Text by Caitriona Devery
Graham Hutchinson’s beguiling collages invite close scrutiny. This solo exhibition, curated by Untitled Gallery’s Katie Rutherford, features over 50 discrete pieces, sourced mainly from 1940’s women’s magazines, which have been alchemically transformed into playfully macabre musings on boundaries, secrets, and monstrosities.
The advertising shots of couples, women and children are recognisably ‘vintage’ but here faces are erased, bodies disrupted or fetishized into parts, and shapes are abstracted and repeated. This creates an uneasy aesthetic which is a refreshing antidote to the ‘quaintness’ of recent nostalgia for 1940s tea shops, victory rolls and pretty dresses. Graham is based in Bloc Studios in Sheffield and this exhibition is based on a year’s work, which he and Katie selectively chose from for the exhibition.
The works have been sensitively arranged in two assemblages, diagonally opposite each other. This suits the narrow gallery space where a more dispersed arrangement may have been overwhelming. The clustering also has the effect of nudging the viewer towards the allusive motifs running throughout. Bodies, faces, animals, and abstracted shapes weave through these images in various stages of wholeness, merging, breakdown and transformation.
Figures exist somewhere between human and animal, sex and aggression, humour and anxiety; giving something with one hand but occlude with the other. Cosy images of 1940’s couples, cardiganed ladies, and perfect children are made strange through circular cutting out of faces or the pasting in of animal features like antlers or a curiously placed squid. Titles such as ‘I Think We Should See Other People’ and ‘A Dream About My Old Life’ hint at disruption and personal loss.
The clearly historical nature of the source material is well suited to the medium. The past is often presented as a flat collection of fragmented visual remains which often serve contemporary preoccupations rather than a coherent understanding of history on its own terms. The essential violence in this selective remembering is mimicked by the cutting and pasting in the technique. However any excessive historical seriousness is mitigated by the scale and delicacy of Graham’s bricolage and the surreal nature of many of the juxtapositions.
Ambiguous is perhaps the wrong word for the work here, implying as it does a kind of vagueness. These are not vague images in the sense of a lack of meaning, rather the opposite – they have a troubling excess, existing in two or more states at the same time. The sense of ‘collapse’ of boundaries – whether between past and present, form and abstraction, nature and artifice – reminds us that the interior lives of people, both past and present, are only ever partly legible.
Untitled Gallery is a contemporary gallery on Mount Street in Manchester which was set up in 2010 by Katie Rutherford. It represents artists Rick Copsey, Evi Grigoropoulou, and Lee Machell.
Graham Hutchinson ‘Have a Collapse’, Untitled Gallery, 28 July – 8 September 2012.
Caitriona Devery is based in Manchester but originally from the midlands of Ireland. She writes for a variety of online publications about art, literature and food. Her twitter is @everytreecat.