In our latest Artist Profile, Curator Brian Cass, Head of Exhibitions at Towner Art Gallery, focuses on the work of Keith Arnatt.
Keith Arnatt was one of Britain's leading conceptual artists and a key figure in the history of British photography. He used photography initially to document his work which often took the form of complex physically realized actions. In later series, however, such as his Pictures from a Rubbish Tip 1988–9, the photographs themselves become the artwork.
Pictures from a Rubbish Tip is a body of work devoted to images of decomposed food that had been dumped at a local tip a short walk from his home. In this series he used the medium of photography with the sensibility of a painter, turned to vivid colour in order to monumentalise the discarded food that lie on clear and pale-coloured plastic bags. Photographed in warm afternoon light, and employing an extremely shallow depth of field, the images make us consider the difference between knowing something and seeing something.
Their emphasis on beauty and decay is both a critique of the disposable dross that mars the countryside, while also being a nod to the sublime and the romantic paintings of Samuel Palmer and JMW Turner. Arnatt plays with our preconceptions about what the countryside means to us. His eye for a strong picture seduces the viewer into an appreciation of a scene that would otherwise be considered ugly and, in experience a pleasure from looking at his work, we are drawn into his bitterly comic world view.
This striking series, investigating the traces of human intervention in the British landscape and how the detritus of modern living becomes assumed into the rural environment, is a key work currently on show as part of Towner Gallery’s National Partners exhibition A Green and Pleasant Land. British Landscape and the Imagination: 1970s to Now, from 30 September 2017 – 21 January 2018.
Head of Exhibitions Towner