lifetime piling up
The Atkinson Gallery, Southport: 15th July- 4th Sept 2004
The media's prurient obsession with the minutiae of people's lives continues to escalate in order to satisfy the public's "right to know." Biographies are being written before lives have been lived. People are encouraged to reveal "everything" - NOW - so that it can be quickly digested, and we can move on to the next novelty. The short-lived shock tactics of the media have crept into contemporary art practice, obscuring something more evocative and long lasting.
Art, for me, is the antithesis of this bombast. It is a slow burn, revealing itself gradually. Although I have always used my own personal photos, together with found images, to create paintings, which I hoped, would have visual impact and meaning for the viewer, I wanted them to work obliquely.Even when the work has a theme I try to avoid easy readings, while still maintaining the qualities of the source material. Ideally, much of the meaning should be carried by the medium itself, in this case oil paint. At its best, I think oil paint touches areas of feeling and understanding, which cannot be replicated by any other medium.
About seven years ago I was drawn to paint the "missing" people whose photos were printed each week in the Big Issue. This changed the whole way I worked, although it took a few years for these new ideas to become cohesive. I was struck by the way these apparently happy private moments, caught on camera, ended up in the public domain under sad conditions. They reminded me of my time working with my father who was a private investigator. I saw a link between that job and my art; the necessity of watching, collecting information and the ambiguous feelings this instils.
This led me to wonder how I could take private thoughts or moments and "veil" them, even if they had already been made public. To put content into my work without revealing the source, and, hopefully, reflect on the real-life consequences of what may have been seen merely as a tabloid photographic "gotcha" moment.
For my Liverpool Biennial exhibition in 2002 - Images from The Complete History of Sexual Jealousy - I invited people to give me images on the theme of sexual jealousy. Personal photos were mixed with tabloid images, scenes from films etc - sometimes using only fragments - and never revealing which was which. They were presented in multiple-image paintings (including the split-screen double images and the noughts and crosses series; to mix and match disparate images, creating new readings from the content). Sometimes I made the "whole" scene too small and painterly to access the information, while adding a carefully selected enlarged "detail", which would still leave unanswered questions.
The latest work is a continuation of my reaction to the avalanche of images that bombards us; the tabloid intrusion, plus popular psycho-babble, which has created an atmosphere of hysterical self-revelation in everyone from presidents and royalty downwards. People feel compelled to lay their lives bare, or, so it appears. We are told everything - and nothing; everyone is becoming their own PR spin-doctor, with truth becoming more and more elusive.
Autobiographobia - what Chekhov described as "a horror of self-exposure" - is the title of my forthcoming Liverpool Biennial exhibition (Sept-Nov 04). People are invited to give me a photo/image to represent themselves. They can choose a true photo, or a false image- to maintain their privacy. Thus, meaningful images will be hidden within random images. If the same subject appears in several paintings, it does not necessarily mean they have significance; there is often playfulness in my use of images and titles in the work. Truth becomes impossible to discern, but in trying to make some kind of sense of the chaos, there is the possibility that some images will act as "little triggers", making unexpected connections to the life of the viewer. To paraphrase William Burroughs:"Everything I paint is autobiography, everything I paint is fiction."
Laird Galbraith 2004