NOTES ON GROUP SERIES, JULY 2008
"If you don't write your own history, someone else will,
and this history will suit their purposes." Mike Kelley
"Even if I am resurrecting (...) obsolete forms of
representation, I'm always indicating their inability to
represent the real subject of the work." Stan Douglas
"It may be true that the work is made by one person,
but it is not necessarily true that it is to be viewed by one
person, or one person thinking of themselves importantly as
one. It may be that it is important for one person to think of
themselves importantly as one of many". TJ Clark
Trying to remember one's first memories of the visual languages of the adult world is an interesting exercise.
The way I remember my understanding of certain things as a child is rather like saying a word over and over until it loses its meaning and you end up with a strange, lateral impression of something. As a boy, I remember rifling through news magazines lying around the house and would see images, for example, of a gathering of politicians. I had no idea who these people were or what they were doing but somehow the images conveyed 'importance'. Even now when clearly I recognise politicians or dignitaries, they are sometimes rendered anonymous by my associative memories of the kind of picture they're in.
In conjunction with a sense of fiction or fabrication, the notion of people and the 'kind of picture they're in' has become a primary concern in my work where subjects are distilled into a 'perfect memory' of the type of image represented.
In an emerging series of paintings, which employ a combination of live models, constructed scale sets and costumes, the various generic groups depicted serve to remake the individual viewer as part of a series of collective identities.
The element of role play is particularly significant. With upcoming subjects like historical reenactment societies or a school play, it can work on different levels; from the performative awareness of the subjects depicted to the 'performance' of the individuals I cast in the paintings. It is important to understand that the figures represented in the paintings are playing the part of someone else. This creates a potential schism in the viewing of the work and an interplay of identification and non-identification. The sense that these figures are in 'someone else's skin' plays up the notion that these identities are ultimately fluid and that the paintings as a whole are more of an exploration of types, systems and institutions.
I have no way of determining an audience's response but the paintings should create a heightened sense of the 'real' despite the image being an almost total fiction.
I want the viewer to be able to buy in to the image enough to want to spend time with it, to elicit a certain level of recognition that then starts to fragment.
Despite any sense of familiarity one might have with the imagery, seeds of doubt are sewn and you come to recognise that its not what you thought it was.
The only element that should perhaps survive scrutiny are the individuals depicted. The level of identification the viewer has with the figures is therefore fundamental.
It is their peculiarly physical presence that gives the paintings a very uncanny quality. This potential for uncertainty in the pictures is an element I intend to increasingly exploit.
The 'source' material for the paintings is by nature archival. The staging of any group for the purposes of documentation whatever the medium immediately becomes about the past, about commemoration or collective memory. When a group assembles for a 'documentary' moment, time accelerates and the instance becomes immediate history.
My role as the 'director', in a visual process that mimics the making of a film, is crucial to the problem of this sense of 'dated' imagery.
The 'happening' - a performative act - directed by and conceived by an artist negates the problem of the generic dating of any source material. The re-staging is the depiction, any historical element becomes purely referential. And arguably as the themes have been re-staged via the prism of my subjective choices, there is no actual referent for these images as such. Therefore in the same way that memory only exists in the present tense, the 'recollected', being completely constructed, is always defined by current understanding.
The contemporary re-staging of the paintings importantly injects insecurity into our understanding of these images and introduces levels of remove from any fundamental notions of truth. This occurs not only in the way that the paintings are constructed but also in terms of the subjects. Astronomers, paleontologists or archaeologists, reenactments and archivists - they're all an attempt to measure, understand or delineate the world but are kept at a distance by time or space, always at a remove from the object of their interest. As well as any thematic links between the images, the depicted groups are all aware of being involved in a 'public' moment, or on display. These are 'trophy' moments exhibiting evidence of pride or even hubris.
