Consignment: paintings, prints, film

glenn ibbitson consignment

“Consignment is an ongoing multi-media project comprising paintings, prints and film. The work developed from an initial theme of escapology into a meditation on the contemporary social environment. The composition of the figure physically enclosed within the confines of the frame, was chosen for its universality; it suggests simultaneously both cell and refuge or hiding place. It is employed here as a visual metaphor for the individual as the object of:
1 political oppression; the suspension of human liberties and the enforced submission of the individual.
2 human trafficking. The high risk strategies employed in acts of global transmigration, either voluntary or coerced, place people in situations of extreme endurance; conditions into which they are willing to place themselves and/or others, in the vain hope of improving their economic circumstances.

The paintings and prints are all square in format, with dimensions ranging from 10cm to 92cm, and have all been painted and designed to hang any way up.
The short film: “Consignment”, accompanies the exhibition and has a running time of about 5 minutes.

Glenn Ibbitson  June 2009

glenn ibbitson consignment e-poster

Interview with Glenn Ibbitson
By Diane Walkey   July 2009

DW. When and where did you conceive the idea for ‘Consignment’ and what came first, the film or the paintings?

GI. Like many art projects, “Consignment” resulted from an interweaving of several threads. It developed directly from my work on a series entitled “Smoke and Mirrors”. This consisted of paintings of circus performers and sideshow acts; mermaids, knife-throwers, conjoined twins, magicians and their assistants.

Conjoined-Twins
Conjoined Twins
Acrylic and oil on canvas
107x91cm.   2003

Horus-smoke&mirrors
Horus; the Illusionist
acrylic and oil on canvas
122x91cm.  2004

The next artiste in the series was to be an escapologist; a conscious nod to Houdini. The figure was to be physically confined by the close proximity of the edges of a square canvas.
I made a box with an interior dimension of  91 x 91 x 91 cm. and illuminated by spotlight from  the side. Overhead, I clamped a stills camera. I modelled for a series of photographs shot by fellow artist, Carole King. The results could have made the box a haven of security or protection. However, by making the dimensions of the crate tight and the lighting grazed and contrasting, the photographs suggested scenes of sensory deprivation or enforced solitary confinement; a holding cell prior to deportation.
They also suggested to me a scenario of human trafficking, either voluntary or coerced.
My exploratory movements within the box suggested that the actual, constricted movements between poses should be recorded. Video could emphasise the sheer discomfort of the experience, which a single still might not convey. The set-up was duplicated and a camcorder replaced the stills camera.
The results were edited using repeat cross-dissolves, fades and clip reversals to create a loop.
A second editing session combined this footage with film of slow moving traffic approaching a toll crossing.

There is one prototype for this compositional set-up from my student days. At a time when I felt particularly isolated, I painted a series based on Francis Bacon’s “Caged Baboon”, a haunting image of alienation. It culminated in “Red Cube”, a crouched, contemplative and vaguely troubled figure in a darkened room on a square canvas. Although I worked from a life model, it was the most autobiographical work I painted at college.

Red-Cube--1980
The Red Cube
Oil on canvas
91x91cm.   1981

DW. In practice, as a painter, how do photographs and moving images figure in your work, and as a painter, what attracts you to the medium of film?

GI. For years, I harboured reservations about the value of the photograph to the artists practice. I was immersed in liferoom discipline with its central ethos of working directly from the model. However, as I aimed for some content beyond the merely observational, photography could contribute elements of immediacy and spontaneity to my painting. I am confident enough in my technique to steer my work away from the stylisation of photorealism; I know how a form curves away around a contour and out of view; how to see colour in shadows and half-lights –precisely those aspects of the human form which a photograph struggles to capture.

Although I am first and foremost a painter, the ease with which video footage can now be edited on a laptop makes film as a creative medium much more appealing to me. The visual dynamics of movement can be more comprehensively investigated with a camcorder, which can be used as a sketchbook in another form. Indeed, I feel more comfortable working from moving images than from still photographs.

DW. You mentioned an empathy with Bacon’s work.  Do you consider Bacon’s use of diverse reference material, including the photographic, to have influenced the way that you now approach painting? Could the practice of drawing from life become redundant?

