The earth is not a cold dead place
Over the Easter Break I take the opportunity to visit the Wilson Gallery in Cheltenham – where one of my digital prints is being exhibited as part of the Art of Selling Songs exhibition hosted by the V&A. Helen is infinitely more excited for me than I am, but it does feel good to have my work selected (even though I suspect the number of entrants exactly equals the number of artworks on display). The exhibition itself is a beautifully curated journey through the history of album artwork and includes several of my favourite covers – including the seminal album artwork for Doolittle by Vaughn Oliver and photographer Simon Larbalestier.
Seeing this artwork in context makes me realise the strong influence not only the music but the artwork of these albums has had on me, not only today but even at the very beginning of my career as an artist and designer. I always regarded Oliver as a massive influence from a design perspective, but it strikes me now how strongly I have been influenced by exposure to Larbalestier’s work early on in his covers for Surfer Rose, Come On Pilgrim and Doolittle – in their sense of beautiful unease and stories untold.
Writing the statement for my image in the exhibition forced me to think hard about the relationship my work has to the music that inspires it. The statement below comes the closest I have come to embodying what I am trying to say with The Quiet Earth as a concept.
Album: The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place
Artist: Explosions in the Sky
In July 2016 I travelled to Iceland with an SLR camera adapted for pinhole photography. I spent a week touring and photographing the island, whose barren landscapes, isolation and haunted black beaches were perfectly sound tracked by a post rock playlist that might have been curated by the island itself.
The image featured on my reimagined cover art was taken at the former NATO airforce base at Asbru, near Keflavik airport and it perfectly encapsulates and personifies everything "The Earth is not…" means to me. The comfortingly all-American basketball hoops juxtaposing with the stark volcanic beauty of the Icelandic landscape just as the band's sparse soundscapes are humanised and colloquialised by the warmth of their guitar sound. Both soundscape and landscape are perfectly synchronised by an apocalyptic emptiness, which is at once lonely, but also full of hope and beauty, a coda which has defined my own work ever since.
The rest of our Easter plans are somewhat disrupted by the clutch on the car failing spectacularly and leaving me housebound for nearly a week (thankfully offering me the perfect opportunity to update this journal). Returning to work involves a lot of walking to and from the station in Newport, and I find myself chiding myself for not getting out with my camera more here. My experience with the motorway triptych images has made me realise that I have to some extent been approaching my photography wrongly by trying to shoot at times when there is optimal lighting for the pinhole. As I walk home from the station (foolishly camera-less) I realise that it is this twilight hour that hold much of the magic I am searching for in my images. Rather than make life easy for the pinhole I need to be pushing it, forcing the iso and shutter speeds just as a I used to do with my gig photography, being more prepared to fail in order to discover something new hidden in the dimming light of dusk.
Encouraged by my image in the Cheltenham gallery I take the plunge into finally starting up my Instagram account, and I’m surprised how rewarding it is to have people like and engage with my work. I know that my shyness and unwillingness to promote myself as an artist is a tremendous failing, and hopefully this is the first step to actively promoting my work and practice – to thinking about myself as an artist. Importantly also I think I have overlooked how important and engaging Instagram is as a platform for experiencing and engaging with other artists work and feeling part of an artistic community, far from the FOMO and experience envy so commonly associated with social media, I find myself inspired and driven to action by what I see on my feed, because I see people like me, with so many different levels of ability and approach to their work doing it, succeeding and celebrating.