These ideas are at the heart of a notionally aspirational image such as Group Series No.2 - Space Program. The exploration of Space (which of course has a nice resonance in relation to painting) represents an escape from ourselves and our earthbound ties, both physical and psychological. The figures personify the vanguard of an effort to understand the unknown. Astronauts operate at the outer limits of our experience, in 'outer-liminal' space so to speak. At the edge of understanding of our tangible experience of the world, they exist in a twilight of endeavour that is unknowable to all but a handful and as such take on symbolic status. They appeal to a child like sense of awe and adventure yet are the ultimate display of a culture's economic power and political ideology.
And of course one immediately thinks of the Space Race. But there's an irresponsibility on the part of the painting in relation to history or facts. The truth falls down and the picture plays with gravitas. Though you might initially believe the image, subtle but mischievous clues to the fictionality of the work are introduced: for example, the milk bottle top or a mobile phone keypad on the ship; plumbing parts on the space suits. As soon as you are made aware of these elements, there's something mildly comic about the image but also darkly so in the sense that this would obviously be a completely doomed mission!
But that's perhaps already implicit in the narrative of the image. The title Space Program puts the emphasis more on earthly planning than it does the heroics of space maneuvres. The ship is still under construction, these men are gathered in anticipation of future glory not in celebration of established deeds. Hence there's a certain tension in the gathering; there's pride but also reservation.
In Group Series No.1 - Sandinistas, the clues to its fictionality lie in the rupture between the robust modeling of the figures and the flattened space of the landscape, reminiscent of a theatrical back drop. The figures are not contained within the scene in 'photographic', homogenous, pictorial harmony and instead of being safe within a determined context, they are almost pushed out into our space in direct confrontation. The exaggerated stillness of the figures is perhaps reflective of a form of stasis one might find in an anthropological diorama at a natural history museum and this stillness is further reinforced by the temporal nature of painting.
Military paintings in particular are traditionally associated with commemoration of victories and the celebration of the State. To depict a marginalized group or outsiders potentially undermines that tradition but is also historically anthropological in that by virtue of the dispossession of these figures in relation to power, they represent something that has (or has been) 'lost'.
If the Sandinistas were an empathetic depiction of real fighters in a 'realistic' context it is not only potentially open to accusations of a kind of cultural tourism on my part but also of fixing identity in a way that makes absolute our relationship to these figures as 'other'; of another 'class', potentially destitute and, in the case of a guerilla movement literally marginalized. The fictionality of the painting ensures that the emphasis is more on our understanding and consumption of images of this type of group than it is about the reality of their existence.
These clues are subliminal but I like the idea of having a unified surface or image that is then disrupted internally, the picture doesn't have to wear its agenda on its sleeve. At the moment, perhaps, the illusion is too successful but I would argue that's because so far there are only two paintings. As soon as others join the series, especially the more explicit subjects like School Play, the reading of pictures like Space Program will be substantially affected. And, of course, its only through the process of making the paintings that one becomes aware of where best to draw the lines so to speak.
Also, there's an important distinction to be made between the reading of surface symbolic meanings and the resonant aspects of their material embodiment. This finds its simplest form in the act of looking at a reproduction of a realist painting and the actual thing itself. Most significantly it is at the heart of the question as to why, for example, my images are paintings and not photographs.
The most honest and direct answer would be that I'm a painter and above all a realist painter. I love looking at paintings and I love making them. The material pleasure I take in making these pictures is fundamental to a viewer's enjoyment of them and I'm certainly not going to make any excuses for that. But I'm also aware that one can't paint in a vacuum and I've spent many years trying to find a way in which to make large scale realist images that are viable in a contemporary context but which also do not rely on an 'art of quotation marks' in order to justify themselves.
For me, the kind of painting that too readily reveals its references or intentions often possesses a form of studied irony which ultimately absolves them materially as paintings. You're left only with the idea and the image becomes illustrational.
