without a camera; the photographic paper simply records the light Tillmans directs at it.
The relationship between painting and photography lies at the heart of Gerhard Richter’s practice, from paintings made from found photographs to photographs of paintings made from, yes, photographs, this is territory Richter has explored more thoroughly and from more directions than perhaps any other artist. The Detail paintings, started in 1970, explore the nature of painting and the way in which we so often experience the complexity of the painted surface rendered smooth as a photographic surface. In these paintings, Richter has taken small details from paintings made with a heavy impasto and reproduced these, massively enlarged, as smooth painted surfaces. In Detail (Red-blue) a small area of heavily textured paint is represented as a three metre wide painting.
The end of summer is in sight and everything is starting afresh. It might sound odd, but Autumn always feels like the start of something new to me. Certainly, it’s the time of year when my thoughts turn to what to show a new intake of students. Some things don’t change much of course, but there are always works I’ve come across recently (many of them probably written about here already) or things I know well but now want to talk about differently. I’ll need to get my art history hat on pretty soon but before that I get to show a random selection of art to help get some ideas going and, with luck, defy a few expectations and destroy some preconceptions. All of which means that in a way I’m quite surprised to find myself trawling through Gerhard Richter’s Overpainted Photographs, but it’s a body of work that somehow always seems relevant.
Gabriel Orozco, Until You Find Another Yellow Schwalbe, 1995
While I’m in on a bit of a ‘means of transport as art’ theme I really can’t ignore Gabriel Orozco’s Until You Find Another Yellow Schwalbe. Living in Berlin while on a DAAD residency in 1995, Orozco got around the city using a yellow Schwalbe scooter. These scooters, made in the former East Germany, were cheap and quite a common sight on the streets of Berlin. Whenever he saw a scooter like his parked, Orozco would pull up next to it and photograph the pair of scooters. He left a note on each of the scooters inviting the owner to bring it to a gathering outside the Neue Nationalgalerie on the anniversary of the reunification of Germany.
Mats Bergsmeden, from the series Border Line, 2004–12
The pictures in Mats Bergsmeden’s series Border Line are very beautiful landscape photographs. Most seem like idyllic places, indeed my immediate thought was of the pastoral idyll of landscape painting and this seems to be Bergsmeden’s intention, with the specific reference of the landscape tradition in European painting during the Age of Enlightenment. Some of the pictures are of places where man’s intervention is limited to controlling nature but in some there are signs of the built environment and industry. Though all the images are unpopulated, in some we seem to be approaching signs of human activity; there is a sense that we are on the outside looking in. It would be possible to appreciate these as beautiful landscape photographs without reading anything more into them, but that would be to completely miss the point.
In the series Western Graveyards, Nancy Holt is again recording individual elements from an existing sign system and representing them as an artwork. Here the playfulness of the California Sun Signs is replaced by a poignancy that comes from our encounter with people we never knew through a series of photographs of their last resting places and the way the lives have been memorialised. For me, the series is fascinating in several ways. Firstly, for a Londoner, especially in this summer of rain, the unfamiliarity of graves within a desert landscape is striking; the desolation of the location and the dilapidation of the graves seems at odds with the bright sunlight.
The idea of representing existing text as art intrigues me and is something that can work in very different ways. It’s essentially the basis of Nancy Holt’s 1972 work California Sun Signs but this is a body of work driven by the inclusion of text in the image but in which the text is only a small part of the piece. Presented in a somewhat random but broadly circular arrangement on the wall, the individual images that make up California Sun Signs each show a sign found in the Californian landscape, which in each case includes the word sun.