Gallery magic

Paul Jex

On a visit to London some years ago, I went to The Tate Gallery, now Tate Britain, with the school. Initially we were introduced to the Surrealism and Dada room on first entering the gallery; the students from the class were immediately drawn to the works by Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali and Giorgio de Chirico. However, in an adjacent room through one of the doors, my attention was distracted by a vast painting entitled ‘Around the Blues’.

‘Around the Blues’ was painted by Sam Francis in 1957 and 1962. This painting is huge, measuring 275.5 x 487.5 cm, the enormity, scale and presence of the painting still resonates with me some 20 years later. Yet this wasn’t the first time I had seen the painting. My first engagement with the painting was in Phaidon’s Art Book, and I knew immediately that this was the same painting but, quite literally I recognised and felt the impact of the differences between a reproduction in a book and the real thing.

Visiting the gallery had a profound impact with myself; this wasn’t simply about viewing art that I was aware of from books etc. By chance I had taken a 35mm camera and 5 camera films with me, not being able to afford the postcards I asked if photographs could be taken of the art work which surprisingly was permitted. I returned home that day with 5 films of art works from the Gallery. What I was going to do with these I had no idea, however, the trip to London would subsequently lay the foundations of my practice and interest in appropriation art.

As these photographs were taken prior to the advancement of the digital camera, I had no idea exactly how the images would turn out. I attempted to limit the chance of error by waiting in front of art works so that I had no interruption from visitors within the photograph which wasn’t always succesful, this resulted in some of the photographs becoming blurred due to the quickness of the shot. In addition, there was the consideration when some photographs were taken when they weren’t permitted to be, the poor lighting in the galleries, the use of flash which was an ill-judged idea, poor
handling of the camera creating slanting and poor composition and even a finger caught within the lens.  Due to the photographs being taken by 35mm there was no way in knowing how these images would come out.

The collection of photographs amassed to 900+, once the digital camera became more accurate with quality and speed I stopped taking these photographs yet developed the work by pairing these artists to photocopies from books, newspapers and magazines as my interest in appropriation increased.

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