PhD series – Pictures of the Body

For my PhD exhibition in 2011 26 paintings from the series Pictures of the Body were shown spaced, in a single line at eye height around a slightly irregularly shaped gallery. They were also exhibited as a large grid with no gap between them using 45 paintings at Aratoi the public gallery in Masterton. These images taken from news media accounts of conflict between protestors and police from all over the world. I was impressed with the universality, in all of these locations, of the armour worn by the agents of the state and the relatively naked vulnerability of the protestors even though violence was initiated by both sides. The aim of my PhD research was to examine the ways in which art can expose the viewer to experiences that contribute to the viewers understanding of themselves and their world. I started from the premise that painting is a mode of communication but that many paintings merely try to impose the artist’s fixed view. Unfortunately this does not assist the viewer in their independent understanding and contributes to the tendency that encourages ways of looking to become commodified as fashion. The aim of my research was to present work that represented media images in the fictional mode of painting as neutrally as possible. That is, without the conspicuous presence of the ‘artistic virtuosity’ that codes art as a special priviledged voice. My painting method was designed to try to provide imagery that could activate the viewers own imagination, experience and empathy without imposing the ‘artist’s view’. Since experience is only ever gained through the ‘work’ of understanding I ask the viewer to first construct the scene from a minimum of visual information. The work of