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11th June 2021 – 9th July 2021

Joe Richardson

Artists in THEIR Residence; A virtual Project

Each year The Wilson invites artists into the museum to take over a gallery, as an artist in residence. This year, we felt it was more important than ever to give 6 local artists a platform to exhibit their work and engage with local audiences. We have revised the traditional format for the residencies so they can take place safely from the artist’s home or studio.

Meet Artist in THEIR Residence Number 6: Joe Richardson

Joe Richardson is a Cheltenham born multi-disciplinary artist working between painting, video, collage, audio and sculpture.

He says his works operate in the space between the performance of an action and its anticipated outcome, for example, the smashing of a glass, a character falling in a canal, a breakthrough in communication.

He says his works perform as double acts, facades, and stages ‘that deconstruct everyday scenarios through repetition to the point of absurdity to produce purgatorial experiences of waiting, spaces of absurd nothingness, and the opportunity to navigate uncertainty.’

Richardson gained a MA in Fine Art at Central Saint Martins in 2018. Since graduating, he has completed residencies in Beijing, China and Stokkøya, Norway. He recently exhibited at the Royal Academy’s Weston Studio, the Koppel Projects, and at Apthorp Gallery.

He is a recipient of both the Red Mansion Art Prize and the Cass Art Prize. In 2020 and 2019, he received commissions from Universal Music Group and a series of his videos are on permanent display at Four Pancras Square, London. He will hold his first solo exhibition ‘The Second Longest Train Platform in the UK’ at Gloucester Guildhall in September 2021.

Introduction to my residency

During the lockdown I reflected on my use of flatness and silence in my practice as instruments that cause the viewer to become aware of their behaviours and presence in front of a painting, sculpture or screen.

 

I began to revisit the rhythmic drip paintings of Jackson Pollock that explicitly exaggerate the act of paint being applied to canvas. Pollock’s drip technique eradicates any illusion of pictorial depth or perspective as is so often found in Renaissance painting through the use of background scenery or architectural features. I started to look closer at sections of perspectival space in Renaissance painting, specifically in Titian’s ‘Pesaro Madonna’. The painting features an unusual composition with the figures organised on the canvas to respond to the viewers’ sightlines on entering the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, featuring the Madonna off-centre.

I started to study the spaces these paintings are located, for example in cathedrals and churches, sites of confession and choirs. The architecture of these spaces, that fall close to silence with tall reverberating ceilings, allow the thoughts and words of its congregation to linger, like the notes of an Adrian Willaert choir in the air to be reflected upon.

I intend to create a series of paintings that will mimic sections of sky and landscape from Titian’s paintings.  The paintings will be presented as fragmented wooden panels featuring a delay pedal device on their reverse. The pedals will connect to microphones that will record and replay the sound of the gallery space. I will also conduct a series of abstract sound workshops with the Wilson Arts Collective.

My Studio

For this residency I will be working from my flat in London. Since finishing my MA I have adapted the scale and media of my work from large scale sculpture to working predominantly in small scale paintings, collage and video works – works I can make from my desk or from my kitchen table, or using resources in my local environment.

This project was born out of a series of collages I made using materials from unresolved projects, my home studio environment had an influence on the small domestic A4 scale of these works that could be made at my desk to create images that attempt to create spatial relationships in a small framework – much like how a tiny ‘Holy Grail’ reverb pedal carries a circuit board to create sprawling ethereal effects.

I will be working from my desk whilst conducting research, making preparatory drawings and writing this copy. When the weather allows I’ll be working from the garden to use my jigsaw to cut wood, but the majority of this residency will take place from my kitchen where I’ll often be working in the evenings after work to work on a series of paintings. I’ll enjoy looking out at the evening skies that echo Titian’s drama in his handling of clouds.

Reference link:

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2012/jan/16/titian-clouds-drama-paintings

Creating Work 1

The Titian paintings I have chosen to work from were chosen as a result of a recurring theme I noticed in my research regarding tensions between two objects or paintings/images that convey subjects suspended in time e.g. Philip Guston’s ‘In the Studio’, Titian’s ‘Assumption of the Virgin’ or Jurgen Klopp’s description of Spanish midfielder Thiago Alcantara and how he operates between the ‘tick and tock’ of Liverpool FC’s rhythm. Revisiting the works of Titian I came across the ‘Pesaro Altarpiece’ and became fixated on a strip of clouds in the background of the painting, situated between two pillars ‘ascending to heaven’ (Hare).

I began to consider the significance of these spaces and the purgatorial intersections between Heaven and Earth they depict.

