War Child Triptych (2022)
The Visual Arts and Craft Makers Awards (VACMA) are a local authority award via Creative Scotland to help artists develop new work, or themes in their practice. I was awarded one of these to produce a large-format digital triptych (it is around A0 size). The following text is from my own notes during the process of making the work.
…I'm looking at a screen with my as-yet untitled triptych which I've made over the past two and a half months.
It's a large file, three panels comprised of digital montages from around 300 different sources, stitched together, sometimes in-camera. A series of individual images, simmered down to these essences and then subsequently layered and altered, repeatedly, until new soft forms and qualities are drawn up through the pixels.
There are three panels; the one in the centre is more abstract. The side panels direct attention inwards towards the centre image, like parentheses. The final three images were drawn from a shortlist of twelve montages I whittled down to three over several weeks.
The side panels are fairly straightforward pictures but even these are complex montages of parts of the flowers; stamens and pollen, stalks and branches. Hazy optical qualities brought out by the evening sun caused petals and floral elements to glow, and I tried to remain faithful to keep these qualities whilst heavily processing the montage. I'd say the end piece looks a little bit hyperreal.
It is obvious that I've been on Photoshop. It's the medium that I've been working with and I can’t paint to the standard I'd like, so it it’s a chance to exorcise that painterly impulse in any way I can.
The triptych looks vaguely religious. It is, after all, a triptych. The side panels look like trumpets or formal bunches of flowers but in my mind they are celestially amplifying the centre image which takes longer to unpack. It is intended to echo the form of a heart.
Despite not being religious, I’ve spent a lot of time around religion and it’s definitely influenced me. I’ve attempted to merge influences from Catholicism but also the tiniest nod to anatomy, to form a fusion, or what you could call a compound heart where all these things come together. So it's not quite a ‘secular’ heart, there is a sort of longing and poetry in my intention. But it doesn’t depict the full sacred heart in the Catholic sense. In fact most will probably not see it as a heart at all.
That said, there’s a very subtle reference to thorns. I look at the sacred heart a lot on tattoos, I’ve always liked it. I have always liked the old masters renditions of the Virgin Mary and cultish iconography associated with it. Perhaps it's a nod to Eastern Europe slightly, which I’ll address in a moment. But I think I'm quite pleased with the way the middle panel has turned out, it looks like chambers in a heart made of petals. Elements have been blown out and we are in the aftermath of something. Maybe an explosion.
For me, whilst death is there in the picture, the intention is that it's not a painful death, it's more of a memorial, presented as a kind of altarpiece. In reality, the blossom is so fleeting whilst so beautiful that it serves as a memento mori, for me at least.
The colour scheme and soft processing does make it dreamy and surreal. But chromatically it was fairly accurate regarding how petals appeared in the sunlight. And even though they were taken in the ‘golden hour’, they still look a bit cool. The blues and violets nestle inside the magentas and greys. You get these weird kind of supple mixing of colours that I couldn't have predicted - made via the in-camera double exposures and subsequent processing.
So what's behind the motivation for this?
Well, I’ve made been making this one piece of work for about getting on for nine weeks.
And it happens to coincide with the Russian invasion of Ukraine during 2022.
I'd got my eye on the tree, but I'd also got my eye on the news at the same time. I knew I was going to make a piece of work, but I didn't know how it was going to transpire. And I didn't know the context in which I'd be putting the images together.
It was still a shock when on the 21st of February the invasion started with the rocket launches. I am uncomfortable with sounding crass that I've been making this picture when cities are being relentlessly blown to pieces – not that far away from me – and anyway, what does distance matter? Bombs on maternity hospitals and schools were in my mind. What a conceit then, to be focusing on this tree for a small funded project whilst Ukraine gets ripped to pieces. If nothing else, I felt grateful for my freedoms. I had no food shortage, I had heating and all my family were in one place. I knew we'd all be together for dinner.
So these images have been made alongside the invasion. And that that's not by design. That's by coincidence. But as I said, once I noticed there was a connection, I continued to pursue it.
I'm looking into the best way of perhaps making some fund-raising prints out of this, and will put details on this page when I have tested what media suits it.
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