For my work to operate I think its important not to be too overt. Fictions are always more revealing if you buy in to them. The 'grandeur' and ambition of the pictures in in relation to scale and history painting means that their volume is turned up enough already. So in terms of the content of the paintings I want to perform with a deadpan expression, almost indifferent to the people depicted. There should be a seriousness and lack of irony or judgment that becomes integral to the uncanniness of the picture. The potential for disruption in the image occurs because it seems too convincing, too perfect and my access to the situation too complete.
If any suspicion of the image takes place then the fact that the figures are painted performs a kind of double lie. Painting as an art form is no longer beholden to the everyday which means it is stripped of a responsibility to be a marker for the real. Therefore its uncanniness can become even more striking because it is almost unexpected. The convincingness of the figures means you hang on to them for security as it becomes increasingly clear that the rest of the image has no foundation. But of course as painting, they're as much a fiction as anything else. If the figures were photographs you more readily accept them as 'reality' and the set up as a staging, that this is all a play on a documentary moment. You 'get the point'.
But once its all been cohered into a painted image, those boundaries are blurred somewhat and a viewer's 'knowingness' is removed. Ironically you believe in the image precisely because it is a painting and not a photograph. You are tricked into a more child-like response and I enjoy the possibilities that this provokes.
It is perhaps an echo of my own childhood response to images and that sense of a strange, lateral impression of the world born of the familiar.
JONATHAN WATERIDGE: BEING SEEN, IN BETWEEN
by Gilda Williams
JONATHAN WATERIDGE - INTERVIEW WITH AESTHETICA BY EDITOR, CHERIE FEDERICO, APRIL 2010 FOR ANOTHER PLACE
Aesthetica: Can you start off by telling me about yourself â€“ when did you start painting and how did it all begin for you? What happened after you left Glasgow, etc?
Jonathan Wateridge:I started painting in earnest as a teenager but to be honest, and I'm sure this is similar for most artists, being alone in a room making pictures or objects is something I have done in one form or another for as long as I can remember.
Artistically, my first loves are still very much the same today - the likes of Manet, Goya, Rembrandt and Velasquez. They personify a realism with which I have always felt a profound kinship but that said, it has not exactly been an easy one. From the age of 20, I did not paint at all for over 12 years (and it was over 15 years before I made a figure painting) in the belief that it would not be possible to engage directly with this kind of work in a contemporary context.
I went to Glasgow making realist oil paintings always made from life but within months had abandoned painting altogether, deeming it a hopeless anachronism. I felt the only way forward as a progressively thinking, young contemporary artist would be to make highly conceptual work expressed purely through contemporary media. Clearly, somewhere along the way I've had a change of heart in terms of medium but it was only after some very difficult years of exploring various ways of working - via conceptualism, film-making and even theatre. My successes were few and my failures legion but in retrospect I was laying the foundations of much of what I make now. Slowly, I was drawn back to pure image making because, for one, I really missed not having a material process. It took a further few years of making highly labour intensive images out of pigment dissolved in wax on glass (that were an awkward hybrid of painting, film and photography) before I considered the possibility of painting again. By then a not-so-young contemporary artist, I finally stopped making work I felt I should make and began the liberating process of actually making the work I wanted to. All in all, its been a long haul to establish a way in which to make large scale realist images that I felt could be viable in a contemporary context. Ironically, I've realised that the obsolete aspects of painting that made me abandon it are now the very elements that are most exciting to exploit.
A: Your work is epic in scale, and combines a series of meta-narratives that make up one whole story, can you tell me about the sequence in Another Place, and each workâ€™s significance to the series?
JW: As the press release describes, the paintings depict scenes from a fictional American film that is centred on an unseen catastrophic event. Inevitably one starts to imagine the possible nature of the calamity. The collapsed overpass certainly gives clues as to its scale but within each picture there are smaller more private disasters occurring, which may or may not be connected to the wider catastrophe. For example, the death of the architect; the fallen security guard; the caller on the phone in Night - Kitchen, not to mention the disaster enacted by the little boy under the table; the old lady in front of her house. These smaller stories all intertwine around a larger framework and the fictional construct of the 'film' allows me to explore the many themes that the locations depicted set up in terms of genre and narrative.
