British artist Mat Collishaw has an exhibition at Rome’s Galleria Borghese, one of the most famous galleries in the world. The exhibition, Black Mirror, engages with Italian masters Caravaggio and Scarsella. Collishaw describes the concept behind the show, and how his ideas develop.
What can we see at your latest exhibition?
I worked with three paintings by Caravaggio and one by Scarsella. I animated the Caravaggio paintings very subtly: eyes move, arms tremble etc. In two of the works the image appears to flicker from candlelight. In the third, simulated clouds pass over the scene. These animated images are displayed on LCD screens positioned behind two-way mirrors. This gives the impression of ghost-like presences appearing from behind the silvery mirrors. The mirrors are mounted in large black glass frames produced in Murano.
With the Scarsella work I redesigned a scene of the Massacre of the Innocents, using drawings, cardboard models and eventually CAD [computer-animated design] diagrams. These files were then 3D-printed and the entire scene was assembled. The Temple incorporating the characters I’d designed were programmed to spin at 60 rotations per minute while a synchronised LED light flashed 18 times every second. This results is the illusion of movement, roughly based on the Victorian optical toy, the zoetrope.
Why these paintings?
The paintings I’ve selected have a brutal reality, which, to the uninitiated and even the initiated eye, gets covered beneath the veneer of time and ubiquity. These works attempt to commemorate that brief period when the paintings were executed, and the humanity they set down.
The original paintings are composed during moments that have become iconic, but which were once humble and startlingly real. My intent was to make you aware of the change in time you’re entering into.
These days, it’s difficult to slow down and absorb imagery of the past. Over time, our perception of paintings changes, not only because they become iconic, but because the media around us has totally changed. We don’t generally stand around looking at a picture that’s not moving, because it’s not that interesting compared to what else is on offer. So I’m trying to reintroduce the concept of time to these works, or at least evoke the idea that these works do work within time. They are not static. They unfold in front of you and require your eye to move around as you engage with them.
When did you realise you wanted to be an artist? Was it something you always knew about how you saw the world?
I used to draw a lot as a kid, but then, so do most children. I drew cowboys and war stories, followed by pictures of footballers. However, at school it became evident that I really wasn’t very good at any other subjects, so art became my only means of expression.
I also started to spend an inordinate amount of time staring at reproductions of paintings in art books in the library, towards my mid-teens. I wasn’t exactly trying to animate them, but I would become lost inside them, and see them as windows to other worlds.
What would the ideal viewer response be to your art? How do you want people to engage with your work?
To engage would be a good start, but after that, I have no real expectation of how anyone might interpret what I’ve done. It’s an accomplishment if someone stops to look at art, even for a few seconds, since the largest portion of what people see is scanned and rejected.
Ideally, I’d like them to spend a little longer, though. To get someone to look at something that is barely moving and has no narrative is an achievement. The ultimate goal is that this act of looking becomes something similar to meditation.
Art is its own language, rich and resonant with its own set of meanings and history. If my interest in an art work is not stimulated by looking at it, I think I’d rather move on than have the artist spoon-feed me with interpretation. I personally try to make my works as accessible as possible.
Could you talk a bit about your creative process? When do you tend to get ideas, and how do they tend to come together?
Anything is a possible source for ideas or inspiration: reading a book, or listening to people on the bus. Generally, I find that I have several ideas marinating, and then something crystallises and the idea almost makes itself. Then the difficult process of executing the actual idea begins.
Find out more about the exhibition in Rome, which runs until 11 January 2015.