Laura Lancaster Workplace Gallery

Preview: Friday 1st February, 6 – 9pm

Workplace Gallery is pleased to present Conversations Behind Glass our third solo exhibition of work by Laura Lancaster.

Through a new body of large-scale works Laura Lancaster continues her ongoing investigation into the relationship between the photograph and human presence mediated through painting. The exhibition is comprised of two distinct and complimentary series of works: Lancaster’s paintings of text written upon found photographs, and a recent series of paintings extracted from an ongoing collection of anonymous photographs of gravesides.

In Lancaster’s ‘Text series’ the informal captions or notes made upon the backs or margins of photographs are raised to monumental status. These works are reductive in terms of their pictorial content, focusing upon the painting of the handwritten mark of the photographer within the physical properties of the printed photograph. Lancaster’s ‘Graveside series’ further examines the problematic correlation between the human, the referent, and the monument and the slippage between representation and abstraction. On the relationship between the two series Lancaster writes:

 

    I was interested in the idea of taking away all extraneous information from the source material and arriving at a visual summary of the image and our associations with them – a whole complex moment in time and relation between the photographer and subject summed up in one statement. On a formal level it was a new kind of linear mark I was making on a field of colour, which connects with the idea of remembrance through me re-enacting the movements of someone else’s hand through their writing. The writing on the photographs reminds me of the Victorian cult of remembrance, and their trend of mounting or collaging photos with pressed flowers or with bracelets made from loved ones hair. As with the text, these are all attempts to make a memory more real, as if the photograph won’t be effective enough. These works also highlight the photographs as objects that have experienced their own time evidenced by wear and tear and marks on their surface. They have been owned by loved ones and carried around in wallets and albums, in a life that we can never know, so there is a sense of compounded time a moment held and suspended within the image, and the span of time that the photograph itself has existed. The economy of a moment in time becoming one line of text relates very strongly to headstones, where a whole life lived becomes a name and two dates and a summary of all their relationships in one line. I don’t see this as morbid, but instead find this simplicity reassuring. 

I chose to paint from anonymous found snapshots of gravesides as I had gathered a number of them and was curious to know how the feel of my work would change if I took on the relationship between painting, photography and death in a more direct way. It seemed odd to me to take photographs of gravesides and I wanted to investigate why these images intrigued me so much.  I was drawn to the idea of a lack of a central figure, and how the monochrome nature of the paintings would relate to my interest in the push and pull between figuration and abstraction. These paintings are an attempt to investigate the relationship between photography and death in a direct way – Roland Barthes quotes: ‘he is dead and he is going to die’ referring to a photograph of a prisoner about to be hanged and the idea that a photograph holds the subject in suspension, forever alive, and yet as a viewer with hindsight we know that that subject has since died. In my previous work my concern was with the idea that the painting process could somehow resurrect forgotten subjects whilst also dealing with the dead matter of paint becoming alive at the same time. Reinvigorating these ‘dead’ photos with life and movement whilst at the same time acknowledging their own failure as effective aide-mémoire. With these graveside works the failure of the photograph to accurately re-invoke the person is central and the headstone becomes symbolic of this failure. The headstone will probably outlast the photograph, whereas the photographs that I have collected outlast their subjects. Both the photograph and the headstone are emotive points of contact for those out of reach, yet they are equally flawed, as is a painting. 

 

In both of these series the paintings are not figurative, but are a kind of portrait. The usual central figure is replaced by a monument to a person leaving the feeling of a presence twice removed. For me this sense of absence highlights our human need to be remembered and our fear of being forgotten.  Perhaps these graveside photos are also symbols for something unreachable, unknowable and abstract.

 

Laura Lancaster was born in 1979 and lives and works in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK. Recent Exhibitions include: John Moores Painting Prize, Liverpool Bienalle 2012, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, Kunstmuseum Bern, Switzerland, Museum of Modern Art St Etienne, Palazzo Della Arte Napoli, Museum of Modern Art Oxford, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art.

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