But within that framework, further ideas can be explored - from issues of economy and class in terms of the people depicted; to ideas about the construction and fluidity of identity in general, given the fact that these are paintings of individuals (primarily my friends) portraying actors whose job is pretending to be other people.
I'm very concerned with ideas of 'looking' and of what is being 'seen' within the pictures. Of course that is not always clear, which is exactly the intent, as I'm consciously aiming to create doubt within the images.
Ultimately though, this series of paintings is an exploration of their status as a construct. Almost every element in the pictures has its correlation in a live model, prop, object, costume or miniature set that has been set up or made within my studio. Therefore the paintings are complete fictions in themselves but they are also depictions of fiction in process. They set up a moment that has not yet been adequately fixed or performed in terms of the final narrative of this imagined film. They are primarily in-between moments, liminal, ill defined and uncertain. I like exploring this space between things. My process even sits between disciplines, being almost a homemade movie production on one level but with the final result obviously being the paintings.
Fiction, fabrication, role-play, identity, genre and the idea of 'construction' within an image, on both a symbolic and material level, have all become very dominant themes in my work. The element of the 'constructed' creates and explores contradictions within notions of the real and therefore our relationship to it. If it's present in the images I make then - however 'truthful' or convincing the figures depicted - the awareness of the underlying construction potentially injects doubt or insecurity into the reading of the painting. In fact, the more convincing and successful I can make the painterly aspects of the picture, the more potent this sense of dislocation potentially becomes.
A: Why did you make the paintings scenes from a fictional American film?
JW: Despite being a British person who spent the first part of their life growing up in Africa and the rest primarily in London, I've probably spent a good part of it inhabiting the imaginary landscape of American film. A product of cultural osmosis, I often feel I experience the world at a remove, second-hand; via the constant flow of imagery that has shaped us all over decades. There is absolutely nothing unique in that, in the same way that there is nothing unique in the subject matter I choose for the paintings. In fact, itâ€™s their very familiarity that interests me. Aside from that, I found the notion of setting the series within a fictionalised version of what is essentially Los Angeles very resonant. Not only is it literally at the edge/end of the Western world, it also the 'city of dreams' made palpable through cinema. In researching the project I did a lot of reading about LA and its relationship to the notion of disaster and was particularly interested in what Mike Davis outlines in his book 'The Ecology of Fear' as 'the analogous relationship between the literary destruction of Los Angeles and the nervous breakdown of American exceptionalism'.
A: Your work stems from a long tradition, but you use contemporary themes as the subject of your work, can you tell me more about this interplay?
JW: The word 'tradition' always makes me a little nervous, especially in relation to realist painting as it tends to carry negative connotations. Even the most conceptual contemporary work operates within a tradition, its just not quite as long established. Of course, painting does come with a huge amount of historical baggage but essentially it is just another language or idiom within art and I prefer to see it in those terms.
Also, there has long been a residual mistrust of painterly realism in contemporary circles, which fortunately seems to be subsiding. Personally, I would argue that painters such as Manet and Courbet have more relevance to the contemporary than the more recent, though rapidly dating, absolutist tendencies of modernism.
Manet, particularly in the 1860's before he succumbed to the increasingly formalist aspects of Post-Impressionism, was making work that was very socially and politically aware. Operating outside of the auspices of church, state or academy; he was making realist paintings on his terms that engaged with the world around him in an investigative and exploratory way. That was an exciting and unique place for an artist to be and his work of that period is some of the greatest I've seen but it was a brief window. Very simply, the rise of formalism within painting mirrored the appropriation of the real by photography and the rest becomes the history of Modernism. But the way art echoes through history is not necessarily linear. I find extraordinary parallels between Richter, for example, and aspects of Degas' relationship to paint and photography. Sickert's late work seems incredibly contemporary next to other artists of the time who notionally would have been far more 'avant-garde'. Indeed the notion of the avant-garde itself is one that lacks contemporary legitimacy, its ideologies having ossified into the very kind of orthodoxy it sought to overthrow in the first place. Ultimately, itâ€™s reliant on a romantic binary opposition that no longer exists and I believe we are working in a far more interesting and fluid context than that.
