Ferens Art Gallery


Ferens Art Gallery, 1999

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Kirsty McGee sees how new work by Liz Rideal challenges the limitations of the Photobooth

Hanging out to dry.

In Boots on a Saturday afternoon , you can see them standing around the Photo-booth. Giggling and teasing their hair, a bunch of teenage girls practice smiling in the mirror as they wait for their photos to jolt out into the drying tray. Me, I’m waiting for the flash to go off, listening to the chatter outside and hoping my smile doesn’t come out lopsided. With its demure curtains and smudged backdrops, its focus, exposure and camera angle mechanically set, the photo-booth isn’t an obvious starting point for great art. Surely a would -be artist would be better off with a pint-and -shoot? London-based artist Liz Rideal would disagree. Refusing to be beaten by the tech limitations of the photo booth, she has forged a new role for the Artist in front of the camera, rather than behind it, manipulating what goes into the lens and subverting the resulting images. Consequently, she’s spent the last 10 years hopping in and out of various photo booths, waiting for the flash, patiently standing outside, waiting for her shots to dry and taking them back to the studio to be assembled into artworks. Rideal initially began her art training as a painter at Brighton Polytechnic in 1972, before gaining a combined BA (Hons) degree in Fine Art and English from Exeter University and Exeter College of Art and Design in 1976.

After graduating, she moved more into photo based artwork, and her earlier work uses large numbers of photo strips to put together huge collages (2x5m). From a distance, the grits of pictures she constructs (often shots will depict her own hands or coloured fabrics), appear as brushstrokes, or individual pencil marks in the larger compositions. Like the tiles of a mosaic coming together to reveal a larger plan, each captured motion, or swathe of cloth, have been carefully mapped out in advance. In one of her earlier works, Homage to Mondrian (Composition in Red, Yellow and Blue) (1987). Rideal uses collaged photographs to playfully represent an abstract painting. Her later work, Self-portrait, Right Thumb (1991) uses the same technique to convey a more personal concern. Self-portrait, appears from a distance to be a photograph enlarged to the extent that it has lost definition and split up into pixels. On closer inspection, each pixel is an individual self portrait of the artists, hands or face. With many of the frames left blank. The portrait brings with it questions of personal identity, comparing the usual role of the passport photo, with that of the fingerprint as a genetic marker.

In her more recent work, Rideal reverses her earlier techniques by blowing up individual prints, too many times their origin size, revealing the dots and pixels so that the image fragments. Her fascination with fabric comes to the four in her most recent photographs as she focuses on the colours and folds of cloth in increasingly abstract compositions. These new photographs are somehow more like paintings, sumptuously composed of richly, billowing fabrics. The intensity of the colours she uses is closer to the rich tones of Renaissance religious art than to those normally provided by a shopping centre photo booth.

In Blue Cascade (1997), swathes of brightly coloured tulle are grasped against a background of kingfisher blue silk. The matchbox sized images are repeated again and again, each time with a different variation, creating a feeling of movement, as if each shot charted the motion of a flickering flame. The fabric appears to dance of its own accord, spinning into incredible folds and curves. in some shots, the artists hand is Court manipulating the fabric, like the hand of a puppet master, controlling the image from within.

Willow Weep 1-4 (1999), a piece, specially commissioned for this show at the Ferens Gallery in Hull, manages to retain the just dried curl of a passport photograph as it hangs slightly suspended above the marble wall. Blue, green, and aquamarine ruffles of ballerina tulle blend together against a darker background fabric. The sequence of photographs, like others in the exhibition, revels in the sensuality of fabric and colour, and delights in the power of repetition.

In the hallway of the gallery, standing looking at Rideal‘s new work, I overheard a couple, discussing the photographs. While the man liked the work, and compared the pictures to light, falling through a prism, his partner thought they looked like washing. Personally, I’d happily sit in anyone’s back garden and watch the washing swing if the colours were as bright as this. I’ve always been a sucker for bright colours.

Catalogue – Liz Rideal: New Work

Berry House


Installation view, Berry House

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‘Solox8’ Exhibition, Clerkenwell. London, 1998

‘Solo x 9’. Liz Rideal’s collages of photo-booth strips are the unexpected highlights of this show. They glide effortlessly between spellbindingly beauty and conceptual clout. Instead of portraits destined for official scrutiny, there are candy-coloured veils that seemingly dance of their own accord.
Tania Guha, Time Out London, 29 July – 5 August 1998

Catalogue – Liz Rideal: New Work

Still Life


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V&A Collection

Still life in the form of plants and flowers occupy the booth and these works explore the creation of optical illusions through collaging individual strips in different ways. Standard booth lighting results in top lit strips.

When reversed and stuck down in chequerboard fashion, the visual sensations of pulsing movement occur and the vertical bands of photographs seem to warp and flex before one’s eyes – thus combining nature with optics.

Catalogue – Liz Rideal: Stills

Self Portraits

French Connection, 1999

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Collection Ferens Art Gallery

Self-portraiture is the natural genre for the photobooth medium. Known as the identity machine, it is essential equipment for passport production, and self-portraits are the first and most obvious portraits to make within the booth. Rideal has created countless self-portraits, written about them and organised and shown in exhibitions of them.

Identity was the first large collective piece in black and white (Collection National Portrait Gallery) 1985, and Self-portrait Yellow, (Tate Collection) 1996, is a c-type colour enlargement of an original strip of four poses. Self-portrait Right Thumb (Museet for Fotokunst Collection, Denmark) was first shown in 1995, in New York at Michael Klein Gallery, 40, Wooster St. Vince Aletti reviewed the the show in the Village Voice.

“As Big As Life”: A gigantic Thomas Ruff portrait and two full-size double portrait by the team of Marina Abramovic and Ulay set up the theme, but the most interesting pieces here are Peter Garfield’s paired Annunciation I & II – peculiarly evocative (angry? celebratory?) images of hammers tossed into the gray clouds above a smudged skyline – and Liz Rideal’s self-portrait tour de force, an intricate whorl of photobooth shots in the shape of a huge thumbprint: fragmented identity anxiously patched together.

Identity on BBC TV Wogan show (1985)
Insight: Self-portraits

Public Projects

Invitation to IDENTITY, 1985

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 Shared at Somerset House, London, 2015

Between 1985 – 1994, Rideal created five 2×5 metre works using photobooth images donated by the general public. Identity, Tartan Castle, People Profile – Pillars of Society, Corner(house) and Picture Parade. These and other photobooth works were exhibited at:

Concerning the Photo-Booth, Museum of Photography, Denmark
Willow Weep, Ferens Art Gallery, Kingston-upon-Hull
Kiss Kiss, Focal Point Gallery, Southend
Up on Deck, Ramsgate Gallery, Ramsgate
Rainbow Portraits, Institut Français, Edinburgh
Portrait Progress, Drew Gallery, Canterbury
Picture Parade, British Film Institute, London
Spacex Gallery, Exeter
Fairy Queen,
The Photographers’ Gallery, London
The Arbitrarinous Line: line = map = division, The Orchard Gallery, Derry, Northern Ireland
Corner(House), Cornerhouse, Manchester
Tree of Life, Royal Festival Hall and touring
Seawall – Wave Motion, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne
People, Profile, Pillars of Society, City Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent
Tartan Castle, Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, Scotland
Photobooth Work, Galleria del’Occhio, New York, USA
Identity, The National Portrait Gallery, London

Identity on BBC TV Wogan show (1985)

Mosaic Work

Happiness, 100 x 80cms, 1988 (Private Collection)

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This blanket term describes the type of collages that emerged when hands and arms were choreographed within the photobooth to create specific shapes in response to a pre-ordained drawn cartoon. Rideal pioneered this technique first in Identity, other portrait work followed, then Magic Carpet, Adam & Eve (a pair of skeletons) and a riff on Mondrian’s Red Tree 1908 and Composition in Red, Yellow and Blue 1921.

Drapes and Veils

Detail, Blue Fall, 1998

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Drapes, veils and translucent sheer fabrics caught in motion. Images caught in performing sequence, collaged together sequentially to suggest action. When photography was developed in the nineteenth century, the conventional background curtains that were de rigeur in traditional painted portraits, were transferred to the photographic portrait. No surprise that they survived and became a constant within the photobooth. Rideal wanted to suppress the static curtain and liberate the material, get it to fly and misbehave. Give it a life of its own as an abstract object that suggested a painted sublimated emotional experience caught within the strictures of a minimal grid.

English artist Rideal’s first New York solo show is full of colour images of fabric taken in a photo booth – romantic, minimalist work that mixes the formality and ephemerality of Agnes Martin’s pictures with the curvy, textile-draped femininity of Veronese’s. In “Arras Suite Red,” hundreds of four-picture photo strips mounted together create a Muybridge-like meditation on the movement of a piece of Indian silk. For “Pig’s Ear,” pink fabric someralults across a black background, inanimate, but somehow loaded with playful and lyrical humanity.

The New Yorker, Photography August 21 and 28, 2000

For 15 years Liz Rideal has made the photo-booth, that popular dispenser of instant mug shots, her primary tool. Many artists have toyed with low-budget technology but few have explored its formal possibilities so extensively as the British photographer, who is having her first New York solo show.

Early on Ms Rideal departed from the conventional photo booth portrait Works from 1996 to 1998, on show here, focus on colored fabrics that the artist manipulates before the cameras’s unwavering eye, producing a kind of photographic update of Color Field painting. In the best works here, she collages hundreds of the four-shot strips into large grids. Up close in “Arras Suite Red” you can see each little picture shows a slightly crumpled expanse of red cloth. From a distance, more than 800 little red squares coalesce into a lush, vibrating field.

In other works, Ms. Rideal re-photographs photo booth strips and makes montages of enlarged frames, “Green Veil,” which measures about 4 by 20 feet is a grid of two dozen frames, each a different image of translucent green chiffon floating, fluttering or twisting against a white background. (In one frame, the artist’s fingers appear, revealing off-camera performance). These are less richly concentrated than the collages made from the original strips, but they have an elegant interplay of sensuous fluidity and rhythmic order.

Ken Johnson, New York Times, Art in Review 11 August 2000. Lucas Schoormans Gallery, 508 West 26th St. Chelsea