Where's the frame
June 16, 2022 6:47 PM
Now on view at the Grove Collective is Autrefois, a solo show by Brussels-based Irish artist Colm Mac Athlaoich. The paintings on view at their Battersea art space, depict different headshots and film stills taken from the last century. To look at the relationship between painting and the photograph, the artist considered the process of creation in a conceptual and physical framework.
The process itself is foregrounded in Colm Mac Athlaoich's new body of work paintings and make you reevaluate the different degrees of mediation in both photography and painting. ‘Process,’ the artist asserts, ‘became both central and conceptual, as in the mark-making was derived from analysing press or publicly published photographs in a way to dismantle the image.’
In doing so, when we expand the time, ‘we spend looking and engaging with it, and challenging our understanding of perception.’ He specifies how ‘certain criteria became more important to me, to isolate a narrative, to generate an ‘obedient eye’. Re-structuring of an image allows for new pictorial challenges as well as re-positioning the viewer’s relationship to the subject.’
The name refers to a short film by American filmmaker Edward Owens, ‘Autrefois j’ai aime une femme’ from 1966. Disclosing what prompted him to use this, Colm shared ‘While watching this short I was taken by the simplicity and poetics of the layering narratives. I discovered a comparison between the treatment of the image in Owen’s work to that which I was trying to achieve with my painting, a slowing down or transitioning, movement captured.’
Most interestingly, featured in the photographs the artist took as a point of departure are actors and his granduncles Keiron Moore (Ciarán O’hAnnracháin) and his brother Colm O’hAnnracháin. ‘Both started their careers in Ireland before emigrating abroad.’
Explaining what specifically captivated him is that ‘There is something curated, fixed about these images — they have been considered, lighting is planned and positioning purposed.’ Then in its turn when he got to painting, ‘ through a process of digital editing and chance, absurd and fantastical new compositions provide a starting point for each work. Photoshop has been used to unearth hidden colours from the black and white original image.’
It’s interesting to look at the different points of mediation. There are the photographs that are staged. A lot of different decisions made, modeling a certain attitude, the lights, the posture, all affecting the image. And then there is the time, all those decades that have passed. In a way, that’s a mediating force as well. We look at it with different eyes. Finally, the act of painting it. Depicting it in a new way, making it more abstract, using a colourpallete that intentionally and emphatically not true to life.
The result is this selection of fascinating paintings that, at the same time, abstract and reveal, making you think about the different degrees of mediation in both photography and painting. As the artist has said: ‘Painting once again confronts the photographed image, asking how far it can go before it’s completely altered.’