GI. What I admire most about Bacon is his ability to convey dissolution and pessimism through the use of paint. This is what will remain when the legends surrounding his art practice have evaporated. Significantly, the myth that he never made preparatory drawings prior to painting, dissolved shortly after his death, when a substantial cache of his sketches was revealed.
Working direct from the model was supposed to have been largely redundant from 1870’s, yet the practice is being constantly re-evaluated; indeed, it is currently the subject of an [albeit media-restricted] experiment on Channel Four television. Move over, “Big Brother”…

life study for Levitating Lady glenn ibbitson
Life study for the Levitating Lady
Charcoal pencil on paper
80x59cm.   2002
I don’t see a time when first hand experience of particularly the human form can be fully replaced by the photographic gaze whose filtration process limits the artist’s sensation. Work derived exclusively from photographic sources becomes as much about this filter as the object being captured through its medium. This is fine, as long as that artist/photographer is fully aware of this.

DW. ‘Consignment’ deals with issues that go beyond the artistic.  Is your concern directly political and how do you feel about the emotional debate that this work provokes?

GI. Nothing dates quite so badly as overtly political painting. The moment passes, the target moves on and the artwork is rendered redundant. Polemical, didactic art by definition reveals its content immediately, leaving nothing to revisit. The “Smoke and Mirrors” project had had a socio-political content which alluded to both governmental sleight of hand, and social and biological engineering. But this was subtext; if people associated the deceits and hubris of “Horus the Magician” with a Cheyney or a Blair, they wouldn’t be too far from the mark, but the paintings could be viewed and appreciated without this connection being made.
Even in the far West of Wales, one remains acutely aware of political corruption, state-sanctioned interrogation techniques, the waging of war contrary to international law, the pursuit of security and defence policies which make us less, rather than more secure. Habeas Corpus could be suspended at any time. The price of liberty and democracy remains eternal vigilance. Visual art is an instrument in this vigil. I have never been the subject of sensory deprivation techniques. I don’t have first hand experience of what it is like to be smuggled across a border. Any literal interpretation of such imagery would seem too contrived. My aim is always to produce a visual metaphor. In this series, a white male figure stands as a synecdoche for men, women and children of all races trafficked across frontiers to satisfy economic and sexual appetites in more developed countries. The film “Consignment”, doesn’t locate its human commodity in a particular container or identify the vehicle used for the trafficking. The figure ghosts through this footage; somewhere, in one of those vehicles, an economic migrant is in transit…everything remains implicit, opaque.
DW. In ‘Consignment’, as in ‘Red Cube’, individual identity is obscured.  Your figure is anonymous. Do you regard ‘Consignment’ as in any way an autobiographical work, as you did the earlier piece?

GI. No, the fact that I am the subject in the crate is pure contingency: I didn’t have a model to work with. I would have been more than happy to direct a performance artist  during the photographic  and film sessions.
A sense of anonymity is integral to the ambience of this project; lighting was arranged to cast shadows which would obscure evidence of individuality.
An already anonymous figure is further demoted to the level of mere human commodity through the use of a wholly dispassionate titling system. Each ‘unit’ [ or artwork] belongs to a particular ‘batch’ [or set of paintings], identified by shared dimensions, and made ready for shipping on a particular date [the completion date of that set]. The whole total  of ‘units’ produced becomes the “Consignment” .

DW. ‘Consignment’ constitutes a large body of work, film, paintings and prints.  What affect has this work had on your view of yourself as a contemporary visual artist?  Do you anticipate a return to the subject or has the production of this work affected your approach to further projects?

GI. “Consignment” now constitutes over 60 separate works. Its development has involved separate uses of paint, print and film. It is likely that I will adopt this multi-media approach to future projects and perhaps experiment with a more physical integration of these media.
Like its forerunner, “Smoke & Mirrors”, I regard this project as ongoing: there are always going to be gaps in a sequence, which can be filled with a return to the motif. The element suggesting further development is the film making. I have an extensive bank of footage, which I would like to re-edit, using only the figure’s movements. By pushing the audience’s attention span beyond the unspoken five-minute limit, which most gallery visitors give video, the distress and threat implicit in the scenario could be further emphasised. Perhaps they should view the film from within the confines of a crate of their own?

July 2009

Diane Walkey is a painter, photographer and illustrator living and working on the West Wales coast.  She has an MA in Art & Design Education and a BA in Industrial Design. She is a tutor for the Open College of the Arts painting and photography courses. Her work can be seen at

http://www.dianewalkey.com.

A full colour illustrated catalogue in CD form will be available from September 19th 2009. This will be limited to an edition of 500 signed by the artist. The cover is a screenprint also limited to an edition of 500; printed, numbered and signed by the artist.

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