‘Something Resembling Truth’

Jasper Johns recently exhibited at the RA. He looks at targets, states and flags and aims to challenge the viewer by making the familiar unfamiliar. He uses repeated and reformed shapes and symbols which are disguised to force the viewer to look more closely at things the mind already knows.

I was particularly interested in Johns earlier work and personally think he was most innovative when he retracted his subject matter to just dealing with numbers or the American flag, creating different variations. Johns interest in Magritte, Cornell and Duchamp led to inform his early work and Johns started to explore the idea of PAINTING AS SCULPTURE. In Johns ‘White Flag’ I was interested in how he has focused on the remnant being all thats left. We become forced to deconstruct the flag and view it not as a patriarchal symbol but as a series of shapes and lines. I think that the limited tones and monochromatic palette of this piece is particularly successful at achieving this.

‘White Flag’ by Jasper Johns

“Johns’ early flat, target, number and letter works, some of which appeared in this first exhibition, established a new vocabulary in painting. His appropriation of objects and symbols – ingrained in consciousness since childhood- sought to make the family unfamiliar. One of the ways he achieved this was through the complexity of textures that he created on the painted surface.” – Edith Devaney (RA Guild for Friends).

‘Numbers’ 2007-8 by Jasper Johns
‘0 through 9’ by Jasper Johns









Johns became interested in exploring language by appropriating familiar words out of context into his work. Their inclusion started a discussion into mis-interpretation. ‘False start’ 1959 Johns uses language to jiggling the complexity of seeing and thinking, naming and perceiving. He places ‘yellow, blue,red’ over blocks of alternating colour so as we view the work we challenge our perception of colour. This seemingly is a theme which runs through his work in his sculptures ‘Painting Bronze’ (1960). These are two hyperrealistic reproductions of domestic items which force the viewer to question what is true or false.  Only the knowledge that it is a reproduction lets us know, otherwise we might assume this was a readymade.

‘False start’ 1959 by Jasper Johns

Johns plays with the balance between art and functionality. When looking at maps he make a point to retain their ability to perform as global representations. In ‘Two maps’ 1989 Johns uses a carborundum wash to conceal the image, forcing the viewer to look with intensity. Similarly in ‘Map’ 1962-63 we struggle to view the border of countries because of its stylistic application of paint however the piece remains both a painting and an object that preserves its fictional value although boundaries blurred it still retains each borders unique shape.

‘Two maps’ 1989 by Jasper Johns

I was particularly drawn to John’s ‘Regret series’ which is based on a photograph taken by John Deakin of 2 mirrored tracings of Freud on his bed with irregular edges and damaged surfaces. Japser Johns has taken this photographic image and reproduced it in huge variation, forcing the viewer to read something different in the work from each piece. I found that the curation of this work, using a ceiling hight wall to mount this series of work was very wise in dramatising how manipulation can completely alter your perception of an image.  This is something I would be interesting in exploring in my own work by looking at printing an image and destroying or manipulating it in a variety of ways, presenting them all to the viewer to be digested simultaneously.

‘Regret series’ (2013-14) by Jasper Johns



White White White

Having experimented with discarded objects and how our perception of value can be altered when we see ‘weighted’ images on a worthless material, I wanted to work on a larger scale to see if this is an avenue I want to pursue. I found a large table top in the skip which i then took to paint onto. However, during this process because of the pre-used surface, I was picking up different textures and colours of paint underneath.

Photography of Process by Ruth Linnell

This did alter my work as I planned to paint with white onto the surface of the board. This was an idea influenced by Jasper Johns limited tonal and monochromatic work using symbols which I recently saw at the RA. Because of the surface, when painting the symbolic widow onto the boards surface- when wet you could pick it out. However, as time passed and the paint dried I found that some previous marks were whiter than the paint I had used and therefore interfered with the image. I think this changed the commentary of the work to have a larger focus on the ‘reclaimed’ aspect rather than the symbol and use of minimalism to communicate.

On reflection, I think I want to look at how different reclaimed materials could communicate differently. I want to upload the symbol of a window within my work but possibly consider how glass works in conjunction with photography. So much of photography is behind glass, and the subject of looking through a contained perspective (from behind bars) seems to marry perfectly to using glass as a medium. I think it could also be interesting if I had painted the window with a reflective clear gloss, not introducing any more coloured paint, so that the image could only be visible when light was reflecting off its surface.

