Thursday, 20 March 2014

Still Life & Death - Hendrik Faure & Karl Blossfeldt

In the changeable month that is March I was thrilled to see a few sunny days amongst the grey ones. With a new show open 'Still Life & Death' - works by Hendrik Faure & Karl Blossfeldt -  it is always a good time to look ahead & reflect upon the work on display. What makes this particular show wonderful to me is the connections between the two artists & their lives that are strangely linked through much more than just the process they use/d...

Hendrik Faure explains the finer points of his prints

In this post I want to give you a brief glimpse into the show without too many spoilers! Hendrik Faure came over from Germany for the opening and to do a talk the following day. It was a real treat to hear him speak about his work & show the audience his copper plates & examples of prints & comparing the successful & unsuccessful - revealing the delicate nature of copper plate printing. 

The opening

The Private View was a lovely affair as always - but the best bit was the comments from guests whom had never seen or understood that they had seen photogravures before. Having one print on display next to it's plate really meant that you could communicate the basics of the process very quickly. 

This also added to the audiences appreciation of the gravure & it's physicality as an object - especially as Faure's work has a more rustic appearance than the neat graphic style of the Blossfeldt's.   

The first to arrive & enjoy the work

As with many artists Faure has a day job which fits beautifully into his art - as a practicing psychiatrist. His dark imagery reflects the shadows of the subconscious without revelling in it. (Interestingly, Karl Blossfeldt suffered from depression in later life.) Following in the traditions of artists many centuries before him Faure creates miniature tableaux's of life & death in the form of dead birds, cats, frogs interacting with objects such as mannequins, clocks, machine parts & skulls to name but a few…

Faure's pictures could be visually & spiritually associated with many artistic movements from the Dutch still life paintings of the 17th Century to Pictorialism & Surrealist movement. The dash of dark humour can be found if you look for it.  

©Aaron Harcourt 
Hendrik speaks

One of my favourite moments during Hendrik's talk was his reference to a racoon & mannequin in two of his works. The first it is soon after it's death so is fluffy & quite cute, however the second it is dehydrated & barely recognisable as a racoon, placed on the mannequin in both. Hendrik referred to both photographs as having the same 'actors' - which beautifully illustrated his close relationship to the creatures & objects he photographs his studio.

 ©Aaron Harcourt 
Hendrik & his wife before the talk

Interestingly, Hendrik occasionally acquires his animals through his patients if they find them on the road. Mostly they are found on the land near his house. I even had a find yesterday on my way home from work - so it is not so unusual to come across the dead in everyday life…

©Laura Noble

He spoke of the dead cat being found in between hay bales where it had gone to die in peace, a common occurrence in the countryside. 

By strange coincidence Blossfeldt was 63 years old when his first book of photographic images, "Urformen der Kunst" was published, the same age as Faure is now. Faure's daughter also attended the Institute of Royal Arts Museum in Berlin where Blossfeldt taught from the late 1800's. 

©Hendrik Faure - Example with grey scale on left

A reminder of an earlier time in his life is pictured above - taken whilst riding his horse. Due to a brain injury He can no longer ride & his horse doesn't recognise him due to this physical change as one side of his body no longer 'works'. We see the land which has been cleared to pave the way for an autobahn - damaging the landscape forever. This poignant image depicts his past & the corrosion to the future of Faure's physical self as well as the landscape.   

3 copper plates

Faure's 'vanitas' appear to be from another time pre-dating Blossfeldt by over a century yet they are contemporary prints. This harking back to the past is a fascinating subject that many photographers find enticing with the soft textures & tones which give the work a tactile quality all of its own. 

It is such an intimate experience viewing these works

When I was curating the show it soon became clear that the work needed to be hung in a uniform way as the eclectic images by Hendrik Faure were very busy with multiple areas of interest in each composition & would benefit from a straight hang. 

Mixing it up - the new hang on shelves with guests shows the scale

However, with the Blossfeldt I broke down the works to four sets of three pictures on narrow shelves that they can leisurely lean back against the wall - as if inviting you to swop them around. The joy of these works is that you can really play with the combinations, using the patterns in the plants to expand the arrangements to create another dialogue between them. The fabulous nature of these shelves really make changing your selection easy. The perfect way to rotate a collection. With prices for them starting at just £90 each (unframed) buying more than one needn't be a pipe dream, but a distinct possibility…

For more details see the gallery site or even better come & see for yourself!