Research 2.3 Visual research

The purpose of this exercise was to carry out visual research on a range of artists and reflect on how to translate these ideas into my practice or use their influence to help identify my own self-initiated project for Assignment 2 Text and image, so that the work I create is more challenging and varied.

Key words from the brief:

  • Do your own visual research, starting with some of the artists [from list provided]
  • Look at their work in terms of how they’ve used image and text in combination 
  • What decisions have they made and to what ends? 

Approach

The brief listed 17 artists. I skimmed through them all using the internet to identify those that I was inspired to research further. In addition to the two I selected from the predefined list, I added a third.

The artists I researched included:

  • Jean-Michel Basquiat
  • Gillian Wearing
  • Laura Oldfield Ford

Artist research

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in 1960 in Brooklyn, New York and died of a heroin overdose in August 1988. He was part Part Haitian, part Puerto Rican and had no formal art training. He said that he “learned about art by looking at it” (Basquiat: Rage To Riches by BBC | Facebook, 2018).

At the age of seven he was involved in a serious car accident and was in hospital for an extended period. Whilst recovering his mother gave him a copy of Gray’s Anatomy and the medical illustrations in the book were an influence that can be seen frequently in his paintings.

New York in the 70s and 80s was a creative melting pot and during this time the music scene, visual arts and writing were all innovating. Basquiat embraced all of this change and channeled its energy into his work.

He came to notoriety as a conceptual graffiti artist using the tag SAMO (Same old shit). Like his contemporary Keith Haring, he started spraying his ‘his semi-surreal musings’ (Gompertz, 2009) in and around the East Village.

He moved from graffiti into making postcards using photocopying, collage, paint and whiteout, before moving onto painting.

He was an extremely prolific painter creating a large body of work in a short period of time. His first major break was made after coming to the attention of Art Dealer Annina Nosei. She immediately recognised the nature and significance of what she saw and said about the experience, “what interested me in his work immediately was a new visual language” (Basquiat: Rage To Riches by BBC | Facebook, 2018).

After moving art dealers several times he started gaining more success, first in Los Angeles and then to a global audience, with solo exhibitions that travelled worldwide.

He met and worked with his idol Andy Warhol and during 1894 and 1985 they collaborated on over 200 paintings. Some of these became part of an exhibition at the gallery of Tony Shafrazi. Unfortunately the reviews were almost all negative and one critic, Vivien Raynor said that the paintings were “Warhol’s manipulations”, and that he was using Basquiat as “his mascot” (Basquiat and Warhol collaboration – The Jean-Michel Basquiat Tribute (2019).

This criticism broke Basquiat’s relationship with Warhol and he became more reclusive and started taking hard drugs. This ultimately led to his death from a drug overdose in 1988.

How text and image have been combined

In an interview for the BBC documentary Basquiat: Rage To Riches (BBC, 2018), Suzanne Mallouk, his girlfriend at the time describes his way of working:

“He almost always worked with music on. It was very intuitive. He worked on several paintings at the same time. He started with the background and then painted a line and moved onto another painting. Constant movement, like a dance” (Basquiat: Rage To Riches by BBC | Facebook, 2018).

It is interesting that he met William Burroughs and would have been aware of his cut up method (explored as a technique during an OCA workshop, The cut and the fold).

His instinctive working method combined with his rich knowledge of the written and visual arts and his background as a graffiti artist lead me to conclude that the use of letters, words and sentences in his painting was as much about visual language as it was about literal meaning. That is not to say that there aren’t direct references and correlations between words and pictures, but this is the exception.

When asked about where the words used in his paintings come from he answered “Real life, books, television …… I just hear them” (Basquiat: Rage To Riches by BBC | Facebook, 2018).

His paintings are constructed of layers with a lot of overpainting. The images seem to have revealed themselves to the artist over time.

Fig 1 – Notary (1983)

Experiment 1 – To explore if can i use this approach in my own practice

Experiment

Create an image using an intuitive approach to creating the picture and the use/creation/placement of text elements.

Expected results

I didn’t know what to expect.