The location of these paintings in cathedrals and churches also led me to consider the architectural properties of the context these images are located, how sounds will be echoed back from the tall ceilings of these religious buildings, buildings that are often home to confessional booths, spaces for self-reflection. I began to trace a relationship between the flat surfaces of Titian’s paintings through a critical description of flatness in 20th Century Modernism (as a tool for the surface reflecting back onto the viewer rather than seducing the viewer into an illusion of spatial depth) whilst also taking into account the sonic context the images are situated within. I began to wonder how I could pair these fragmented purgatorial sections of Titian’s works with devices that would mimic/create an ethereal/sonic experience similar to that of being in a cathedral or church, or just one that enables the viewer to experience an immediate playback of auditory presence in front of an object to encourage self-awareness.

Creating Work 2

Shelia Hare’s 2012 ‘Titian: His Life’ provided me with illuminating insights into Titian’s Venice, most notably his relationship with the Flemish Composer Adrian Willaert – the inventor of what we now know as stereophonic sound. Hare notes how his “dramatic arrangements of sung masses by split choirs became fashionable entertainment for the nobility.” (Hare, 228)

The idea of the split choir with notes colliding in the space between two formal and complex tonal relationships led me back to thinking about the Pesaro Altarpiece. With this subtext, the columns seemed to represent the two choirs, the sky between depicting a space for notes to “hang in the air and become part of the sonic landscape” (Byrne, How Music Works, p.19) This gap led me to consider using modern devices that imitate acoustic effects, such as delay pedals. Reading further into the context of the Pesaro Altarpiece introduced me to Titian’s ‘Assumption of the Virgin (Ascunta)’ – another duality fraught with tension, (the two paintings are often debated as to which is superior). Hare’s description of the painting speaks of the “swag of stormy clouds and rejoicing angels repeats in reverse the arch of the choir, there cannot be many other works of art that combine such architectonic solidity with such dynamism, or which are in such perfect harmony with the buildings for which they are created”.

I started to consider how I could introduce other effects such as reverse delay; infamously used by the Beatles throughout the Revolver album; to echo Ascunta’s relationship to its architectural context. I would like to pair each of my copies with a different effect relevant to the context of the original work. For example ‘Pesaro’ could feature a slap back echo as if the sound is bouncing back and forth between the two pillars, ‘Ascunta’ could feature a reverse delay, ‘Penitent St.Jerome’ could be accompanied by a reverb pedal to allude to the cave St. Jerome inhabits during his penitent state, and perhaps a delay with a lot of attack for ‘Diana and Actaeon’ to reference Actaeon’s fate after catching a glimpse of the bathing Diana.

Creating Work 3

I decided to focus on portions of sky in four of Titian’s paintings, the ‘Pesaro Altarpiece’, ‘The Assumption of the Virgin’, ‘Diana and Actaeon’ and ‘Penitent St. Jerome’. I began a painstaking process of making scaled drawings from small colour plates of these paintings to make detailed plans for the perimeter of these sections of sky. This process took many hours to accurately scale up from a small image but helped me to produce my first two paintings. Two copies a section of the Pesaro Altarpiece. I soon realised that I could make a copy of the outline by simply tracing the sections I wanted, enlarging those tracings via digital manipulation and making scaled-up prints at my local print shop.

I could make copies of the outline by tracing desired sections, enlarging the tracings in Photoshop and making scaled-up prints. I also realised that the act of re-recording these works to produce paper templates that would potentially allow me to make infinite copies of these portions of sky aligned much closer to my conceptual concerns of integrating delay/echo pedals with imagery than manually mapping out the perimeter of these images. I used these templates to trace the shape of my now enlarged images onto the surface of a plywood sheet, to be cut and sanded in preparation for painting.

Creating Work 4

Surface is an important factor in these works, specifically, the flatness of the painted surface. Flatness is a technique I incorporate into my work regularly, to reveal a facade, to emphasise a surface, or to reflect back onto the viewer.

In my research for this residency, I became fascinated by the smoothness of the surfaces of Titian’s paintings formed as a result of many layers of glazed oil paint to create a reflective picture. The flat surface of these objects recalled to me works of modern American painting. For example, Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, Philip Guston’s abstracts – works that emphasise the application of paint onto a surface, emphasising the shape of the canvas, they are regarded as all over paintings that depict no spatial depth, they are flat, offer no form of perspective other than to the viewer that there is no illusion taking place in front of them when standing in front of the painting. The fragmentation of my chosen sections of sky strive to emphasise the unusually shaped painting supports as objects.

They are separate from their former whole (the original paintings) and operate in their own parameters, i.e. in functioning as a delay pedal as opposed to any other form of perspectival or spatial device. I recognise that a delay pedal can also act as a spatial device – recreating the effect of being in a cave or a mountain range. I intend for my works to reflect back onto the viewer to remove the pictorial illusions of depth, to make the viewer aware of the space they are situated in. In preparing the surfaces for these paintings I created an extremely smooth surface by applying gesso and sanding in between the layers to create a surface that oil paint mixed with the glazing medium Liquin could glide across and create a flat/reflective surface. I will also apply a traditional dammar varnish to enhance this effect.

