With deadline for entries to the New Chapter Arts Prize fast approaching (16 December 2011), it’s time for another installment of critiques of responses to the brief of “Hidden”. We’ve chosen one stand-out creation from each of the three categories: Painting, Illustration, and Photography.
For all other budding artists out there, you have until 16 December to be in with a chance of winning an exhibition at contemporary gallery, According To McGee.
York-based artist Nick Walters has thrown us a few curveballs. His bold process of eroding surfaces of paint with melt water has resulted in what may be a whole new genre of painting. Perhaps the most powerful piece in his proffering is ‘Home Sweet Home’. Only through semi-annihilation is a subject given wings. It’s the punk rock ethic - rip it up, warp it, for nothing is sacred: and in the iconoclasm does the subject of the destruction become more powerful than it was. The words Home Sweet Home have either been disfigured or are emerging from a refulgent surface. The work really brings into sharp focus of ‘Home’, hidden here by an almost automaton process. It’s liking running away from home, when an angsty teenager has to prove something to a parent: “I don’t need to be home.” Well, believe me, when I returned to the lit windows of our terraced house on the Teesside council estate, the first thought I had was: “It’s good to be home.”
Not that Nick’s work is a cosy ‘Dorothy-back-in-Kansas’ statement. Far from it. It’s an ambiguous, weirdly mechanoid gesture, with enough emotive power to make it stick in the heart, as all suggestions of homes ultimately do. Nick explains, “The top layers of paint have been slowly eroded to part reveal the text hidden underneath. Layers are being peeled back to happier times…is the text being revealed or hidden?” And therein lies the pleasingly imposturous power of painting. Ain’t it great when this ancient medium still has the power to engender as many questions as it does answers?
His accompanying works are in thrall to the process. Says Nick of ’Eroded Form’: “I approached the object as a sculpture more than a painting. The top layers of paint have been partially eroded by melt water from a 3×5 grid of chunks of ice, frozen paint & ink. This process has revealed the hidden paint layers and textures beneath.
The regular grid has been partialy lost to the slow, uncontrolled movement of the melt water.I suppose the process was influenced by water damaged, peeling paint textures found in old derelict buildings.”
Jonno Seamer’s photography is concerned with what remains hidden around the corner, especially in a city that is the subject of so much scrutiny as York. The biggest recipient of tourists in the UK, York offers a wonderfully satisfying heritage experience: the walls, the castles, the museums, the tea rooms, the churches, all of which are very obviously publicised. What fascinates Jonno however are the hints of secrets in such a city, the corner that awaits at the end of a commercial high street leading to an alleyway, a snicket, a road less travelled.
Here in ‘Hidden in the Light’, Jonno suggests a more thrilling, somehow more fulfilling alternative to a city’s more obvious treasures: the starburst of sunlight, the green avalanche of leaves, the theatrical chiaroscuro of gilded fence pickets, all flanking the almost empty street. In an age where more and more cities are subscribing to ‘anonymity anonymous’, where every High Street looks the same, Jonno’s sunlit offering is perhaps timely reminder that it’s not a city’s tourist attractions that retains the visitor’s love, it’s what lies beneath them.
Helen Harrop’s meticulous doodles ripple and writhe around the subject of the photos she finds. It’s a process that superimposes a strange tension – obviously the photographer allowed the negative space to breathe for compositional purposes – but the end result is less of a defacement than an extra layer of meaning. It’s a strong visual language, and could easily go awry in the hands of a less accomplished drawer.
Helen somehow ‘seduces’ a new kernel from the image: “It’s hard to explain why I feel compelled to do these doodles,” she says, “and why I choose one image over any other one but all I can tell you is that certain images just call out to me. When the pieces are complete the obsessively drawn lines seem to reveal the subject’s hidden heartbeat, like a kind of soul reverberation that is revealed by the lines I’ve drawn. At the same time the lines seem to highlight and reveal the subject of the photo in heightened way that makes them more visible than in the original image.”
So there you go. Next time you draw a beard on a female celebrity while you’re on hold on the phone bear in mind Helen’s delicate and strangely celtic scribbles. Seriously, the images work because Helen both skewers a hitherto unseen presence as well as imposing her own rigorous draftsmanship. The act of adding rippling lines suggests how restrictive first impressions can be.
Read the full brief and entry guidelines here.