In 2003 I saw an exhibition of Walker Evans’ Polaroids at the Photographers Gallery in London. Evans’ felt that the advent of the Polaroid camera meant that it was, “the first time you [could] put a machine in an artist’s hand and have him rely entirely on his vision and his taste and his mind.” At the time I wasn’t making any art work, having worked in printing and publishing for about ten years, but buying a digital camera changed that. I took Evans at his word and decided that anything catching my eye was fair game as subject matter.
I started noticing things on the street that looked like art. The first ‘piece’ was near Kenwood House. By the bus stop someone had folded dozens of crisp packets and wedged them into fence. I liked the absurdity of the act, though I suspect it was a way of dealing with rubbish in the absence of a bin. I also thought it looked good. Soon after I noticed that graffiti is sometimes painted out with hard edged geometric shapes, turning walls into Hans Hoffmann-like paintings. All of this was grist to my mill and I started keeping an eye out for what I called ‘found paintings and sculptures’.
Since then I have taken, and shared online, hundreds of photographs of whitewashed windows, dripped and flaking paint, piles of crates and cushions, abandoned bits of metal and wood, and cryptic scribblings of spray paint on pavements and roads.
As far as I’m aware, none of these images are of art. I’m documenting accidents or incidents, which are often temporary. Start looking for these things and, especially if you live in a city, you might find it hard to ignore them after a while. So what’s the point of collecting them?
First of all, I think a lot of them look great in their own right which might be sufficient reason, but it does go deeper than that. The ‘work’ is unhitched from the burden of expression or meaning; unselfconscious, and not trying to convince us of anything. It simply exists. But, like anything in the world, they offer visual possibilities and also serve as a critique of what might be considered art. I can’y help wondering about the nature of Jackson Pollock’s mode of expression when I see an exquisite drip near a newly painted gate.
How has this collecting affected me and my practice? For a start, I’m much more sensitive to what normally gets overlooked and that’s fed into my work. Much of the subject matter of my work is the overlooked or marginal. I’m not a sculptor, but it’s easy to see how thinking about how extant objects might be reconfigured by looking at some these images. For example, I found dozens of elastic bands lined up on a bicycle’s handlebars once. It seemed incongruent and odd but probably had a prosaic origin (a postman’s bike, perhaps?), but somehow transcended that. If I were to make sculptures, I’d start by remaking some of these images.
Recently I created an open Facebook group – anyone can join and post images – to share these photographs. Perhaps they’ll start some conversations. Perhaps people will start painting out parts of their own paintings to see what happens.
I don’t make any great claims for these images. They’re a version of note taking and I think of them as a hobby that sometimes feeds my work. Building the collection has got even easier since the advent of smartphones. Taking these images and posting them online doesn’t take long and makes them, somehow, more tangible.
Join the Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/