Hannah Harding talks to Brian Ord about reinventing a personal, physical Photoshop, amongst other production techniques.
HH: Tell me a little bit about the four pieces you submitted, I’d love to hear about them from your perspective.
BO: So, it’s Hjem, Mattaclarkesville, Hotel Mondrian and Shanty Town. I was actually very interested in your response on Instagram because normally people don’t really understand what I’m doing, and they often misunderstand the appropriation aspect. I’ll talk a little bit about the process, which is really the most interesting thing for me. It is very distinctive.
For most of my life I’ve worked as a sculptor and about 15 years ago I switched over to two dimensions, but even when I was making sculpture, I was making collage: not as a means to an end but as a thought process, like a way of drawing. Then 15 years ago suddenly the techniques of the digital world opened to an extent that I could make those collages permanent, via canvas, and extend them further.
I collect the pictorial material from all kinds of sources – whatever interests me, architecture, landscape, etc. – and every few weeks I put things together as a refreshment from making the paintings themselves. I then photograph the individual collages in HD (well, really, I get an expert to do that!). Then they are printed onto canvas in varying sizes, and sometimes they differ a lot from the original size or proportions of the collage. Once I have these printed on canvas as a digital print, I cover them in resin.
The reason for the resin, I discovered this right at the beginning, is that if I tried to paint on the actual images – it was a disaster. Cover them in resin, you can actually work on top of them and change them in whatever way you please. The bits that don’t work you can just rub out and the bits that do work you let dry and so on. Once the resin has set, which I usually wait until the next day for, I work on top of the whole thing with oil paint. They start off as illusionistic things and become even more so as I add paint. Sometimes I need to do an awful lot of adjustments, and sometimes you don’t have to do very much at all.
HH: It seems as though you’ve made your own very physical, in-person Photoshop. By pouring over the resin, you allow yourself to perform a sort of post-production edits to the pieces, which is fascinating. The actual process of cutting things out, sourcing and collecting all the time seems to add depth to a piece, an archival layer to perhaps…
BO: I do tend to lose that a bit, because the final collage usually uses such a variety of sources, usually 10 or 11 different sources. You tend to lose the original, hopefully a lot. But still one of my thoughts is that one day someone will see the piece and say, ‘I took that photograph!’
These pieces all came out of my sculptures really. I don’t do sculpture anymore because this has become so important and all my ideas are in 2D, but the sculptures are, you can see on my website, quite illusionistic. They’re wall-based pieces, and there were 2 or 3 in particular, which were aerial views of a room, or about furniture and objects in an architectural situation, which had a very big effect on the collages and really created the first series that I produced. I’ve been producing these now for about 10-12 years, and for the first 5 years I concentrated on the interior – it was what I call ‘Impossible Interiors’ and slowly I changed to incorporate and extend to exteriors too.
Flame in my Heart
In reference to the titles of the works of pieces I’ve submitted – Mattaclarkesville is a reference to Gordon Matta Clarke, the Photographer, who worked in the 60s and 70s in New York. He used to cut up derelict houses and photograph the resultant end products. I saw some of the images he produced of the windows and floors in my work, they have definitely influenced me. Also, the title of another, Hjem, is actually Norwegian and is pronounced ˈjɛmˀ. I live in the North East of England and there is a lot of Scandinavian language that has found its way into the colloquialisms, and it means ‘Home’.
One of the other paintings I submitted, Shanty Town is the most recent and to be honest I’m not sure about that one at all! It’s an odd ball in that it’s really done something quite different and I’m trying to find out what. More recently I have been involving figures. I find it quite difficult because I’m trying to keep the figures very much secondary to the whole thing. I don’t want them to become too important or meaningful, but I think they’ve extended some of the things that are going on.
Apart from the illusionistic and formal aspects (i.e., my interest in the rectangle and colour design generally) there is a narrative there. Mostly the narrative is something for other people, it isn’t a conscious thing but sometimes I notice very strange things going on in terms of associations and sometimes I can pin it down from the past, some of the imagery from childhood even. The titles of the work are meant to encourage some of these associations, and encourage interpretation.
