The idea behind Yet Another Spectacle had been gnawing away at me for a while. The act of capturing images with cameras, photographic and video, is ubiquitous. And capturing seems the best way of describing it, as if it’s a way of throwing a net over an event and hauling it in, thus owning it. The painting was also made as a response to reading Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle.
Or maybe it’s simply a basic human trait for wanting to conjure images into being. After all it’s what I do. I’m a slave to image making, and I enjoy taking photographs as much as the next man. But I can’t help think I take too many, that occasionally I should take a deep breath before reaching for a camera.
I mostly use photography for my work, seeking out images that I may wish to use in paintings, and there are occasions when I cross a line, when someone gives me a look that says, You’re infringing my privacy. Or at least that’s the polite interpretation.
Sometimes the line is drawn for me when there is a question of legality, and what one can get away with in the UK could easily end in disaster elsewhere. It’s also a matter of commonsense. I’m known to take photos of police officers, but I avoid sticking a camera in a policeman’s face, even if I can legally put forward a case for doing so. Furthermore if there’s a No Photography sign alongside a group of armed police, as there is at the rear of the Israeli Embassy in London, I take good notice of it.
Car Crash Photography
I also avoid rubbernecking disasters, those moments when there’s nothing I can do to help, thinking it’s best to keep moving. I also admit to feeling angry when I see those indulging in car crash photography.
Not long ago I recently witnessed something of the kind in London. A man had fallen by the side of an underground railway track. But not content to let station staff and police deal with the situation, some chose to record the man’s predicament, their phones to the fore, no doubt ready to upload the results to social media outlets.
As a result of what I had observed during a period of several years, I asked myself a number of questions.
Is there something essentially misguided about the sheer number of images we record with modern technology?
Is it changing us?
Are we becoming detached from reality and losing empathy for our fellow humans?
Have we become obsessed with capturing spectacles?
Have we forgotten how to live in the moment?
I have to say I think the answer is yes to all of these questions, and this was the spur to make a painting.
I should add that I found Guy Debord’s work, The Society of the Spectacle, more than resonated, and he was 50 years ahead of me.
The painting began with some visuals made using photographic images (of course!) and Photoshop.
Note: The car in the background was used to broadcast the 2012 Olympics.
Having chosen one image, I made a panel. Then I drew the figures using burnt sienna oil paint.
I began painting with 3 colours: black, white and burnt sienna. It is a combination similar to that used in ancient Greek pottery.
I added a burnt sienna wash across the whole picture, and when that was dry I brushed black across the background.
Next, I included lettering, observed on a giant LED screen in Piccadilly Circus, thus referencing a well known beverage (WKB) that promises happiness. I have used this WKB before in another painting made in 2006.
These next 2 photographs show how the painting changed.
Note: I painted across the lettering. I also introduced road markings and a framing device.
Note: I re-introduced lettering and placed a diamond lattice screen behind the two figures. I also removed the photographer placed in the front seat of the car.
Next, I extended my palette. I added Indian Red, Cadmium Scarlet and Naples Yellow.
Next I made a decision to simplify the composition and remove the figure on the left. Then I decided to increase the scale of the remaining two figures* in relation to the overall picture. The quickest solution was to use a router and cut 15 cm from the base of the painting.
* The two phone wielding models are my son, Jack, and my daughter, Holly.
In order to balance the remaining composition, I placed a second screen on the left to match the one sitting behind the two remaining figures. Note that I reused the same stencil as the one used in Happy Hour.
But there was still something missing.
Ah! I thought. I know what I’ll put there.