During our trip to Kendal last Saturday we called into the Abbot Hall Gallery to take at look at the new exhibitions that have been installed since Christmas. The main exhibition on at the moment, “In the Middle Distance” features works by a Swiss artist, Uwe Wittwer, who produces images that blur the boundary between figurative and abstract art. I’d had a brief "recce" on the web to check out his work and wasn’t expecting to like them too much,but I was very pleasantly surprised. Many of the works were either re-interpretations of paintings by Old Masters, such as Gainsborough and Constable, or computer manipulations of old photographs, he’d “found” on the Internet.
The first room was devoted to watercolours inspired by paintings by “Old Masters”. I particularly liked the "negative" of a Gainsborough portrait of a group of children. In the reinterpretation the children looked as if they were black, subverting the image of wealthy white children in the Georgian period.
He had also produced a reinterpretation of one of Abbot Hall’s prized possessions, the seventeenth-century triptych, The Great Picture, which shows Lady Anne Clifford at various stages in her life her parents and siblings, especially for the exhibition. It dominated the middle of the three galleries.
A number of computer manipulated photographs which were printed out with an inkjet printer were displayed in the third gallery. Again they were relatively large in scale. The exhibition booklet tells us about his methodology:
He hunts for suitable material in a state of reverie, browsing the Internet until the right image presents itself, some crucial element resonating and suggesting possibilities. The process is far from being purely mechanical, however, with each image being extensively manipulated and reworked by Wittwer, who has commented that his inkjets (each one unique) can take as
long as his watercolours or oils to produce.
He has created monochrome, blurred, ghostly images. I couldn’t help projecting my own interpretation of what they were. A large "negative" of children riding on a carousel came across as the horsemen of the apocalypse to me and another picture of a boat made me think of Charon, the boatman who ferried the dead over the Styx.
Uwe Wittwer Boat (2008) Inkjet on paper 180 x 150 cm
© The Artist
This picture included large dots, the edges spreading out like ink blots. They featured in a number of the works, both the photographic images and the watercolours, including his version of The Great Picture.
I particularly liked his picture “Three Sisters”, created using a photograph of three young women taken somewhere in Middle Europe (East Prussia?) in the late 1930’s, before the Second World War.
The booklet accompanying the exhibition compares the image to a faded family photograph, but to me they resembled ghosts; grey, half transparent figures against a darker, more substantial background. Their dark eyes peering out towards the viewer, almost seeming to look right through us.
I wasn’t so sure about Black Sun after Antonioni, also shown in the third gallery. It consisted of 78 framed watercolour ‘stills’ from the cult British film from the sixities, Blowup, that starred David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave and Sarah Miles.
Overall I thought it was an inspiring exhibition with some very interesting paintings and particularly atmospheric photographic based images. It was well worth the visit and, for me, illustrated that art should, ideally, be experienced “live” rather than relying on looking at reproductions in books or images on the Internet.