Post by: Anthony Latess (Instructor, Professional Institute for Educators)
Art to me is storytelling. I feel that every work of art tells a story, whether it be a hand-blown glass sculpture, landscape or portrait painted in oil, or abstract photograph of a barely recognizable subject. The glass sculpture tells a short story which may be concise and dramatic, the landscape or portrait is like a novel with details and characters to learn more about each time it is viewed and the abstract photograph may read like a free-form poem, conceptual and satisfying.
In December of 2011, I was invited to put together a show for a print gallery at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio. I received a Faculty Enrichment Grant from the University of the Arts Continuing Studies Division, which assisted me in making this project happen. The show, titled “iRemember: Moments and Details in Personal Icons – 1950 to the Present” is showing at the Butler until March 10, 2013.
As an artist using photography in my work, I created a series of 10 installations for the Butler Institute that used scanned personal photos from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. I also photographed these same subjects in 2012 and wanted to show how memories of people, places or things – I call them personal icons – either changed or stayed the same over time. I used almost 200 printed square images and hundreds of pins to create the 10 fragile and temporary 40” x 40” installations.
I am obsessed with square formats and superimpose a square grid over my work or printed photographs like a “window” to view the images through. The viewer may be looking through a window back into time and may be peeking at these “private” views and personal icons through the grid!
Each installation consists of two photographs, a “Guide Photograph” and a “Current Photograph.” The smaller “Guide Photograph” is a scanned personal family photograph taken by a family member or myself, the memory of which has become an icon in my life.
The enlarged “Current Photograph” is a recent photograph I took that contains the same or similar elements as the older original “Guide Photograph.” Together the two images reflect how details have changed or stayed the same since the original was taken.
The “Current Photograph” of each work is magnified and cut into nine squares.
The smaller “Guide Photograph” is layered with gouache and written on in colored pencil to describe the scene and my reflections and memories. I then painted over the text with watercolor. Some of my personal comments and writing is not readable, but the viewer may be able to determine keywords that point them to ideas and elements in each work.
I mounted each “Current Photograph” on a piece of black foamcore board which is covered with nine patterned squares, each affixed with two pins diagonally from left to right. Each square of the “Current Photograph” is pinned diagonally from right to left to the patterned squares. The “Guide Photograph” is affixed to a patterned square and pinned to a smaller square of foamcore.
To complete the installations, I cut and fit wet-medium acetate to several photo squares in the large “Current Photograph” and painted a red line around the subject in each work.
The “Guide Photograph” and “Current Photograph” are mounted side by side so comparisons may be made from the past to the present in each installation.
Each of my works has a strong narrative aspect, which I exploit to heighten the storytelling nature that art might have. In this collection of 10 installations, I explore how time and memories play out over the course of a very personal timeline. The installations in my show are my way of telling personal stories based on photographs and specific memories, that to me are like the expanding Universe – the older you become, the farther away memories of a person, place, event or thing become. Sometimes, along the way over space and time, images such as photographs, drawings or paintings, “bookmark” memories for us. These icons along our personal timeline help us to remember details and prompt us to make comparisons about how things have changed, or not.
My pieces are pinned together to enhance the natural “intelligence” of paper, inviting environmental influences to possibly cause the paper to bend or curl and become part of the work. My works are handmade and fragile and temporary and disjointed just like memories and materials may be.
If young artists see their work as storytelling, maybe some of the questions they ask as they create will influence how the viewer will experience their work and the messages it might evoke!