What happened

The experiment lasted for an hour. I started with an observational drawing of cans of condensed milk and cooking utensils on a kitchen work surface and quite quickly moved to a state where patterns, colours and shapes and the connections between them flowed without much conscious intervention.

I listened to music throughout and used snippets of song lyrics for the text.

Fig 2 – Experiment 1 – Sweet as a razor (2021)
What I learned

I experimented with how to work spontaneously with little or no forethought in Assignment 1 – Flowing and playing, and recognised this approach in the description of the way Basquiat painted. I hadn’t really explored this in my own practice since Visual exploration. There is an interesting quality to my image making when I use this approach which is worthy of further investigation.

I learned that the words that I selected needed more curation. Using randomly selected song lyrics is a valid approach, but I feel like I needed to think more carefully about the boundaries and scope of the experiment both in terms of use of words and image subjects to get a more meaningful outcome.

I had used a large Posca Pen with chiseled wide tip to do the lettering. This gave the letters a graffiti type character with variable line width that is not what I wanted. Next time use something that will create an even line.

I used a thin white Posca Pen for the first time. This whiteout effect worked really well on top of the black.

What I’ll do next

Carry out a further experiment using this approach as part of Assignment 2 Text & image.

Gillian Wearing

Gillian Wearing is a photographer, filmmaker, sculptor, painter and conceptual artist. She was born in Birmingham in 1963 and studied at Chelsea School of Art and Goldsmiths College. She won the Turner prize in 2007.

Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say (Wearing, 1993) is a beautifully simple concept. Wearing photographed over 500 people she met on the streets of London, each holding up a hand written sign of what was on their minds. The results are sometimes surprising because of their openness and vulnerability. They provide a layer of narrative which the viewer uses to ‘read’ the image of the writer.

How text and image have been combined

In this work text and image are tied together in a single photograph. Text is not added as a separate layer, the words are not curated in any way. It’s a documentary approach where the handwritten sign and the person that wrote the sign are captured on film at the same time.

The title of the work hints that there are two things playing off against one another. The first is the exterior appearance of the person. The clothes that they wear, their hair cut, make-up, age, gender, ethnicity provide a set of generalised ‘conventions’ by which we ‘read’ or make assumptions about the person. The second is the meaning of what is written on the sign. These are personal statements that cut through the subject’s outward appearance.

“I’m desperate” is a great example of this juxtaposition. The image of a young smartly dressed office worker whose outward appearance is of someone successful and in control of his life is in stark contrast with his personal statement that shows he’s feeling the exact opposite.

Fig 3 – ‘I’m desperate’ part of Signs that Say What You Want Them To Say and Not Signs that Say What Someone Else Wants You To Say (1993)

How might this approach be used in my own practice

Part of the power of the images is that they are photographs. The person and the sign are captured instantly. There is no editing. I can’t think of a way to reproduce this convincingly in a non realtime medium as drawing or painting.

The closest I’ve come to this is in the drawing key worker series of illustrations I created for 2.3 Developing content, where I combined an edited version of the words the subject had spoken with an illustration of them speaking.

Fig 4 – Amanda, Vaccination Centre Volunteer (2021)

Unlike the very direct personal and impactful handwritten statements made by the subjects in Wearings work, the text in the key worker drawings have more of an editorial function.

Laura Oldfield Ford

Laura Oldfield Ford was born in Halifax West Yorkshire in 1973. She went to the Slade Art School and then the Royal College of Art.

Growing up in West Yorkshire she was saw the impact of the decline of the the textile industry on the community.

She was involved in the punk and rave scenes and produced posters and zines and this aesthetic heavily influenced her writing and art. She started publishing Savage Messiah as a zine in 2005 and it ran until 2009. It was subsequently published as a book in 2011.

The themes in Savage Messiah are urban decay and the transition between the gritty working class areas of London of the 70s and 80s through to the regeneration of these same areas in the London of the 90s. Oldfield Ford views these changes through the lens of the people, places and experiences she grew up with. It documents an abandoned, broken and forgotten side of the city, with each issue focused on a different London postcode.

Her visual approach combines black and white photocopied photographs, panels of text with torn edges, hand drawn black and white illustrations of people and places and use of white out. The handmade aesthetic links directly to 1980s fanzines.

