Re-Collections - Rosy Maguire
   The Artist / Exhibitions / Creating Re-Collections


Skimming the Surface

The white effervescence of salt water on the quay side. The blur of movement on the ocean shore. Clouds evaporating in the heat from the dunes. The sharp colour a of sun-soaked day. Blue against blue; cerulean against ultramarine, sky and sea. A voyage of signs and re-collections.

The photographs of Rosy Maguire use the painted surfaces of ships and boat hulls as their subject matter. But rather than a factual record of a boat in dry dock, we are drawn towards them through the apparent familiarity of the fictional scenes presented to us. the images seem to show shorelines, the meeting of sea, sky and land. The sharp contours of pools or the dissolving diffractions of a rippled surface. These are commonplace sights and her images prompt us to recollect them.

Photographs are seductive, they captivate us. We seem to know about photographs, we see them every day and we use them to make or enhance our memories. Photographs are misleading, yet we still believe them. They are used to verify 'things as they are'. We document the world and our lives through them. They become real. As evidence, the offer us a view of the world 'as it appears to be'. Appearances are deceptive. All photographs present us with a depiction of something tangible and simultaneously force us to return to our experience for cross reference. They often stand in for and become the memory, inextricably altering our recollections. As evidence, they encourage us to scrutinise details to see the juxtapositions of surface - rough wood, say, against gleaming metal or blistered paint. But a photograph is a fiction; a sign. Rosy Maguire foregrounds this paradox between material fact and fictive space.

Her series of photographs chart the relationships between models of representation and the materiality of depicted subject matter. She steers us into a position where we are forced to reorientate our view by presenting a layering of possible meanings.

Important to this layering is the reference to painting, thus continuing this century's long dialogue between the two media. The images are scrumptious, rich in vibrant colour, surface qualities and contrasting shapes. Their strong formal qualities of area division, linear and tonal contrasts echo both traditions. The dynamic relationship between painting and photography had been one of mutual enhancement and redefinition by which depiction, representation and artistic intention have been explored and extended. As photography dominated in the realm of depicted 'things as they are', so painters were able to explore and represent their expressive response to the world through paint - not so much to record, than to 'make visible', as Paul Klee suggested. Nevertheless, the move to a self-referential limiting of means championed by Clement Greenberg drove painting into an artful minimalism, which signaled a loss of critical attitude to many. It was into this loss that photography asserted itself. The capacity of photography to adopt critical positions awarded the medium the power to be used across a range of issues. Not least were those that pertained to landscape and its significations of industry, pollution, leisure, recreation and ecology - in sharp contrast to the romanticism of the modernist era. In short, the unnatural ' natural world.

Here is a body of work which echoes the aesthetic domain of late modernist abstraction, the gestural marks and colour fields of non-figurative painting, and clearly pays homage to that essentially American tradition of photography epitomised by Edward Weston and Robert Adams. There is, however, a deliberate rupture, a breaking away from the rhetoric in those artists' intentions to give from to the 'grand' issues of life, death and tragedy. Rosy Maguire knowingly takes on these traditions and exploits the processes of the medium to produce photographs which are depictions and representations, but also surrogates. in this process, both painting and photography are recombines. the essential autographic 'existential swipe' and run of the painted mark - those gestural actions which testify to the romanticism of the ' hard-won' image - is, in these images, challenged by the mechanical process of photography. We are left with a record of the painted action, itself a record of the artist's 'being there'. The image allows us to scrutinise the photographic trace where we see the small details that direct our gaze across the image's surface, imprisoned in the flat rectangle that is frames by the camera.

This is strongly reminiscent of Aaron Siskind's work, such as his 1947 photograph titled 'Chicago'. The juxtaposition of flat colour and sharp detail also prompts a recollection of works from painters, notably Hans Hofman and other Abstract Expressionists whom Hofman influenced(1). In such works, the relationship between colour planes and subtly stained and brush splattered areas bring a spatial tension to the painting. These entice the viewer to recall works b other artists, in fact to make links through the history of art. This is precisely the function of Rosy Maguire's images. Yet they take, as their subject matter, those painted surfaces from a utilitarian source, that of waterproofing the hulls of sea-going craft.

The photographs were taken in the boatyards and docks of Southampton and the Solent. The ebb and flow of traffic is part of the fabric of the port. The hard reality of shipping, trade and the movement of people is steeped in romance, conjuring up visions of new horizons. The allure of the sea is now celebrated in the consumerism of leisure and water sports. It gives a new dimension to the notion that we, as an island race, have a love affair with the ocean. The photographs document the hulls of ships and boats with their accretions of paint and its erosion by wind, sea and overpainting in the endless process of keeping afloat. Dragged out of the water, the vessels reveal their protective layers normally hidden under the surface.

It is through their altered state that Rosy Maguire has recognised the marvelous fictions which are to be found. It is as if the vessels are inscribed with visual traces of the voyages that they have or will take. Her intention is to present us with some pleasant vistas and then disrupt our view through the interplay of possible readings.

Consider image No.2 that starts the sequence of her photographs in the exhibition. At first, we might see the image as a picture of land, sea and sky. At second glance, we might privilege viewing it as a scene of vertiginous space, as if casting our eyes down from a harbour wall. Both ways of seeing involve a gestalt shift. We can see it as one or the other, this or that. Within these possible readings is also the the work's association with a painting, thus provoking multiple meanings and references brought to the work by the viewer. The image becomes more a representation of the world than a photo-document. This property is referred to a 'seeing-in', articulated by Richard Wolheim in his essay 'Art and its Objects' as a condition which pertains to n artwork being able to be read in more than one way simultaneously. Wolheim refers to this as 'two-foldedness' and recalls the reported advice that Leonardo Da Vinci gave to his pupils, in which he encouraged them to look at stones or broken colour to 'discern scenes of battle...or mysterious landscapes'(2).

Rosy Maguire's photographs work on these complex levels. Not only can we see 'mysterious landscapes', but we are directed to recollect the aesthetic domain of fine art as well as engaging with post-modernist concerns of originality, authenticity and truth. Each photograph acts as a sign with multiple signifiers; the referents of which are not always anchored in reality. In this respect, they seem to be illustrating Baudrillard's notion of the 'loss of the real', in which all images float free or reality. Yet her photographs resist this notion through the discernible trace of the painted hulls.

Continuing along the sequence of images, we become increasingly aware of the slippages between different interpretations. At No.4, there is a sudden recognition not just of a cloud over land, but of a Mondrian painting of clouds and sand dunes. In No.7, there is a correlation to Deibenkorn's work and to the photographs of William Eggleston. The strong horizontal banding present in these sequences tie us to the painting of Mark Rothko. Each time, the photographs signal their precedent and each time, the relationship to water is never far from our minds. Elsewhere, we see images which might refer us to the Japanese landscape paintings of mist and mountains in the 15th Century; in others, aerial views or deltas or a high magnification of crystal structures.

The compressions of the images onto the flat surface of the paper is analogous to moving along the surface of the sea. We might be trapped on this surface if it were not for the lure of our imaginations to dive underneath.

Steve McDade

1. Anfam D. Abstract Expressionism, Thames & Hudson 1990 pgs, 65 &152
2. Wolheim R. Art and Its Objects, Cambridge Canto Ed. 1992 Essay v 'Seeing - as, Seeing - in, and Pictorial Representation' p205-226