All of which is a very long-winded way of trying to explain how it is exciting, difficult but still possible to paint as I do today!
I no longer believe that history painting, for example, cannot be practiced, it just has to be practiced under very different terms. Painting is able to do some very interesting things precisely at the point where it becomes aware of its own limitations. I am not doing anything new in this respect and have taken great courage from the fact that artists such as Gerhard Richter and latterly, Luc Tuymans, have done so much to redefine the terms under which it becomes possible to paint. The climate has certainly thawed somewhat within the art world as even five years ago I think my work might well have been dismissed out of hand. (And a big part of me fears it still might be!)
A: Another Place is focused on an unseen catastrophic event, why did you choose not to paint this scene too?
JW: For a start I think this relates to my interest in exploring ill-defined moments. To show the cause of the catastrophe would be to fix it somehow, to make it knowable and thus containable. For me an exploration of doubt or insecurity necessitates a lack of awareness as to the source. To depict the cause also makes the images less resonant. I like the fact that, conceptually, the viewer can play an active role in either performing within this narrative or direct it.
A: There are dichotomies within the series, for example, between Pool Party and Valley Home, can you tell me why it was important for the series to have two sides to its story? Whatâ€™s the further significance of this?
JW: As mentioned previously, this fictional landscape is clearly redolent of a city like Los Angeles. Famously, LA is built across geological fault lines and I think there are rich parallels in the way the economic, social and ethnic divides of the city are reflected in the landscape: the affluent and powerful, above in the hills and the poor and dispossessed below in the valley. The social strata are as divided as the ground on which they are built.
A: The subtext of each painting is sober, it speaks about tragedies occurring at another time and place, how does this reflect current attitudes to catastrophes, i.e. being able to turn the news on and in the same breath turn it off?
JW: There are many interesting ideas about the personal and the collective that this question throws up. Empathy, indifference, sensationalism or fear; these responses are predicated on the fact that disasters and tragedy always happen to someone else, someone 'other'. But there is also a shiver of recognition that this could happen to us and of course it will - in death. Disaster is the ultimate realisation of all our fears, a perfect apocalyptic storm, in which death is meted out in a manner that reduces us to the most abject and helpless state imaginable.
There is also an interesting relationship between tragedy and disaster. We often conflate the two when in actuality they can be very different things. Natural disasters are certainly indifferent and hideously cruel but not a tragedy. Catastrophe as a result of human failure becomes tragic, it needs that intra-personal dimension of character. Hurricane Katrina for example was only a disaster. It was the failure of an indolent and arrogant government to adequately aid the dispossessed that was a tragedy.
A: Can you tell me more about your painting process, how do you begin to develop a work on such a large scale?
JW: Once I have the idea for a painting, I generally start by planning a model of the location for the picture. The models are central to the notion of creating an entirely fabricated environment for the pictures. Not only do they allow me to reconfigure generic influences I have absorbed through film but, on a practical level, they also give me complete access to the situation, in terms of how the characters will inhabit the space, how to light it, my 'camera angle' etc.
Casting is also a crucial stage in the process. I really enjoy it as well. The alchemy of faces and personalities does a significant amount of the work in creating association and resonance within the image. I then get all the characters together and do a 'film shoot'. Given the logistics of setting everything up in my studio in terms of the numbers of people cast and all the sets etc, it makes sense to photograph the scenes. I take many hundreds of pictures, placing my cast in alternative positions, to allow myself as many options as possible in deciding what the final painting will contain. It's the equivalent of shooting multiple takes and then editing.
Itâ€™s only after that stage that I start work on the canvas but even then I'm often making changes. Something that looks OK in an A4 photographic print doesn't necessarily work when its life size and in paint. I always follow the demands of the painting rather than the content of the reference photographs.
