Damian is a Senior Ruskin Tutor for Studio Practice and in History & Theory at the Ruskin.
I once had a potion parlour in the bathroom and one in the garden. Now I only have the one studio, although it is bigger than the potion parlours. I’m bigger too. I also write more. When I make art and when I write I often mix things up rather a lot and then spend a long time trying to make sense of the mess.
The complexity of vision—its vagaries, its technological augmentation, its power and its suppression—has long fascinated me. This is intimately linked with the role of language in visual perception. Another enduring concern is how different senses of time can be inscribed in an image and how this can alter a viewer’s perception more generally. This often relates to problematising the space between an original and copy or an artwork and its documentation. Painting has tended to provide the background to my works, which have often been made by layering transparent glazes over abraded metal supports. The results are highly responsive to light, their appearance evolving, for instance, as the weather changes, as the viewer moves, as one eye sees something as a highlight that is deep shadow to the other. I have also worked with various photographic processes (silver gelatin, albumen, cyanotype); with DIY screen printing; by wandering around coastlines making images with a large digital camera I made using an old 18” focal-length lens and more duct tape than expected; with video; and with casting, whether casting acrylic paint to be mounted as 35mm slides or casting the surfaces of large sheets of metal in clear epoxy resin before precipitating onto it a layer of silver, using nineteenth-century mirroring techniques.
I have also explored some of the broad interests that feed into my work by writing about obliquely related themes, maintaining a space between making and more art-historical reflection in order to promote evolving connections and productive short circuits. This has included writing about electricity in relation to early nineteenth century landscape painting; the impact of mass-photomechanical reproduction on the development of sculpture in the opening decades of the twentieth century; photography, sunlight, fossils, and bits of driftwood; and puppets, politics, and mischievous hands in twenty-first century video art. Recent related articles have appeared in Oxford Art Journal, Sculpture Journal, British Art Studies, and forthcoming in October. Although thematically diverse, my research often seems to converge on people who died on 31st March. I’m currently writing a book that tries to approach material practice and theories of embodied thought (especially the significance of hands) through close attention to various disembodied hands in contemporary video art. At the moment it seems a little lost, containing chapters on the German dramatist Heinrich von Kleist (and Haiti); the history of clocks; John Constable and global trade (some frogs legs here too); angels, chimpanzees, and St Thomas Aquinas; and one on the Jacobean portraitist William Larkin, in relation to Ed Atkins, John Donne, and some more angels. The mess is all held together by an interest in networks and in climbing trees, as if that justifies anything.
I studied painting at Chelsea and then the Slade before doing a practice-led DPhil at the Ruskin. I’ve held fellowships at the Yale Center for British Art and, between 2016 and 2019, was a Leverhulme early career fellow at the Ruskin.
Gary (2018–19) is a painting made with pigmented layers of alkyd resin on an abraded aluminium support. Gary didn’t want to be photographed. Gary wanted a trailer. Or, rather, I’m a silly sausage unlike the fabulous creature who made this cake (2018–19) wanted a trailer and so Gary did too. Gary is the name of the painting, not the octopus that it depicts.
Before making Gary I made six large paintings containing images of various hands that were of some significance to me. The images were transferred to the metal by screen printing halftone negatives onto aluminium supports using very thick acrylic paint and then sanding or etching around this. The paint was then stripped away, leaving the image entirely contained in the surface of the metal. The paintings were then built up with lots of layers of bright transparent glazes to achieve a transparent black through which the hands could only be seen in certain light conditions. Sometimes a few little octopuses crept into the edges of these paintings. They amused me. I decided to make a painting with a large octopus near the middle. It is called Gary. Behind the octopus there is a wall of rock, which I found surprisingly exciting when translated into the vertical plane of the painting. I then made a series of six paintings of different cliff faces—such is the subtlety of my creative thought process.
Gary is quite complex, being derived from a three-colour halftone with the image from each screen abraded in a different orientation. As such, when lit from the correct angles with red, green, and blue lights, the octopus becomes a full colour image, despite the image materially living entirely in the monochrome metal support from which the light reflects (or, seemingly, projects). When lit from other angles (or when the viewer moves from the relative position of the camera that made the image), the octopus changes colour, as octopuses have been known to do. The moire effect of the overlapping halftone grids creates circles that are about the same size as the octopus’s suckers, which at times (and in places) makes these appear to proliferate across the surface of the metal, the octopus camouflaging itself through its representational means, hiding itself through light rather than ink. The exchanges between reproductive mediums established by using the fundamental architecture of photomechanical reproduction in order to achieve the fluid image of the plasma or liquid crystal display may not be terribly clever, but it makes me happy. This is retrospectively conferred on the work and not why I made it.
I’m a silly sausage got the better trailer.