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
The next artiste in the series
was to be an escapologist; an homage to Houdini. The figure was to be
physically confined by the close proximity of the edges of a square
I made a box with an interior
dimension of 91 x 91 x 91 cm. This was illuminated by
spotlighting 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.
Within minutes of my confinement, I
decided that my constricted movements within the space, from one pose
to the next, 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 the toll-gate
of a river 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 of works based on Francis
Bacon's 'Caged Baboon', a haunting image of alienation. These
culminated in 'Red Cubes', a crouched, contemplative and vaguely
troubled figure in a darkened room on a square canvas. Although I
worked from a life model, [actually, two; one male and one female] it
was the most autobiographical work I painted at college.
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
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 the 1870ís, yet the practice is being constantly
re-evaluated. Indeed, it is currently the subject of an [albeit
media-restricted] experiment on Channel Four television*.
I don't see a time when first
hand experience of particularly the human form can be fully replaced by
the photographic gaze, a filtration process which limits the
artistís 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
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 dissembling
Cheyney or a duplicitous Blair; if they connected levitating figures
with spurious evidence for weapons of mass destruction and
similar deceptions served up for the gullible by the culpable, they
wouldnít be too far from the mark, but the paintings could be
viewed and appreciated without these links 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 donít 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 Cubes', 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 didnít 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 200 separate, original 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?
''Life Class' A five part series of television programmes devoted to
the principles and practice of drawing directly from the model.
Broadcast in the UK, July 2009, Channel Four
** 300+ as of January 2015
July 2009. Extract from "Consignment: paintings, prints,
video" Nant Publishing 2011 ISBN:
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: