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