A: Your work is picture perfect; in fact, there are certain pieces that look like photographs, how do you feel this style of painting works with or against the digital camera?
JW: I have to make the point here that this could be the unfortunate result of seeing the images via reproduction rather than in the flesh, which often reduces the paintings to imagery alone at the expense of their materiality. It forces a painting to be seen via the prism of a photograph, which inevitably renders it more 'photographic'.
Also, I very much define myself as a realist painter as opposed to a photo-realist. Photo-realism for me is about the transposition of information that relates to the particular way a camera sees. I try to paint as the eye might see, which is more contingent, fleeting, variegated and more edited in terms of the information that remains. For me there's an absence and certainly a distancing within any photo-realist image, whereas I try to compose and render the figures in a way that makes their presence as palpable as possible. Photography allows the possibility of the cinematic to enter the paintings but their rendering has to be about exploring and celebrating the materiality of paint rather than denying it, which in my experience much photo-based painting tends to do.
There is also an important distinction to be made between the reading of surface symbolic meanings and their material embodiment. Again, this finds its simplest form in the difference between a reproduction and the painting itself. Most significantly it is at the heart of the question as to why, for example, my images are paintings and not photographs. Painting as an art form is no longer beholden to the everyday, it is no longer a marker for the 'real' in a way that photography still is, despite the ability of digital technology to manipulate its content. Therefore its uncanniness or 'convincingness' can become even more striking because today it is almost unexpected. If the figures in my work were photographs you would more readily accept them as 'reality' and the set up as a staging, that this is all a play on a cinematic moment. You 'get the point'. But once its all been cohered into a painted image, those boundaries are blurred somewhat and a viewer's knowingness is removed. Ironically you believe in the image precisely because it is a painting and not a photograph.
A: A more general question, can you tell me more about who your influences are and why (both historic and contemporary) â€“ this can be both in art, but any other aspects of culture too?
JW: Obviously there are the painters I mentioned earlier such as Velazquez but as for other influences, there are a great many; from Richter to Stan Douglas and in film loads - from David Lynch, to Hitchcock, to Fellini. That's just influence though. In terms of enjoyment, I love films from across the spectrum, high or low brow. They all inform and shape your fictional 'psyche'.
Also, Jeff Wall has been particularly influential for me in conceptual terms. I think there are clear parallels between his work and mine but, to be honest, it is his writing that has influenced me far more than his art. He has been extremely erudite in his delineation of how it can become possible to make a 'contained' image that carries within it the fault lines of its own internal rupture rather than the more explicit and self conscious fragmentation of certain forms of now rather orthodox conceptualism. That was a massive help in finding my way back to painting.
A: Your work ultimately challenges constructs of reality and elaborate fictions, so in some respects itâ€™s rather theatrical, what do you want viewers to take away from this series?
JW: I think most artists carry in their mind an ideal viewer who will appreciate all the subtle intentions and nuances of the work but in reality itâ€™s not for me to dictate the reading of the series. I'm sure people will respond in a multitude of ways, some positively and some negatively, which is exactly as it should be. To be honest, I'm very selfish and look forward more to how people will illuminate me in terms of the paintings rather than the other way round! That way I get to learn something.
A: How does Another Place progress on from your previous show, On A Clear Day You Can See Forever? Youâ€™ve painted on Perspex, but the new series is back on canvas, can you tell me about the movement to glass and then back to canvas?
JW: The paintings on perspex grew out of an earlier body of work on glass and were the beginning of my return to making paintings. In retrospect I realise that much of my earlier work was about painting but always from a position of remove. I had placed all these conceptual barriers in the way of simply painting. In a sense the perspex was the last of those obstacles.
These paintings had developed out of images that were about fictitious or fabricated spaces like zoological habitats. I liked the idea of these contained worlds and the theatricality of the layered perspex very much embodied that. They were also about the collision of a version of the sublime with B movie kitsch in the form of these epic disasters. So I guess the notion of cinematic catastrophe has merely continued into the new paintings.
