Perspex when used as a substrate it seems to become a direct mediation between artist, surface and landscape. In effect it acts as a lens and a compromise between a photographic process of representation and that of the painter, this is also in reverence to artists of the renaissance.
According to Gerhard Richter "painting has a reality you can touch" and "photography has almost no reality” (Obrist 2009, p.273) in reference to their physical qualities. In regards to this statement it could be said that painting creates its own reality and when marking the lens (Perspex) the artist is recreating reality or a presence of one. Moreover, where photography requires an image to be chemically fixed upon a surface this use of an acrylic plastic substrate requires the artist to intervene in order to retain the image.
Photography itself seems problematic; Richter has flagged the importance of "not having to invent anything any more" (Harrison et al 2003, p.757). However, he appears to think of this as positive it could be argued that the opposite is true. Photography lacks the ability to transcend reality - Edvard Munch once said, "Photography can never depict heaven or hell". Furthermore, photography is often regarded as a tool for documentation and when used as such removes almost all ambiguity from an image – In painting perhaps one of the greatest agents for power is that of mystery.
If we were to consider Perspex painting as a photographic process we would have to consider its mechanical faculties and the issues surrounding these.
“Mechanical labour cannot give birth to products which can justly be ranked with the production of the human spirit” (Tribunal de commerce Turin 1861).
Jeff Wall’s photomontage ‘The Flooded Grave’ is the product of two years of image gathering/capturing it also reflects many aspects of the “human spirit”, one being a concept of time, of our mortality and our ability to make choices. Importantly it highlights the significance of decisions in regards to composition, location and technique.
Lamartine stated: “Is the reflection of glass on paper art? No it is a sunbeam caught in the instant by a manoeuvre. But where is the contemplation of man? Where is the choice? In the crystal perhaps. But one thing is for sure it is not man” (Tagg 1988, p.109)
Perhaps Lamartine has been a little parsimonious with his description of the creative opportunities photography presents. There are more possibilities for “choice” than chemical or darkroom, which are both relatively cosmetic and can hardly be described as expressive. Surely the real choice available to the photographer is in the composition of the shot itself. Composition as an artistic license also appears to apply to painting (the flexibility painting presents in terms of composition is irrelevant here) therefore; if the element of artistic control exists in photography as it does in painting does it not qualify as art in the same way that painting does?
According to John Ruskin art must involve both “human skill” and create something “beautiful”. We have established that there are elements of photography that require creative decision making therefore, skill and photographs as images are often beautiful.
Ultimately, the questions photography has created in relation to painting and its status as a “theoretical object” (Fried 2008, p.445) have made it an integral part of how we approach representation whether you believe it to be art or not. Therefore, Perspex is entirely justifiable as a medium for both a visual aid and a substrate for painting.
“The burden of representation - essays on photographies and histories” John Tagg Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988
Tribunal de commerce Turin, 25 October 1861
“Why photography matters as art as never before” Michael Fried. New Haven, Conn, London: Yale University Press 2008
David Hockney interview with Jonathan Jones, The Guardian, Thursday 4 March 2004, Available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2004/mar/04/photography, [Accessed: May 2010]
Charles Harrison, Paul Wood Art in Theory, 1900-2000: an anthology of changing ideas
Blackwell publishers Ltd. 2003
Hans Ulrich Obrist, Dietmar Elger, “Gerhard Richter- Text, Writings, Interviews and letters 1961-2007”, Thames and Hudson Ltd London. 2009