Friday, 10 June 2011

The Edges of Keith Arnatt

This ‘Edgelands’ book, which I blogged about in May, just gets better. I’m not sure my wife is convinced though when I tell her what a great chapter I’ve just read on ‘Containers’, or ‘Landfill’. She just looks at me with pity.

The chapter on ‘Landfill’ was particularly interesting, and led me to look up the art of photographer Keith Arnatt (above) who spent a lot of time photographing objects from his local tip and in landfill sites, as well as other ‘edgelands’ landscapes, in his home of Wales. The photos owe a lot to post-war documentary photography, which he was strongly influenced by, and also still life photography and painting in these colour photos of decomposing rubbish. He was apparently interested in the ‘conjunction between beauty and banality’. I like that phrase. I might nick it. I’m really warming to this edgelands theme.

I was also deeply moved by Arnatt’s series ‘Notes From My Wife’. They are jottings and reminders written by his wife, Jo, in the early 90s. Soon after, she was struck down by a brain tumor and Arnatt nursed her until her death in 1996. He decided to collect the most poignant of the notes and photographed 18 of them. Taken out of context and blown up, they become surreal. Photographer Marin Parr has said that ‘this is Arnatt's strength as a photographer: he understood how the smallest detail or observation could be transformed by the act of isolation’.

Most of my own favourite art, be it paintings or literature or music, reveals the poignancy and strength in the details. It is these things that, as painter Andrew Wyeth said, help to keep the art from being ‘round-shouldered’. I’ve got a few ideas for paintings based on bits of text and type that have been sat on the studio table for ages. This has inspired me to think more seriously about them…

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