Under further Scrutiny and reflection, I have come to explore the relationships between works that have inspired me throughout my time on this course, and the work that I am creating within my own studio practice. Beginning with Sir Alfred Gilbert’s ‘Icarus’ as a starting point, I was at once entranced with the story surrounding Icarus; his foolishness and pride eventually leading him to pursue things seemingly out of our reach as human beings; and failing, falling down unto his death. This tragedy, a favourite topic of literature for me, at once captivated me. This tragedy can also be seen by the permanent Installation of ‘Untitled’ by Jannis Kounellis within the Tate modern; exhibiting a star landscape of an industrial town, no windows and no doors, and two birds caught within mid air by two arrows, it paints a portrait of the mediocrity of Britain’s industrial towns. There is often no way to escape the depression and sombre attitude of them, and no way to escape them until one dies. This idea of a lack of escape, of the birds, so free, not being able to escape started a notion in my head; if we cannot escape death, then surely dying whilst attempting to escape the mediocrity of living is a honourable endeavor?
Then I went to visit the RA show of Anselm Kiefer’s work; a selection of monumental paintings that spoke of a knowledge of alchemy, and the cyclical nature of life in a way I had not seen before. These concepts of life and death repeating were realised in his huge paintings of Nazi monuments. These were accompanied by a short passage in which it detailed that Hitler wanted to craft such monumental and powerfully imposing buildings out of stone, so that they would make ‘Beautiful ruins’. Hitler, although a madman, was exceedingly clever, and his understandings of his own humanity, his own lifespan, and the lifespan of his empire, was incredibly astute; to understand that one day he would not be there, but to understand that he could create a legacy, was fascinating to me.
Hermann Nitsch was another contemporary artist that I took great inspiration from at this time; his visceral work, showcasing a knowledge of the human desire for gore and brutality, yet simultaneous joy and pleasure one derives from it, and it’s comparative aspects to religion and it’s practices perfectly coincided with my growing understanding of the essence of life and death. Nitsch worked in a way that cannot be imitated, yet it was, as it’s core, an imitation, or reflection, of practices that had been enjoyed and worshipped throughout human history.
Rome was yet another inspiration for this idea of worship and the understanding of our time on this earth; as it allowed me to understand the connections that we perceive between the two opposing times of living and the afterlife. There was something that I noticed whilst I was in these monolithic churches; their imposing power was certainly overwhelming, and one felt that there was a very deep and rich history and belief system rooted within the very stone the buildings were made of. Yet, there was something else here; something organic. The buildings, so to speak, were like a large womb; one that viewers and worshippers could enter into and feel safe. This personification of the material that they were crafted from, as the church as a vessel, or a body, was of great interest to me; as I have focused on the idea of cocoons or wombs in previous works.
Then, cancer struck a loved one, and my work has grown to reflect this. Whilst exploring artists who utilise this disease in their work, I came across two bodies of work that fascinated me; Lam Qua’s Medical portraits, and the works of Abou Farman & Leonor Carabello in ‘OBJECT Breast Cancer’. The first, as a representation of how tumours work on the outsides of the human body; the vessel is mutated and misshapen by the disease, and this is showcased on the outer form of the person; yet, with the other body of work, once can see how the cancer affects the inside of the body; spreading out, much like ink in water, and pushing through the tissue to grow and replace the healthy flesh. There was something really interesting about the form of these tumours, as if they were made of some viscous, black liquid like oil, that has been frozen in transit. This aspect of motion, trapped and paused within mid air, reaches back to the image of the birds caught in mid flight, yet also reflects my interests in a form that holds energy and has potential.
I then went to see the exhibition of Richard Serra’s work in the Gagosian, which was absolutely brilliant. The sheer intrinsic density and weight within the chosen working material of steel added a unique angle to the pieces; and when they wee lined up in ‘Ramble’, I felt that, as they were relevant to my size, they had an air of personification. The space was deeply spiritual, almost silent except for the echoes of footsteps of those exploring the mass of steel objects. There was soul here, as if each and every one of them held a nature of humanity. Then, I experienced the majesty of ‘Backdoor Pipeline”, which I could not help but feel had a spiritual, human aspect to it. As I entered the tunnel, I felt that I was in some form of womb, or the belly of the beast, and this translated into inspiration for the tumours as bodies of their own, and the body that they inhabit, a vessel for growth and energy; much like the womb of a mother.
I then visited the Huntarian museum of surgery in London, in a bid to better understand how the tumour forms and malforms the body around it; I found what I was looking for, and was surprised to find that the tumours in bone can infect and replace the bone; creating strange, hardened tumours, unlike the fleshy ones that I have come to know through my research.
I then began to explore the use of Flesh within art as a means of better understanding the texture and consistency of the tumours and the flesh that they inhabit. I was drawn to a series of works by Mark Gilbert entitled ‘Saving faces’ in which he would paint operations and surgical procedures in which tumours and other anomalies within the body are located and removed, as well as returning the distorted faces and body parts to a more ‘normal’ shae and identity. This was really inspiring, and I have been working on attempting to get a placement within Heath Hospital in which I can go in and draw and paint the surgery and tumours from life, which would greatly aid me in my practice. I have also begun to look at Francis Bacon’s use of colour to orchestrate flesh and the human condition as a ‘piece of meat’ which is basically all we are. His understanding of death and flesh have also inspired me when it comes to the creation of my tumours, as I look to other people’s philosophies on the subject to better inform my own.
Tamsin Van Essen is another influence of mine, albeit a far more recent one, in which the artist uses apothecary jars as a means of representing the body as a vessel, and how diseases affect and distort the body.