Consignment:
                       Interview conducted by Diane Walkey

DW. When and where did you conceive the idea for 'Consignment' and what came first, the film or the paintings?

GI. Like many art projects, 'Consignment' resulted from an interweaving of several threads. It developed directly from my work on a series entitled 'Smoke and Mirrors'. This consisted of paintings of circus performers and sideshow acts; mermaids, knife-throwers, conjoined twins, magicians and their assistants.

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 The next artiste in the series was to be an escapologist; an homage to Houdini. The figure was to be physically confined by the close proximity of the edges of a square canvas.

I made a box with an interior dimension of  91 x 91 x 91 cm. This was illuminated by spotlighting from  the side. Overhead, I clamped a stills camera. I modelled for a series of photographs shot by fellow artist, Carole King. The results could have made the box a haven of security or protection. However, by making the dimensions of the crate tight and the lighting grazed and contrasting, the photographs suggested scenes of sensory deprivation or enforced solitary confinement; a holding cell prior to deportation. They also suggested to me a scenario of human trafficking, either voluntary or coerced.

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Within minutes of my confinement, I decided that my constricted movements within the space, from one pose to the next, should be recorded. Video could emphasise the sheer discomfort of the experience, which a single still might not convey. The set-up was duplicated and a camcorder replaced the stills camera. The results were edited using repeat cross-dissolves, fades and clip reversals to create a loop.

A second editing session combined this footage with film of slow moving traffic approaching the toll-gate of a river crossing.

There is one prototype for this compositional set-up from my student days. At a time when I felt particularly isolated, I painted a series of works based on Francis Bacon's 'Caged Baboon', a haunting image of alienation. These culminated in 'Red Cubes', a crouched, contemplative and vaguely troubled figure in a darkened room on a square canvas. Although I worked from a life model, [actually, two; one male and one female] it was the most autobiographical work I painted at college.

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DW. In practice, as a painter, how do photographs and moving images figure in your work, and as a painter, what attracts you to the medium of film?

GI. For years, I harboured reservations about the value of the photograph to the artists practice. I was immersed in liferoom discipline with its central ethos of working directly from the model. However, as I aimed for some content beyond the merely observational, photography could contribute elements of immediacy and spontaneity to my painting. I am confident enough in my technique to steer my work away from the stylisation of photorealism; I know how a form curves away around a contour and out of view; how to see colour in shadows and half-lights; -precisely those aspects of the human form which a photograph struggles to capture.

Although I am first and foremost a painter, the ease with which video footage can now be edited on a laptop makes film as a creative medium much more appealing to me. The visual dynamics of movement can be more comprehensively investigated with a camcorder, which can be used as a sketchbook in another form. Indeed, I feel more comfortable working from moving images than from still photographs.
 

DW. You mentioned an empathy with Bacon's work.  Do you consider Bacon's use of diverse reference material, including the photographic, to have influenced the way that you now approach painting? Could the practice of drawing from life become redundant?

 GI. What I admire most about Bacon is his ability to convey dissolution and pessimism through the use of paint. This is what will remain when the legends surrounding his art practice have evaporated. Significantly, the myth that he never made preparatory drawings prior to painting, dissolved shortly after his death, when a substantial cache of his sketches was revealed.

  Working direct from the model was supposed to have been largely redundant from the 1870ís, yet the practice is being constantly re-evaluated. Indeed, it is currently the subject of an [albeit media-restricted] experiment on Channel Four television*.

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 I don't see a time when first hand experience of particularly the human form can be fully replaced by the photographic gaze, a filtration process which limits the artistís sensation.  Work derived exclusively from photographic sources becomes as much about this filter as the object being captured through its medium. This is fine, as long as that artist/photographer is fully aware of this.

 DW. 'Consignment' deals with issues that go beyond the artistic.  Is your concern directly political and how do you feel about the emotional debate that this work provokes?

