‘Models as art-form’: the constructed images of Graeme Webb

In recent years there has been a significant increase in the number of visual artists who are either experimenting with the model form or wholeheartedly embracing it as a means of expression. I have attempted to track this since the early ‘noughties’, but up to now I haven’t shared much of my research, perhaps because I’m still not sure about what I’m dealing with. But I feel that the time is right again now! .. over the next year I want to take stock of this here and hopefully reach a better understanding of the rich variety of work produced.

I can think of no better place to start an appreciation of this form of expression than the work of a good friend Graeme Webb! Graeme is in equal measure a painstaking and inventive model-maker on the one hand and an experienced photographer on the other, so it seems an almost pre-destined form of ‘natural selection’ that he will combine them so well in this form. He is also a very British artist! I’m not implying that this is a mark of distinction in itself! .. just that for me it’s closer to home. We Brits don’t have the monopoly in being subtle/understated, nor are we the only ones who can be quirky/original .. but we’re pretty good at managing both at the same time! In my forward to his e-book Bleak House and Other Places I refer to Graeme’s place amongst those precious ‘guardians of dreams’ who are content to reference the irrational, strangely beautiful or uncanny without feeling the need to explain, dissect or confine. I am reproducing parts of that forward here, within quotation marks.

Untitled, 2011

Untitled, 2011

‘But in his manner of gently pointing to these dreams Graeme doesn’t seek to disguise where they come from. Books on child psychology often talk of ‘the imaginative landscape of the child’ and if they ever needed tangible illustrations of this phrase they couldn’t do better than Graeme’s. It’s not enough to say that Graeme’s work is firmly rooted in his childhood experiences; in some sense it is Graeme working as the child
he was (or, I’m sure he’d say, .. still is) but using the depictive skills he has amassed over many adult years. The energy, the blinkered concentration .. the obsession! .. that he brings to his work are youthful! The masterly manipulation of materials and photographic effects, the composition .. and equally the wry, understated humour! .. are decidedly senior.’

Landscape_4, 2011

Landscape_4, 2011

‘Children aren’t so bothered by differences in scale when playing with their toys, neither are they too choosy about what can serve as a stage .. a piano keyboard can instantly become a street, a plumbing pipe becomes a cliffwalk .. and Graeme captures both the ingenuousness and the delight in this. But the state of abandonment and ruination coupled with the fading family photos remind us that this is a child who has irreversibly
matured, looking back on times long past.’

Headz_set view_7, 2012

Headz_set view_7, 2012

Bleak House_tree on table

Bleak House_tree on table, 2010

‘What is it that is so appealing about the decay and dereliction of interiors and buildings? Of course there’s the aesthetic appeal, for those who are tuned to it; it softens or shatters hard lines, it gives more textural and colour variance. Then there’s the conceptual aspect; it signifies the indomitable will of nature which we can either fear or be reassured by according to inclination. We can either read it as nature caring nothing for us and our things, or as nature taking us motherly back ‘into the fold’. But these are grown-up and cultivated responses. Deeper down, decay and dereliction are enticingly taboo; we were told to avoid them as children. These things break the rules merely by existing, and we break the rules by going near them. Also in that deeper place lurks the childhood apprehension that those things we rely upon to be stable and permanent, such as the family sitting-room, may be subject to the same changes.’

Headz_set3_The Garden (2), 2012

Headz_set3_The Garden (2), 2012

The Pumpkin Brothers (2)

The Pumpkin Brothers (2), 2010

Bleak House_window view

Bleak House_window view, 2010

As a rule Graeme’s photos are almost totally created ‘in camera’ .. using digital only in so far as a traditional photographer would have employed certain ‘post-production’ methods in the darkroom, to adjust colour and contrast for example. Though figures or vehicles are found, everything is made on the table-top using practical/physical materials .. cardboard, foamboard, texture and paint media, plant material and flocking. Lighting effects are achieved through the painstaking use of torches with gels attached, smoke and projection .. exposures are long and hundreds of tests are taken before the right one is found.

Headz_set2_view_2, 2012

Headz_set2_view2, 2012

‘The French symbolist painter Odilon Redon spoke of the power harnessed in using the language of the ‘visible in the service of the invisible’. Graeme does this in many refined ways .. a pinpoint attention to significant details here and there; a convincingly ‘realspace’ concoction of light and atmosphere; a careful manipulation of viewpoint and focus. All of these transport us away from the lichen, cardboard and paint, away from the table-top .. the images become convincingly other ‘places’. But on the other hand, he also plays with the reverse, acknowledging the contrary language of the ‘invisible’ .. purposely preserving something of the hand-made, the improvised, the fortuitous or the downright arbitrary; collaging different scales; subverting the usual distinctions between insides and outsides. All this calls for a fine sense of balance.’

Alone on a Hill

Alone on a Hill, 2010

I believe that Graeme consistently achieves that balance .. all the more surprising considering a prolific output within the relatively short space of the last few years! Yes, I may be biased, but for me Graeme’s work counts amongst the most honest, evocative and accomplished in this form .. and nothing in his work so far has caused me to regret any bias!

At present Graeme is transferring his work from his older site to a newer one on WordPress http://arcimboldistudios.org/ This will take a while but current work, including a new collaborative project A Guide to the Birds of the British Isles can be seen there. He also has a facebook page www.facebook.com/ArcimboldiStudios which links to both the new WordPress site and Graeme’s photostream on flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/arcimboldi/ His new iBook Otherworldly for iPad is available from the iTunes Store.

3 thoughts on “‘Models as art-form’: the constructed images of Graeme Webb

  1. Pingback: In the Beginning « Arcimboldi Studios

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