Monday, 9 May 2011

John Salt at Ikon Gallery

There is currently a retrospective of the photorealist paintings of John Salt at Ikon Gallery in Birmingham that is well worth a visit. Salt is from Birmingham but moved to the States early in his career, and developed a powerful body of work that features the American Automobile as it’s central motif. The paintings do not seek to glorify the cars however, but depict them in painstaking detail in various states of neglect and abandonment in sites at the edges of the city or countryside: disused parking lots; under bridges; in the trailer park.

It was the images rather than the style that I was drawn to, as I’m not really a fan of photorealist works, where the style just so often seems to get in the way of any deeper response. Salt’s gritty images however seemed a curious, and almost very English antidote to the shiny, reflective surfaces of American consumerist signs and symbols that is often celebrated and slavishly copied in the work of the American photo-realism of painters like Richard Estes et all in the sixties and seventies. I was really drawn to them. There was a great painting of a car at the back of an old squat building in Baltimore whose subject seemed to be the snaking shadows on the wall, which seemed really animated. My favourite pieces however, were the very first car paintings he completed of the vehicle’s interiors which seemed to employ a wider variety of painting techniques which invited the viewer in more easily.

A video in the gallery featured Salt talking today on his work. Still retaining his broad Brummingham accent after all these years, he commented that it was only when he moved to this photorealist style that his work developed to a more successful place due to the restraints that he was now faced with when trying to recreate the photographs he works from. These restraints were very important to him and liberated him to become much more focused in his approach and intent.

I really identified with this at the moment, as I feel my own lack of restraint, particularly in my use of subject matter, has become a hindrance of late in my own development. In a previous period, when I was just doing portraits in exactly the same frontal ‘mug-shot’ format and all exactly the same size I too had felt strangely liberated by expelling any other ideas from the work. I’d like to get back to this in some way with my own landscape work.

‘John Salt’ is on at Ikon until July 17th at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham


Rosa Smith said...

This images are like the recreation from an accident that I saw in Discovery Channel in "Stories of afterlife" so creepy.

Anonymous said...

Nice post! Keep up the good work and also keep posting. One thing I feel like I see those photos in other place but I don't know where.

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