‘White White White’
By Ruth Linnell

Please see: ‘Painting with White’

‘Painting with White’

Since the early twentieth century artists have been focusing on the use of only white when painting. Monochromes have been key to artists creating abstract work. The Tate modern has a room called Painting with White which has been curated by Tanya Barson. The Tate says:

‘Using only white might seem, at first, to take this approach(abstract painting) to extremes. Without image, and apparently pure, the white monochrome appears to resist meaning and interpretation. For some people, it has come to symbolise everything that is believed to be elitist and difficult about modern and contemporary art’

‘Ledger’ 1982 by Robert Ryman http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T03550

I think that there is a point to be said surrounding the accessibility of work which reaches new levels of abstraction. This is something I have become more concerned with in my own practise. Whilst my aim is to restrict the reading of an image so the viewer has to really stretch to view the work, I want a remnant of the original image to be felt, either spiritually or eerily through the subject of the hidden image being revealed in text.

However, there is also a coded symbolism to the colour white which explores religious, spiritual and poetic connotations which explore purity, hope and meditation. I think that when dealing with a loaded subject, such as human rights- limiting the palette and vision to such extremes could be very successful in communicating a gospel message of hope.

‘Achrome’ 1958 by Piero Manzoni
‘White plane white’ 1974 by Bram Bogart

When looking at ‘Spiral Movement’ by Mary Martin, I have started to consider how the paper itself could become the work. The photographic images which I print all are white on the underside, therefore I could create images by using the paper itself (the weight of the photography very much still being a part of the piece but completely concealed from view). I would like to explore this experimentally first, and consider using the ‘window’ symbol as a structure to create sculpturally.

‘Spiral Movement’ 1951 by Mary Martin http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00586


Please see: White White White

Discarded Objects

A Little Wooden Block


…and a propped up image printed on acetate/film.

This image is of a Window behind Bars.

A Window behind Bars is referencing the power of perspective.

Although many are held behind bars, they live with hope.

‘Disguise of a discarded object’
By Ruth Linnell

In the same way I had previously experimented with ‘A Wooden Triangle’, I started to use photography to abstract images further. In actuality, this image is of a piece of acetate/film which has a printed image of a photograph of some impressions (on the back side of the paper) which were made when drawing some barred windows. However, when I started to play around which the use of a camera to manipulate how we view an image, this became a fascinating opportunity for possible illusion. It could be interesting to explore photographing one object in a series of different ways and presenting these all together to force the viewer to question ‘perception’.

Although these images are visually interesting, their abstraction has taken them beyond a point the point of recognising any previous theme (detention camps/barred windows). Therefore I feel this work has transitioned into a purely aesthetic realm which I wouldn’t want to pursue.

‘Disguise of a discarded object’
By Ruth Linnell

Please see: The Seen and The Unseen

The Seen and The Unseen

As I have been looking at discarded objects in my own practise, I wanted to consider how we value objects. A recent exhibition at the Tate Modern Exchange made me question if we only associate value with objects when we know how they’ve been made? Artist Clare Twomey made the Tate Exchange into a factory for a period of a week, were member of the public could come and complete shifts, being a part in the process of making a clay tea pot, jug or flower.

Images of Tate Exchange taken by Ruth Linnell

“The factory I have built for Tate Exchange is not a real factory, it is not a real place of work, it is a place of simulation with the intent to draw us into a conversation about how we connect to our everyday ideas of labour, value and exchange.”- Towemy

During the second week of the exhibition (which was when I saw the work), this production line became a place for people to think about raw materials and the different systems of value we apply to material culture. The idea was that you leave your thoughts – written on a card – in place of a ceramic object made in the factory the previous week.

When collecting my own teapot, I started to read other peoples thoughts on value and material culture by recording their responses to the question cards. I became fascinated with the rejected pottery which had its own shelving unit, clearly not meant to be looked at by the public. I started to find these objects held more of a story and in my eyes have more value as they were each unique. all the items we had seen produced on the factory floor had been made with casts, making them all similar. Therefore, there was an excitement to the faults which had occurred and these pieces became like a trace of human production (especially as the ‘workers’ had untrained members of the public).

Broken Vessels
Photograph of Tate Exchange taken by Ruth Linnell
Broken Vessels
Photograph of Tate Exchange taken by Ruth Linnell

In Twomey’s Artist statement she says: “In the redundant FACTORY the workers have gone but their voice and breath remain. The machines, the materials, the benches become small monuments. The space is filled with the evidence of the human, but the wholeness of the factory is fractured, a space now exists where the human is craved, the purpose of the factory has become a proposition of both loss and potential. The tasks of labour are now listening, reflecting, observing. The visitor is invited to and consider their own relationship to and experience of production.”  I believe that this evidence of human presence is most clearly felt when looking at the discarded, cast away products of the production line.

