The painterly human body
‘What is history? What is historical truth? – Yasumasa Morimura
The Make up Body
The artist Boo Ritson (b. 1969) merges conventional classifications of painting, sculpture, performance and photography, the final work as object though is a photograph of a sitter covered with thick paint and photographed when paint was still wet. Apparently, she had only 20min to take the photograph after painting before it dried (Davies, 2011). At first one might see these works just as body-paintings, as a make-up for a party or just for fun. I felt reminded of the video work Art Make Up, 1967 of Bruce Nauman (Tramontin, 2016) seen at the retrospective in Basel: a painterly exploration of the self, with the painted surface taken over a deferred meaning.
‘I’m not a photographer; I’m an artist who uses photography. In its raw state, my work can only be seen by me and the people I work with, so photography is essential. I can’t show my work without it.’ – Boo Ritson (Benedictus, 2007)
I am wondering whether she takes herself the photographs or does work with the photographer Andy Crawford ?(Davies, 2011) A question of copyright and ownership? Or the photographer as the assistant to execute, hired by RItson? So, not truly a collaboration? Topics, I discussed in April with Caroline Wright during London Study Day.
Her work is informed by or appropriating of American road movies. Her series ‘Back Road Journey’s is considered by the artist as ‘unfinished’ pieces, models painted in white and halfway painted in color, reminiscence of the blank canvas (Aesthetica, 2009). The process she applied reminds me also of some works by Helen Chadwick, e.g. her ‘Wreath to pleasure’ series, photographs of living materials, decaying over time.
The paint could be considered as a skin, enclosing or concealing the layer, the body below (Saatchi Gallery). It reminds me of the plaster masks that we made at school, casted with tissues of plaster put onto the face with holes for eyes, mouth, and nose to breath, waiting till it is roughly dry and tearing if off: masks as the skin peeled off, masks to paint and to manipulate dislocated, displaced on a table, kind of externalization of what is part of oneself. It is mentioned that she used household paint, I am pondering health topics (did she applied a protective layer underneath?).
Raising questions what is art, what is the object of art (the final photograph? the process of painting the sitter?
We do not see the sitter but the character they have become.- Source: davidrisleygallery.com
The photographs do convey a creepy sense for me, reminding me of the ‘uncanny valley’, a term coined by Masahiro Mori in 1970 relating to the creation of robots with human appearance. The sensation one could have when it is not clear whether the figure in front of one is artificial or human, e.g a prosthetic hand (Schaffeld, 2017). And like the prosthetic hand Ritson’s photographed painted models seem to reside somehow between the painted skin and the human sitter.
‘The ‘Cast’ are the people that the people I know could be, if they weren’t the people I know. They give the work its texture, like the characters in a film’. – Boo Ritson (Saatchi)
Besides the blur between disciplines, Ritson’s work also questions the relationship between the sitter, her as the painter and the paint. What does the sitter adds to the work? Does Ritson knows anything about them, and is this even relevant at all? The paint can be seen as an additional skin, a layer of closing, though it conveys more a sense of enclosure, encapsulation. Is the sitter free to escape? The ‘overpainted’ persons get a sense of fragility, like porcelain, I think due to the glossy shin of the wet paint. On the other hand, the persons are being portrait and archived forever through their masks, they will live further, even after the sitter’s death.
In other series, e.g. ‘D is for Donut‘, 2011, Ritson places the models in context, a landscape environment, adding more layers, making the painted models look more vivid, e.g Bear Creek, Alabama (Davies, 2011) or Prairie View, Texas
A slightly different approach takes Rachel Russell with her either painted models series (with context) or her performative painting (2012) as enactment of Philip Gustons’ painting, The Studio, 1969. I find it fascinating how well she translated Guston’s hues and composition into her space. Just an interesting aspect, that she didn’t appropriated Guston’s meta-picture, the painting inside the painting. In her performative painting she paints a different subject. It reminds of Levine’s work, appropriating a work in a different context, the image as such just a background ‘noise’.
Take-away and questions
- Photography as documentation painting (resonates with some of my earlier approaches)
- Making photographs of a work as a job of hiring a photographer, as an assistant? The reproduction bear Ritson’s name, or not?
- Portraiture: more about the artist or the sitter? Ritson’s work seems to sit in-between, void of personality of the sitter, and still with an uncanny sense of presence.
- Paint as skin, as material to encapsulate, to conceal. But also to reveal new meaning, to add another deferred layer in a literal sense. The Body as skin, the skin as paint, the paint as concealing and dislocating – aspects that do intrigue me
- Appropriation of past works, or of identities, or of context – a question to be considered and looked at deeper
- Featured image: Paitings and photographs of me and my body imprints, done as part of daily parallel project during PoP1 (c)SJSchaffeld, 2016
- Aesthetica Magazine (2009) ‘Boo Ritson – Back Roads Journeys’ : at: http://www.aestheticamagazine.com/boo-ritson-back-roads-journeys/ (accessed 20 Oct 2018)
- Benedictus, L. (2007) ‘Boo Ritson’s best shot’ The Guardian. At: https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2007/oct/04/features11 (accessed 20 Oct 2018)
- Davies, L. (2011) ‘Boo Ritson’ AnotherMag ( ) At: http://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/1583/boo-ritson (accessed 20 Oct 2018)
- Hiji, N. (2018) ‘Yasumasa Morimura – Interview’, in: ArtForum. [online].At: https://www.artforum.com/interviews/yasumasa-morimura-77255(Accessed on 23 Oct 2018).
- O’Reilly, S. (2009) The Body in Contemporary Art, World of art. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.
- Pallasmaa, J. and Holl, S. (2005) The Eyes of the skin – architecture and the senses. United Kingdom: Wiley, John & Sons.
- Russell, R. (2012) The Studio [DVD video, 34:40min] At: http://www.rachelrussell.co.uk/#/gipfel/ (accessed 21 Oct 2018)
- Saatchi Gallery (n.D.) ‘Boo Ritson – Articles’. originally published in: davidrisleygallery.com. At: https://www.saatchigallery.com/artists/boo_ritson_articles.htm (accessed 20 Oct 2018)
- Schaffeld, S.J.. (2016) ‘Daily Self-Portraits: Week 8 ‘The Eyes of the Skin’[Blog post] At: https://ocapainting1.stefanschaffeld.com/?p=2104 (accessed 20 Oct 2018)
- Schaffeld, S.J. (2017) ‘Part Three – Exercise 3.5: Artificial Intelligence’ [Blog post] At: https://ocauvc.stefanschaffeld.com/?p=1270 (accessed 20 Oct 2018)
- Tramontin, F.A. (2016) ‘Bruce Nauman ‘Art Make Up’ 1967′, At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6LppuVHlus (accessed 20 Oct 2018)