Saturday, October 22, 2005

Small, far away

Oceans of time ago, I dragged a mate to an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery to see “Full Moon”, Michael Light’s vast and remastered photographs from the Apollo moon missions. Although the accompanying book is well worth picking up, it can’t capture the wow factor of seeing lunar landscapes blown up huuuuuuge.

One of the oddest things about the pictures is the non-effect of the moon’s puny atmosphere. (It does actually have one. “Just the Apollo missions to the Moon increased the atmospheric density by a factor of 10,” as Mark Kidger explains.) Your traditional landscape shows aerial perspective – the blue-green blurring of distant hills in the distance. But the moon’s mountains remain pin-sharp, and since they’re also very much larger than anything down here, the real life moon looks like bad CGI.

At first, you’d think this obvious, cheap special effect would lend itself to the NASA never landed on the moon stuff. But not when you think about it; an “earthly” perspective would give away the scam.

Chuck's grandmother-in-law, all done with his thumbsAnyway. Having been dazzled by alien vistas, our ticket also got us in to a showing of portraits by Chuck Close, who I’d never heard of. Yes, I am a philistine.

Close’s portraits are huuuuuuge. They’re based on photographs, with the subject usually staring down at you from above. Reproductions in books and online don’t really do them justice – it’s the sheer bloody scale of them that’s amazing. The close scrutiny of the near and everyday made a great contrast to the moon snaps, and both muck about with the border between art and science. Which is nice.

Got to see Close speak last night at the NPG, as part of their self-portrait thing. He was candid about the mechanics of producing his work, and made some interesting links between his slow, one-cell-at-a-time method (which can surprise him even though the “bigger” picture turns out like he’d planned), and the same incremental steps in writing a novel. As he said, with each portrait based on a photo, it’s the “means” he’s interested in, not the “ends”.

It seemed to me that what's changed in his heads over the years is more interest in process, and an ease with showing his working. Precise airbrushing has been superseded by “wrong” colours, wild, whirling marks and a freedom close-up on the canvas that makes the portrait, only comprehensible from the far side of the room, all the more brilliant.

I also really liked his unpretentious style. A portrait of his grandmother-in-law, all done in his own thumbprints, had been hailed for "the intimacy of his having touched every detail of the face." No, said Close, he’d just been thinking how to make his work forge-proof.

Er… golly. Lots on art, and nothing at all on the new Boards of Canada album what I accidentally bought yesterday. Will have to do something about that sometime.

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