Creating Work 5

To assist my sound experimentation whilst completing the paintings, I worked together with Wilson Arts Collective to develop a workshop exploring abstract sound. The workshops focused on utilising quotidian objects from the participants immediate environment (e.g. toothbrush, slippers, radiators) to act as instruments that can be played to produce abstract compositions as part of an isolated ensemble.

Using Zoom, I embraced the opportunity to use this platform to deliver the workshop to consider the features (audio, camera, mute button, 40 minute length) and common issues of interference, sound delay, interruptions of a typical zoom meeting to act as instruments in themselves, to use the meeting as an instrument in itself – akin to legendary Abbey Road/Beatles producer George Martin’s philosophy of using the recording studio as an instrument.

The workshops produced a series of sound recordings, varying from chaotic spoken word passages to droning household symphonies and improvisational white noise compositions. I encouraged participants to create their own recordings whilst performing, this has enabled me to create new versions of the recordings and analyse how the sonic qualities of the performance are picked up from different perspectives and to investigate which instruments cut through the digital network, how the digital platform of zoom manipulates the audio, and how the acoustic properties of the rooms we were recording in influence the final outcome.

These workshops have helped me to consider how I will begin to produce sound recordings using my pedal paintings in a gallery/home studio setting. They have encouraged me to consider where I place the microphones around the room to experiment with how sound is transmitted and how I can create different spatial qualities from these recordings. The workshops have also made me aware of my role as a composer/conductor in relation to producing sound. Initially I had planned to record natural, unrehearsed audio from the gallery or my living room. However, working with the WAC has led me to consider re-forming the isolated ensemble’ in situ with the works to perform a live version of some experimental and improvised compositions in relation to the display space of the paintings.

Creating Work 6

Creating Work 7

I have enjoyed many evenings and afternoons painting in my kitchen during this residency. To underpin my research into Titian’s painting techniques I paid a visit to the National Gallery (a very different experience during lockdown, involving delayed tube trains and a lot of queuing and waiting to be allowed into the gallery – as well as having to negotiate my way back into the exhibit having unknowingly wandered into out of the exhibition!). Encountering Titian’s paintings on a first hand basis helped me to better understand the layering in his use of colour, where I needed to apply underpainting to mimic the depth in his emotionally charged depictions of sky scenery, to search out tones that could emulate his dramatic use of light. Viewing the works behind glass whilst trying to maintain my two-metre distance from other visitors in what was a fairly busy gallery made me intensely aware of my surroundings. The seduction of Titian’s handling of drapery, flesh and compelling reflections from mirrors and pools of water was broken by my catching my own reflection in the glass or having to manoeuver away from another viewer.

Viewing ‘Diana and Actaeon’ under strict parameters has assisted me in

making decisions about how I will orchestrate the viewers’ experience in relation to my works.

The experience raised questions for me such as ‘Will viewers experience the works on a one on one basis? (as if placed in a confessional booth), Will they be required to activate the sonic devices via some form of footswitch? or, will the works be autonomous replaying all sound and subjecting the viewer to endless repetitions of atmospheric echo?

Final Reflections

Throughout the residency I have been experimenting with playback in relation to my paintings. This video offers a small insight into the demo audio video recordings I have been creating featuring a ticking boiler and the hum of a freight train. I particularly enjoyed the moment when the painting fell over as a result of the sound reverberations in my kitchen.

These recordings have helped me to test how I will record and replay sound in the physical space of The Wilson. The opportunities to work with The Wilson’s staff and Wilson Arts Collective have opened my eyes to a new range of possibilities for the sound element of this body of work, I look forward to using these works with workshop groups to create new sound works.

Special thanks to Oliver Tipper for introducing me to Lee Chaos, who has inspired me to consider alternative forms of playback including silent disco playback, which will hopefully enable me to offer the viewer an intimate and immersive experience in the gallery space.

Summary

This residency has helped me to focus my previously broad ideas about creating a reflective viewing experience. It has afforded me the opportunity to delve deeper into my research and breathe new possibilities into the works through my collaborations with Wilson Arts Collective. Living with this new collection of works during the residency has helped me to make decisions about the fine details of the work whilst waiting for the kettle to boil and doing the dishes.  Living in rented accommodation over the lockdown where I can’t drill into the walls has led me to consider alternative methods of hanging and photographing the works for these social posts. Photographing the works in this manner has helped me to make decisions about how I attached hanging devices to the rear of the works to accommodate the effects pedals and how to treat the edges of the paintings. The digital portion of this residency has provided me a valuable chance to critically reflect on my working process, my decision making and has certainly made me increasingly aware of the potential and limitations of my immediate environment to make work in both physically and digitally.  This process is synonymous with how I hope the works will operate in a gallery, providing the viewer with a space of self-reflection.

Project Funding

This project was funded by the Arts Council England Emergency Support Fund

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