 GI. Nothing dates quite so badly as overtly political painting. The moment passes, the target moves on and the artwork is rendered redundant. Polemical, didactic art by definition reveals its content immediately, leaving nothing to revisit. The 'Smoke and Mirrors' project had had a socio-political content which alluded to both governmental sleight of hand, and social and biological engineering. But this was subtext; if people associated the deceits and hubris of 'Horus the Magician' with a dissembling Cheyney or a duplicitous Blair; if they connected levitating figures with spurious evidence for weapons of mass  destruction and similar deceptions served up for the gullible by the culpable, they wouldnít be too far from the mark, but the paintings could be viewed and appreciated without these links being made.

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Even in the far West of Wales, one remains acutely aware of political corruption, state-sanctioned interrogation techniques, the waging of war contrary to international law, the pursuit of security and defence policies which make us less, rather than more secure. Habeas Corpus could be suspended at any time. The price of liberty and democracy remains eternal vigilance. Visual art is an instrument in this vigil. I have never been the subject of sensory deprivation techniques. I donít have first hand experience of what it is like to be smuggled across a border. Any literal interpretation of such imagery would seem too contrived. My aim is always to produce a visual metaphor. In this series, a white male figure stands as a synecdoche for men, women and children of all races trafficked across frontiers to satisfy economic and sexual appetites in more developed countries. The film 'Consignment' doesn't locate its human commodity in a particular container or identify the vehicle used for the trafficking. The figure ghosts through this footage; somewhere, in one of those vehicles, an economic migrant is in transit; everything remains implicit, opaque.

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 DW. In 'Consignment', as in 'Red Cubes', individual identity is obscured.  Your figure is anonymous. Do you regard 'Consignment; as in any way an autobiographical work, as you did the earlier piece?

GI. No, the fact that I am the subject in the crate is pure contingency: I didnít have a model to work with. I would have been more than happy to direct a performance artist  during the photographic  and film sessions.

A sense of anonymity is integral to the ambience of this project; lighting was arranged to cast shadows which would obscure evidence of individuality.

An already anonymous figure is further demoted to the level of mere human commodity through the use of a wholly dispassionate titling system. Each 'unit' [or artwork] belongs to a particular 'batch' [or set of paintings], identified by shared dimensions, and made ready for shipping on a particular date [the completion date of that set]. The whole total  of 'units' produced becomes the 'Consignment' .

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 DW. 'Consignment' constitutes a large body of work, film, paintings and prints.  What affect has this work had on your view of yourself as a contemporary visual artist?  Do you anticipate a return to the subject or has the production of this work affected your approach to further projects?

 GI. 'Consignment' now constitutes over 200 separate, original works**. Its development has involved separate uses of paint, print and film. It is likely that I will adopt this multi-media approach to future projects and perhaps experiment with a more physical integration of these media.

Like its forerunner, 'Smoke & Mirrors', I regard this project as ongoing: there are always going to be gaps in a sequence, which can be filled with a return to the motif. The element suggesting further development is the film making. I have an extensive bank of footage, which I would like to re-edit, using only the figure's movements. By pushing the audience's attention span beyond the unspoken five-minute limit, which most gallery visitors give video, the distress and threat implicit in the scenario could be further emphasised. Perhaps they should view the film from within the confines of a crate of their own?

* ''Life Class' A five part series of television programmes devoted to the principles and practice of drawing directly from the model. Broadcast in the UK, July 2009, Channel Four

** 300+ as of January 2015

 
July 2009. Extract from
"Consignment: paintings, prints, video"
Nant Publishing 2011 ISBN: 978-0-9563567-2-7


 
Diane Walkey is a painter, photographer and illustrator living and working on the West Wales coast.  She has an MA in Art & Design Education and a BA in Industrial Design. She is a tutor for the Open College of the Arts painting and photography courses. Her work can be seen at:

                                                                           www.dianewalkey.com.

 Glenn Ibbitson
https://twitter.com/Brushsmoke
https://smokingbrush.wordpress.com/

 

 


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