Talking about a later project about Walsall, she describes her working process as, “About intuition and being pulled by curiosity or desire about a certain place” (A ‘drift’ with Laura Oldfield Ford, 2013).

How text and image have been combined

The text is just as important as the imagery in painting a picture of people and places. Her words often have a direct relationship to the imagery so need to be placed so there is a connection between the two.

The layout does not appear to be based on a underlying grid structure, to placement of the different elements was probably done through trial, error and instinct.

Like the paintings of Basquiat, the way that the words and images interact and the choice of materials are all part of Oldfield Ford’s distinctive visual language.

Fig 5 – Front cover of ‘Savage Messiah’ (2011)

Experiment 2 – To explore if can i use this approach in my own practice

Experiment

Create an image in 1-hour using the visual language of ‘Savage Messiah’ (Oldfield Ford, 2011).

Expected results

I didn’t know what to expect.

What happened

I created an ugly picture but was inspired by the potential of the process and approach.

I used photographs of the seaside town Hunstanton in North Norfolk as my reference. These were taken as part of Assignment 2 – A sense of place which was part of Responding to a brief.

I worked on an A2 piece of card to give a non-white background and rollered that with black poster paint to give it a xerox texture. I then enlarged and re-photocopied selected images and collaged these together. I used a Sharpie to draw the elderly couple in the foreground and spraymounted that over the image as another layer.

Colour was added using Posca Pen and I added a paragraph of text taken from a local caravan park website as a final collage layer.

Fig 6 – Experiment 2 – Hunstanton seaside in the style of Laura Oldfield Ford (2021)
What I learned

The post punk zine aesthetic doesn’t work when the subject is a summers day on the Hunstanton promenade.

Choice of text is really important and needs time and thought (which I didn’t have). The paragraph I selected is crass in the context of the picture.

I like the Sharpie illustration that works well at an A2 size.

Using a collage approach that includes found images, illustrations and text fragments is a combination that I would like to explore further.

What I’ll do next

Carry out a further experiment using this approach as part of Assignment 2 Text & image

References

Citations

Basquiat: Rage To Riches by BBC | Facebook (2018) Directed by Contemporary Haitian Art. Contemporary Haitian Art. At: https://www.facebook.com/ContemporaryHaitianArt/videos/1712837198778177/ (Accessed 28/04/2021).

Gompertz, W. (2009) ‘My life in art: How Jean-Michel Basquiat taught me to forget about technique’ In: The Guardian 12/02/2009 At: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/feb/12/life-art-jean-michel-basquiat (Accessed 02/05/2021).

Basquiat and Warhol collaboration – The Jean-Michel Basquiat Tribute (2019) At: http://www.basquiat.cloud/basquiat-warhol-collaboration/ (Accessed 03/05/2021).

The New Art Gallery Walsall – A ‘drift’ with Laura Oldfield Ford (2013) At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KEtKSzNwRM (Accessed 01/05/2021).

List of illustrations

Figure 1 – Basquiat, Jean Michel (1983) Notary [Painting] At: https://artmuseum.princeton.edu/collections/objects/26277 (Accessed: 02/05/21)

Figure 2 – Hadfield, Hugh (2021) Experiment 1 – Sweet as a razor [Sharpie and Posca Pen] In possession of: the author

Figure 3 – Wearing, Gillian (1993) I’m desperate [Photograph] In: Wearing, Gillian (1993) Fig X – Signs that Say What You Want Them To Say and Not Signs that Say What Someone Else Wants You To Say (1993) At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/wearing-im-desperate-p78348 (Accessed: 02/05/21)

Figure 4 – Hadfield, Hugh (2021) Amanda, Vaccination Centre Volunteer [Watercolour pencil and fountain pen] In possession of: the author

Figure 5 – Oldfield Ford, Laura (2011) Front cover of ‘Savage Messiah’ (2011) [Illustration] In: Oldfield Ford, Laura (20110 Savage Messiah. London: Verso

Figure 6 – Hadfield, Hugh (2021) Experiment 2 – Hunstanton seaside in the style of Laura Oldfield Ford [Illustrated collage] In possession of: the author