Please see: A Wooden Triangle & Discarded Objects

A Wooden Triangle

‘A Wooden Triangle’ 2017 by Ruth Linnell

I found so small wooden triangular off cuts in our studio and was particular drawn to their form, although usable as door stops they had been left for grabs. I wanted to explore experimentally with them but consider sculpture as a component in how I could express my work. I started to playfully marry images of barred windows by slotting them into these blocks of wood, Standing them in place. These sculptures started to present the printed image in a new way, body proclaiming their importance, more so that when viewed digitally or on a wall.

Experimental Photography by Ruth Linnell

However, during my documentary process of photographing these impromptu sculptures, I started to use the photography as another means of disguising what could be seen. The use of dramatic shadows and angles started to become sculptural itself, even though it was a photographic image I was producing. Although these images have become abstracted to the point where they no longer reference imagery from detention camps, they still have the remnant of that information heavily embedded within its make up. This interests me, that information can be contained within a piece of work, yet it remains visually concealed.

Experimental Photography by Ruth Linnell
Experimental Photography by Ruth Linnell


Sticky Sellotape

Sticky Sellotape

‘Sticky Sellotape I’ 2017 by Ruth Linnell

After playing around with using wood to overlay a restriction on top of a photographic image, I started to look at the discarded sellotape I had used at the time to hold the wooded pieces in order. It had picked up a patter on its surface, holding the memory of the grains in the wood. I found this fascinating and wanted to preserve it. These images are incredibly abstracted but it could be interested into explore how far i could push this concept of drawing through sellotape by possible etching or scratching drawings onto the surface of wood and then transferring these images to sellotape.

‘Sticky Stellotape II’ 2017 by Ruth Linnell

Matisse @ RA

Notes on Matisse at the Royal Academy:

‘A composition of objects that do not touch- but nonetheless participate in the same intimacy” – Matisse

In one room of the exhibition, ‘Object is an Actor’, Matisse uses the same object but completely changes how we read it by contextualising in new way and describing its form in new lines/ techniques etc oil painting vs black minimalists line (‘soup tureen and handle of a chocolate pot’ 1900 ink on paper vs ‘still life with a chocolate pot’ 1900 oil on canvas).

‘Still life with a choloate pot’
by Matisse
(oil on canvas)
‘soup tureen and handle of a chocolate pot’
by Matisse
(ink on paper)

Matisse looked at ethnographic journals and explored Africans sculpture as alternative to western art but this form of art is just to be speculated, not explored anthropologically. Most people in room at RA are white middle class observing for aesthetic reasons. The gallery said matisse learnt about African abstraction and used in own work therefore we can conclude he was only drawing upon it from a visual aesthetic rather than deeper cultural understanding of why they express art in this stylistic way? Surely Matisse is separating ‘the other’, in anthropological terms, to cause distance so his work can be visually enjoyed.

“African masks made a particularly strong impact on his hortatory, both stylistically and conceptually. As he strove to convey the personal impact of his subject, the abstract simplification and forceful geometric designs of African art helped Matisse to go beyond straightforward resemblance towards portraits that, as he explained, suggest the deep gravity that persists in evert human being”– RA Guild for Friends

Matisse uses sculpture to evoke feelings of ‘likeness’ when depicting people. Masks have stylistically influenced his own practise. The gallery SAYS the masks also conceptually influenced him but I would challenge how much he researched into reason why African artists used more simplified forms, and therefore what concepts his work were actually bedded into.

‘Large face (mask)’
by Matisse
‘Large Mask’
by Matisse

‘The briefest possible indication of the character of a thing. A Sign’- Matisse has only preserved a sign which he says suffices when looking at form. Could I do the same in my work using a simplified window as a symbol? I think that looking into the power of symbols is something which could influence my work and discussing artist such as Richard Wentworth’s photography of everyday symbols on the streets. How are these socially charged?

Please see: Artist and Anthropologist

Fieldwork in Art Practise

Notes from second seminar session on Fieldwork in Art Practise:

The whole point of participation observation is that the anthropologist is to remain inside the discussion. Susan Hillar is an artist who used to be an anthropologist and in her book, ‘Thinking about art”, she argues that art is by definition an anthropological practise. Hillar asks: What is it that artist do? What’s their job/function/role is to explore hidden codes in culture, artists have a task of disclosure. They need to manifest a share unarticulated believe. Voltanski says similar statements that art should be about revealing things which aren’t revealed in other domains.