Increasingly though, my fear was that the perspex paintings were all too easily defined by their support and not the paint itself. As landscapes they just about got away with their theatricality but as figure paintings they could all too easily end up a gimmick. Ultimately, I knew a return to painting would have to lead to exploring figure-based imagery as that is exactly the point from which my love of art emerged and this was something I could only do on canvas. It is a challenge I've taken many years to find the confidence to tackle but its one that I'm relishing. At the end of the day, however sober the content of the paintings might become, I'm having serious fun.
A: Finally, what are your future plans?
JW: To get straight back to work, wherever that may take me (though only after a brief interlude of concerted drinking).
JONATHAN WATERIDGE - ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE A STARTLING, SOLD-OUT, MUST-SEE SHOW
by Meredith Etherington-Smith
Jonathan Wateridge - exhibition titled, "On a Clear Day You Can See"
The works depict plane crashes and ship wrecks in extreme landscapes-deep jungle, snowy mountains, ocean bed and rocky shoreline. And they are executed on a massive scale: 270 cm. wide and 190 cm. tall.
Each work, which takes months to complete, is painted in oil on large sheets of clear Perspex.
In a laborious process, Wateridge builds up 10 layers or more, giving the 21 cm.-thick works a heightened three-dimensionality. Their sheer scale imbues them with an epic, cinematic scope.
Wateridge uses models and small sets as part of his working process, and the works owe something to the dioramas which so inspired Hiroshi Sugimoto when he saw them in the New York Museum of Natural History-and something also to movie sets.
Wateridge's work has already generated a long waiting list. One large piece taken to Art Basel this June was sold to major collectors here in the U.K. This current show, of course, is already a sell-out.
Wateridge's work, as he told me when I went round to see him in his working quarters-part artist's studio, part model-making laboratory-is "all about wanting to paint, but painting in the 21st century rather than in the 19th."
After leaving the Glasgow School of Art, Wateridge said he struggled with the conundrum of how to paint in a totally new way, one which owed nothing to art history. A year ago, the breakthrough came by accident.
"I came upon this way of painting with oil on glass by accident. For me, to paint on canvas seemed to belong in the past, and really couldn't give me the theatrical quality I was seeking."
JONATHAN WATERIDGE - MITTELAND
All Visual Arts, 2011
The exhibition, Mittelland, consists of six vast oil paintings (often exceeding 3m x 4m) which explore a sense of displacement within anonymous urban scenes that are both familiar and alien. The locations are primarily peripheral or transitional spaces, such as corridors, gates, stairs and a balcony and make reference to the idea of relocation and dislocation. The notion of emergence and recession also reflects the way the figures inhabit the space of the paintings; nothing is fixed, the characters are merely passing through these states.
One canvas, Re-painting, shows a middle aged couple in their building site of a house: the walls are in the process of being plastered; there are dust sheets, paint pots and decorating tools scattered around. It is an environment in total flux. In the midst of working on the space, the figures are covered in a layer of dust; this appears to absorb them back into the environment as if they have become ghosts in their own home. Ultimately, the world Wateridge portrays is entirely fabricated. The artist paints what he describes as â€śelaborate fictions with visible seamsâ€ť, building full scale movie-like sets for each painting in his studio and employing actors to pose as characters. The underlying fact that the environments are all elaborate fictional constructions is used to disturb the relationship that the viewer forms with the figures depicted.
In comparison to his previous series, Mittelland is more sober in feel. The vibrant palette and overt dramatisation of the earlier work, synonymous with Hollywood, is replaced by a more subdued and isolated portrayal of his characters and what they stand for. The paintings are intentionally unspectacular in location and action, but remain highly ambitious in scale and resonant in their simplicity.
The quiet transience of the situations depicted works against the monumentality of the canvases themselves. Within the paintings of Mittelland, the intimate is made epic and the prosaic becomes vital.