(18-22/09/2017) Collection Project Research - Adriana Varejão, Edward Hopper, Bernd and Hilla Becher

Adriana Varejão

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Adriana Varejão - 'The Dreamer,' 2006, oil on canvas.

A Brazilian contemporary artists who works in multimedia, with a focus on oil paint, Adriana Varejão was an important inspiration for my collection project. Her series 'Baths and Saunas' depict scenes of bathhouses with no human presence, made up of tiles that are painted individually with little detail but together are able to create a mesmerising illusion of space through gradual shifts in colour from one tile to the next. The tiles make up a 'grid' of sorts, a concept Varejão took from Brazilian Neo-Concretists of the 20th Century, who aimed to create rational art through the use of geometry. By using their ideas, Varejão is able to subvert their aim by creating a scene that is emotionally charged with confusion, melancholia, isolation and an unsettling disturbance, exploring our notions of space and what comprises it, as well as our own interpretation of dimension, through a monumental scale that completely involves the viewer.

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Adriana Varejão - 'The Seducer,' 2004, oil on canvas.

For my piece, I drew from Varejão's empty scenes in my depiction of places devoid of human presence, in highly sanitised versions of photographs wherein all superfluous elements are removed. Furthermore, I was also influenced by Varejão's process, which included various visits to bathhouses during her travels and taking pictures of spaces that seemed particularly interesting. Upon studying the images, Varejão made them her own by choosing specific elements and moods and transposing them into her paintings, which exclude any humans from their composition and are considerably more surreal than the original images:

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Adriana Varejão - photographs of bathhouses.

Whilst these are not presented as an artwork in themselves, their role as a collection was striking to me as they act together to suggest a journey. The maze-like quality of the images also make the collection particularly unsettling as the viewer is almost prompted into trying to find a path between one image and the other.

Edward Hopper

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Edward Hopper - 'Sun in an Empty Room,' 1963, oil on canvas.

For this project, I drew heavily from the work of Edward Hopper in thematic terms. Both in my exploration of the photographic medium and watercolours, I focussed mainly on the depiction of emptiness through architectural forms and the interaction of planes that create shadows and evoke an emotional response from viewers. This is perfectly exhibited in this piece by Hopper, who uses light and shadow to create rectangular shapes that garner even more attention than the space and add to a three-dimensional depiction an eerie two dimensional quality. This is echoed in the way I chose to take pictures of places where content was only secondary to shadows and planes of colour, allowing the atmosphere of emptiness to come through. Hopper's lack of inclusion of any concrete object, apart from the trees outside the window, help to make his piece even more unsettling, something I aimed to recreate in my reinterpretations of the photographs in watercolour.

Bernd and Hilla Becher

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Bernd and Hilla Becher - 'Coal Bunkers,' 1974, photographs.

The artists have described their subjects as 'buildings where anonymity is accepted to be the style.’ This description seemed to fit with the content of my photographs, in which the spaces appeared highly anonymous, almost symbolic of 'suburban life' without necessarily denoting a particular place. This concept was interesting to me as, by removing identity, the spaces I depict become psychological as opposed to physical and the feeling can be transposed more readily. Their masterful presentation of extremely similar photographs side by side, as a collection, seems to connote some sort of obsession, as if the collector has an intense fascination with these places; by having them displayed as a grid, as opposed to horizontally, the images become less of a narrative and lose any kind of hierarchy, which was interesting to me as I was unable to remove these aspects from my images no matter how I presented them. There is a clear taxonomy to the images, apparent in how the photographers kept the same angle and had their subjects occupy the same amount of pictorial space in every image, allowing viewers to recognise the precise nature of their process as well as curation. 

© Antonio Gullo, all rights reserved

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