Archive for September 2014
Viewing images by photomontage artist Clay Smith in the exhibition Dystopia at Harrington Mill Studios, I am reminded of the constructedness of our present and that we do not necessarily live in the best of all possible worlds. All is not what it seems, just beneath the surface of civilisation is flesh and the ‘civilising’ itself may not be a good thing. There’s a series of images here that runs in a sequence revealing the process of social and technological development as beginning with control and ending in cannibalism. Yet all the images have beauty, whether in the soft magenta and tan colours or in the subtle blemishes that are as near to painterly that a photo can get. They pose questions for me about beauty, meaning and process. Rather than attempting to think through these questions on my own, I asked the artist for an interview. My questions are shown as headings with Clay Smith’s responses below each one.
To what degree do you think of your images as “abstract”?
My works are very recognisable, you can easily spot the imagery in them but I use them in a way that changes the culture or meaning of the originality of the image. I see that as an abstract variant. I change the meaning and use of the image, making the viewer look differently at the work, to think about the piece perhaps on an abstracted level. I love abstract paintings, I even tried it myself many years ago, but failed terribly! I prefer to look at paintings than photography as they allow the viewer to interpret the piece as they wish. I’d like people to perhaps do the same with my work although not abstract in aesthetic they could be abstracts in how we would deal with them intellectually.
How do you make them? Surely not physically cut out, nor likely to have been made in a darkroom, are they digitally manipulated?
I use photographic slides, I find them, buy them and get given them. I also make my own. I look through hundreds of them to find the images that I need, then I scan them. I used to send them to the Palm Labs in Birmingham but I now own my own scanner so I do them myself. When they are scanned and made into TIFF files I only adjust the contrast a little and that is it! I leave everything else as it was, the dust specks, the hairs, water stains and grit. I love em! Then they get printed onto light sensitive papers using a Chromira printer. The files are projected onto the paper as light, then it goes through another machine that fixes the image, then hey-presto! Out it pops. So, they are kinda produced in a dark room but on a modern technological ground.
Do they exist primarily as digital images that could then be printed, or are the physical images the artworks?
I usually have an issue of say 3-15 depending on the work, but I would like to start working on issues of just 1 so that the piece would be the artwork. I’d like to make photography just as important as painting, and for it to be viewed the same. I don’t like the idea of reprinting work over and over again, to me that takes away some kind of layer from the piece. Perhaps it begins to destroy its originality and heart. The sizes of my work mean a lot. Depending on the condition of the slide and its content, I will only print the work to a size according to how best the image will be displayed. Some of my pieces can only be printed at a small size due to the unfocused nature of the image or how busy the image is, and some can only be printed large because of the content of the image. For example, open mountain scenes that are pretty well composed and shot can be printed large as this gives a better impact.
Earlier you were using real moths, clearly a mix of digital and real, has that changed?
I was going through a transitional state when I was using moths and butterflies. I wanted to use two different ‘cultures’ with my work so I tried using insects and photography as a way of displaying two different objects within the same frame and making them work. My photographic work still uses two or even three different images in the same way as the butterflies did but I have gone completely photographic now. There is more material out there and of course I can make my own. With my new work I want to get across something very different then the butterfly work.
What specifically is the difference?
The butterfly works were objects of collage that would just be looked upon as objects of collage. Any attachments people would have had would be more about how the two collaged objects worked well together. My new works are more about how the photographic images create an entirely different meaning and direction to the original image. They hopefully question the image, create dialogue that will change the way we look at images perhaps, if it’s only whilst looking at my work. I want the images that we recognize in the work to have new meaning for the viewer. I have a lot more scope and flexibility with pure photography then I did when using insects. This alone gives my work more freedom of expression and expansion that’s open to reinterpretation and analysis.
Do your pictures come together by assembling disparate found images or do you have images in mind and go looking for them?
I collect as many slides as possible (good and bad) and go through them to find images that I am currently working with like open landscapes, empty townscapes or planes. I organise my slides into sections of ‘landscapes’ ‘planes’ ‘medical’ ‘towns’ ‘people’ etc. If I need to find some people to put into a medical image I know where to find them. If I receive a bag of slides I may just make a series of work from that one bag, keeping them together. I was given a bag of slides from the artist Laura Ellen Bacon and with the slides I was able to make just one image, that’s good enough for me! It is a good image. So sometimes I will keep a collection together or I will mix and match to find what I want from other collections.
How important is the content for you? And what are your main interests in relation to the content?
The content is everything but its meaning means nothing to me. I try to par images together in order to create for the images a completely different objective. Images that I work with are usually amateur holiday and family snap shots, when I make my images they become semi political and questions societies and their cultures a little. Using slide film allows me to flip the image around which also allows me to flip its content around, this works well for me as I feel the world from how people see it should be flipped about a bit!
What artists do you appreciate?
I tend to lean towards established artists for various reasons: Werner Herzog the film maker for his directing methods and character/actor choices. Shomie Tomatsu for his ambiguous photograph of the glass bottle, Jan Saudek for his backgrounds, Gottfried Helnwein for his scale and the ability to prove just how powerful art can be and Alberto Burri for his choice of material.
To what extent do you see your work as participating in a tradition?
My work lends itself to exploration of a theme rather than tradition. It is because of this I’ve been able to find myself as an artist. Tradition to me is craft, and I think a lot of artists get trapped in the tradition of making and not creating. I use photography but I wouldn’t call myself a photographer, far from it. I am an artist that uses photography. In fact I could go as far as to not even call myself an artist! To call yourself something traps you in its meaning which doesn’t allow you to breath properly. I see really amazing printers using acid, copper, etching etc, but some of them are trapped in their tradition as printers and produce work that only displays a great skill in printmaking and not art. I can say perhaps that I am a photomontage artist.
When people look at your pictures what do you hope they will experience?
I hope that they will walk away feeling a little different then they did when they walked in, and that they will say ‘thank you’ when they leave.
Some of your images have shock value (some for example are obscene) is that a reaction you seek?
I think some people are shocked by viewing something in a gallery that has an erection in it or scenes of a medical nature because of the environment they are in. These same people wouldn’t think twice about flicking on the t.v and watching A&E or enjoying some private time with an erection or two! Some of my images are extreme, such as the use of Marilyn Monroe. I find her very extreme, nothing normal about Marilyn at all, so I will use an image that I think is equally as extreme but taken from the other side of the wall. In the Marilyn case I used an image of a medical nature, and it worked. I have used pornography, but after I have worked with it the final piece of work no longer has any attachments to pornography because I have perhaps merged it with a photograph of an English gentleman. I think it’s this that people are offended by. People don’t like to view things out of its rightful context. I don’t make work in order to shock, that would be too easy, I use certain imagery in order to get across the extremism of people.
Why are the aeroplanes upside down?
To give us the viewer the impression that something isn’t quite right. To establish a kind of dystopian environment to which I feel we created by how we treat each other. The abnormal and surreal action of the plane is a metaphor for our times.
The exhibition Dystopia is on at Harrington Mill Studios. Long Eaton until 7 October 2014.