HH: When you talk about this element of appropriation – you are taking work from somewhere else, a magazine and by shifting it around, organising it in your own way, and especially the process of pouring resin over the top, you, I imagine, subconsciously find the personal narratives within the interaction of imagery. With the nature of collage, you get these snapshots or complex memories of different places or people you have encountered. The transition to bringing people in feels very poignant in terms of bringing it back to the person in the memory, rather than just the memory itself.
BO: Well, it is early days but the ones I am doing at the moment heavily feature people, not so much more than one, but the figures become very important. I am very intrigued by that aspect; it’s taken a very long time to come to fruition but it’s working.
As far as appropriation is concerned the fact that these images belong to other people is very important to me. People often ask why I don’t take my own photographs, but I am sure that wouldn’t work. I don’t want to search for the subject matter, I want the subject matter to find me. That’s why the collecting is so important because the intentions of these other photographs trigger associations within me. A lot of the original photographs are from design magazines or fashion magazines, so the pieces became ironic comments on people’s taste, especially when I subverted this to destroy the mystique of the wonderful home.
One commission I did was for a person who saw my exhibition and said, ‘Could you do this with my home, because it’s new?’ and I said ‘Yeah’. But the trouble is everything I do is kind of sarcastic about that sort of thing. I was happy to do it, and it worked (I managed to hold back the sarcastic side of things) but again they weren’t my photographs – the architect or the designer of the home gave me permission to use them.
HH: You can tell all of the time that goes not just into the collection and creation of each piece but also into the continual growth and development of the techniques and materials that you use.
BO: I noticed this definitely in relation to the resin, which I’ve changed what I use a number of times. I started off using water-clear polyester resin, but it never quite dries, so I was having trouble when I sent the pictures off that they were still sticky. I always try to use whatever happens as part of the final process, but I switched to epoxy resin. The first stuff I used was very thick and it created a texture on the surface but again I tried to use that. The pieces are quite physical when you see them anyway, but I’ve now found what I hope is the perfect epoxy resin. So even the resin affects what happens to the object.
HH: Brian, I did have a question about your journey into the art world – you’ve told me about the transition from sculpture to 2D, but I’d love to know where it began.
BO: I studied a long time ago at Chelsea College of Art & Design, and I originally went to art school to become a graphic designer and then found I was more interested in fine art. When I left college, I taught for a number of years on a Foundation Course & Foundation Degree, but all the time I was making art and I’ve never stopped. Since I’ve stopped teaching, strangely enough it coincided with me moving towards working two dimensionally.
HH: This switch to 2D really fascinates me and do you feel like, especially in the past year with everything becoming more digital, working in 2D is something that you can make more use of in a digital space too?
BO: The great thing about the last year and a half with lockdowns and only online activity is that people have been seeing them as digital pieces, and nothing else. They’re not expecting to see an end product in a gallery, they see them for what they are which are really digital pieces. When you see the physical thing in the gallery it’s something else, but online they seem to have a truthful physicality. I’ve gone to great lengths to explain the process on the piece itself in the online space, highlighting that they are not just paintings or photographs, but a combination of the two. On each one I say quite carefully ‘Digital Print – Oil Paint and Resin on Canvas from Collage’ and you can’t really argue with that, it’s all there. ‘What you see is what you get’
HH: I had never considered it like that. Of course, I read the caption that you had written, and it added an element of mystery that made me want to see it in person even more. But I imagine that the online space allows you to highlight the digital side of your more.
BO: The digital, especially during the last year, has become really important. I do have a piece in an exhibition in London in May in the OXO tower (The Chaiya Art Awards 2021: Winners Exhibition) which will be the first exhibition for me in a long time but mainly it has been online stuff. It has encouraged me to put work in for online competitions and proposals and exhibitions, more than usual. This has had an effect on the work I have produced also. You can find out more on my website www.ne-arts.co.uk