All artists are using cultural artefacts in their work. Alfred Gell says that the art object is an extension of the self. Societies preserve their social continuity by circulating gifts. In the Cooler system we would pass on beads and shells etc. and these were circulated as a status symbol – to maintain the balance in society. The ‘gift’ can be without ties but this is very rare.

  • Is art just about giving joy/pleasure?

Rituals– Mary Douglas’ book ‘Purity and danger’ looks at purity and dirt (the most archaic system of division of separating seen in the cast system in India). HOW are these two separated. What is the faming of what’s ‘pure’ or ‘dirty’. Purtiy = sacred. Dirty = profane. Rituals are fundamental of human life as they’re symbolic. Hilliard says it ‘seems impossible to have social relations without symbolic acts’. Life is divided to ritual in a way which is so regular we forget about them e.g. The days of the week have a meaning in part of a pattern (aside from their practical function). Whilst these are banal, ritual replaces religion in anthropological readings as the ritual enters secular not just religious life.

Douglas thinks the handling of money is one of the most interesting rituals. Money provides fixed recognisable sign and mediates transactions just as the ritual mediates experience. Money can ONLY perform its role when society has faith in it. When we loose faith then the financial rates go wild, the currency becomes useless. The same with rituals – they’re dependant on our value and belief in it. Symbols have power within social life.

Hilliard talks about  the notion of Danger. Disorder in culture is a symbol of danger but also of power and the Ritual recognises the potency of disorder. Stuart Morgan’s theory was that everyone’s life is made up of life crisis. These crisis are made up if ceremonies and move through 3 phases. Separation, transition and incorporation. In transitional phase the individual  is neither in or outside of society- they are in a liminal state. The argument is that artist are in this liminal state – this state of ‘not being fixed’ is the cause of imagination. Stuart Morgan’s proposition is that artists are in this state, they can then act as a person to help someone over a threshold.‘The Artist in the margin’ or ‘passer’. We live in a time of crisis and fragmentation. The question of art now is should we be concerned with beauty? Inevitably there is a move of being anti-aesthetic at the end of 80’s and 90’s. She comments on the 1995 ‘The rights of passage” exhibition of artists interested in ethnographic practises, saying that the work is pointing in the right direction by coming close to the crisis by making work.

Do artists accompany the crisis or society? Jarr follows this by pointing out the bad in society. There needs to be a balance between informing people and poetry. When discussing politics and poetry we need to consider if this should be done at an intimate or critical distance? Jeff Koons discusses that whole of life is about simulation. Auctions are places where people need to know the ritual, values are considered- how are they made or transmitted? the Ritual is being played out in a capitalist way, in a similar way to money being based on an illusion of faith.

  • Does ART only function if its believed in and accepted? In the same way money or rituals do?
  • Does art function as a form of therapy?

Martha Roslar uses photography form different angles to show how photography can change what’s going on. When you take a photograph, you make a presentation of the artists notion of the world. This can either be propagandistic or closer to the truth. If even such a traditionally reliable method of ‘recording’ can alter our perception of hold an agenda then can art be used in understanding other cultures then?

There is a timelessness which is challenged by artists today. There is a risk in appropriation and appreciation of another culture is to preserve it because there is no such thing as a fixed time of tradition. We are always in transition, therefore the idea of timelessness is not real. Turner plays on timelessness in his work but he still studied in places which were fixed location which he stayed in. This idea of timelessness is more about cultural tourism. We can be sucked in by imagery that we no longer see the reality. We can ‘take in’ pictures of war with seemingly no emotion impact because of the assault of the media which causes a tendency to escape from reality.

Nomadism – lyrical nomadism – Clemente and Orozco plays on aesthetic, poetic etc which play on ‘going wherever’. Richard Wentworth looks at everyday signs of the street, making these into a cultural artefact which has subtle significance. Hard nomadism – Hans Haake, decides to concentrate on a specific space and time. He builds instillations to provoke public debate. He carries out diversion (situationalist, framing and disrupting). Haake produces symbolic actions e.g. in 1993 Hakke realised  that at Venice biennale that the pavilion had been build by the NAZI’s. Haake smashed the floor. He is framing set ups to explain to the audience what is going on behind.