Kerfuffle, 2004, 24x17m, scanachrome on vinyl from a photo-booth original, BBC commission for Broadcasting House.
My mantra is “Things will resolve themselves.”
Liz Rideal is an artist and writer, and Professor of Fine Art at the Slade School of Fine Art, UCL. She is well known for her early art work made using photo-booths, “creating a number of public art projects and investigating ways of using photographic strip digits within photographic collages, literally making light drawings using hand gestures in the photo-booth”
Liz also writes extensively on the history of art, and has also spent time working as a lecturer and writer at the National Portrait Gallery.
Her work is held in many collections including Tate, Berkeley Art Museum, The British Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, London.
INTERVIEW BY ELIZABETH SMITH
YOU COMBINE TEACHING AT THE SLADE SCHOOL OF FINE ART WITH WRITING BOOKS ON ART AND ARTISTS, AND YOU’VE CONSISTENTLY EXHIBITED IN BOTH SOLO AND GROUP SHOWS, HAS IS IT BEEN TRICKY TO CREATE A BALANCE BETWEEN PERSONAL WORK AND PROFESSIONAL COMMITMENTS?
Certainly when I was younger it was incredibly hard to balance my life, to earn my living and to make my art. I think that many artists have this problem in their mid-thirties when money is tight and they need to hold down more than one job to keep everything afloat. For a period in the early 80s, when I was first making the 2×5 metre, mass-participatory photo-booth public works, I had a feeling of utter synergy whereby the purpose of my work; which was an amalgam of the participatory, educational, social, political, aesthetic and original, felt totally complete.
But the success of this early work began to compromise and trap the evolution of the art, as curators wanted ‘more of the same’ – I had invented a magical formula for “access and inclusion”, before those words were even part of museum phraseology. I didn’t want to keep servicing the large numbers of people who wanted to join in making the art. Initially I wanted ‘art for the people by the people’ but increasingly I desired the ivory tower of exclusive production and personal authorship.
So extracting myself from that, “photo-booth trademark” was complicated. I managed this by shifting into other media and following the flow of drapery; the equivalent of the backdrop to the booth-box. This enabled me to review the subject matter in different ways and that finally allowed me to explore other avenues.
Pantheon, 2019, 150x198cm, digital print on rag.
YOUR WORK HAS ALWAYS BEEN ABOUT TIME AND HUMAN TRACES AND I KNOW THAT WAS VERY MUCH A PART OF THE WORK YOU DID WITH THE LEVERHULME FELLOWSHIP YOU RECEIVED IN 2016. WOULD YOU SAY THESE ELEMENTS ARE FUNDAMENTAL TO YOUR INTERESTS?
Time and human traces…I think that photography is always about time, and I have used that medium a fair amount over the years, but yes, it applies to both making my own paintings and looking at period painters. The so-called ‘old masters’ figure predominantly in the books I have written. Bronze sculptures seem eternal and can only be destroyed at high temperatures and drawings have long existed on pre-historic cave walls ….so yes, time encases art.
The concept of the trace applies to both the handmade and the human presence, and when expressed in that fashion, could resonate with all works that sentient artists make! However more specifically it could relate to the drapery work I have made since 2000. This work has evolved from purely abstract painting, to photographs of cloth caught in action in different locations.
Originally the silks were portrayed in the photo-booth, as “sitter” and subject matter, later, liberated from the confines of the box they were set free into Borromini’s architecture spaces and thence took off into the Roman Campagna (thanks to a Leverhulme grant), within archaeological ruins and Etruscan tombs. The almost weightless, transparent silk georgette is the perfect medium for free-fall through air.
Those works and recent pictures using old master paintings as backdrop, evoke human passage and the idea of the phantom. The wisp of silk becomes analogous to a trail of paint. The action is frozen in a photograph, a vestige suggestion and implication of humanity.
The photographs record all and nothing. In the related paintings I wanted to capture a nothingness…imperceptible and fractional changes of surface and colour, density and impermanence. Not the narrative illusions of Fuseli’s ghosts, but abstract landscapes of condensed colour.
White on white (Hard/soft drape), 2015, 80x50cm, digital print on rag.
Let’s Sway (under the serious sunlight), 2018, video, 5 mins.
WHAT’S NEXT ON THE HORIZON IN TERMS OF BOTH PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL PROJECTS?
Colour in the guise of silk and water as medium continue to interest me; my film Let’s Sway, goes somewhere towards what I’m after. The watery context is a natural progression to the work, but alongside this I’m working in watercolours and gold leaf inspired by medieval artwork.
Richard Deacon included my work in his sculpture hang at The Royal Academy Summer/Winter show, a choice reflecting the dual materiality of my digital print on silk. Monsieur Kunst (Vienna), features a seventeenth century painting from Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, at the RA it was transformed by being positioned like a Renaissance-style window; the silk literally and paradoxically swaying in the breeze created by viewers below. Like Princess Fantôme, another work from an expanding new set of mainly figurative museum pieces, it offers a mysterious blurred figure.
A tapestry work from 2006, is included in #Collect2021 and I’ll be discussing the work and the transformative process of tapestry on 28/02/21 – more information here.
Altemps (Flame, 2017, 80x50cm, digital print on rag
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE GALLERY OR ART WEBSITE?
Yes: in this country the National Gallery is my all-time top place to be. When I was in New York, the Met was addictive. Over the last few years I have been much in Rome where the Altemps is my favourite place.
All of these galleries are havens in the middle of the city. They also exist in my mind’s eye and continue to nourish me even when I am not happily encased within their walls. Memory and art is precious.
WHO IS YOUR PROFESSIONAL SOURCE OF INSPIRATION?
My list of inspirational artists include Velasquez, Melendez, Van Dyck, Goya, Turner, Whistler, Monet, Mitchell, Christo, Penone,..and John Baldessari, who worked in all directions and media – or did, as sadly he died recently.
Monsieur Kunst (Vienna), 2020, 178×137, 1/3 digital print on silk georgette
Princess Fantôme, 2020, 178x134cm, 1/3 digital print on silk georgette