In my current studio phase I’ve been experimenting with an idea that goes back a while, but was most recently brought to life by a show I saw that included the painter Michael Haykin. I’ve been wanting to find a way to combine images in a way that yields something that is more than the sum of its parts. Probably most artists have considered making a Cubist-like multi-perspective image, but as June found out in her struggle to make Cubist biscuits, it’s not at all easy. I certainly haven’t had much success myself, but this time around I do feel I’ve learned something that will affect future work.
The plums above represent my first attempt to start from scratch with this concept. To limit the possibilities, and following Haykin’s approach of separate canvases for each view, I decided to limit myself to simple grid-based combinations. The four quadrants are taken from separate photographs. The angles of view and magnifications vary, but are not dramatically different. I first tried leaving larger gaps between the quadrants, but ended up with this nearly touching format for now, because it’s easier to see the image first as a whole (though an odd one), while at the same time emphasizing that things don’t quite match up across the joins.
What — if anything — is the point of this? To me it’s related to Karl’s discussion yesterday of visual perception. The eye sees only a part of a scene at one moment, but normally darts around and integrates different views into one perceived whole. My four-part (harmonious?) picture forces notice of the individual parts again for their own sake: here is a bowl; here is a bowl on cloth; here are plums. Aside from directing attention to parts, the image seems to encourage examination of the edges, as one tries to figure out how the parts go together.
My next trial was based on an existing single, rather complex image from my Sourdough Trail series. I extracted four squares of different original sizes, re-sized them to match, and then put them together (click on the image for a much larger version). As you can see from comparison with the intact picture below, I gave greater weight/space to parts of the watery reflections I especially liked (upper right) and played with the composition of the small squares for better individual effect.
Once an image has been split spatially, there’s no reason it couldn’t be split over time as well. Separate pieces could be in different light, or from different seasons, or with different arrangements of objects (e.g. a tree branch could be fallen or blowing in the wind in one of the pieces).
What I realized in these exercises is that breaking an image up in this way tends to make it more about relationships. Of course, relationships are present among the elements of any intact image, but a degree of active attention is necessary to be really aware of them. This new method gives both parts and whole, leaving the viewer to do the integration in a no longer unconscious way. The viewer is more actively/consciously engaged in the construction of the picture.
Unless, of course, the viewer just looks away because the picture is too weird to be worth dealing with. Is that how it was for you in the examples here? Or even if one bothers, is the effort repayed in a better appreciation of the subject? From these experiments, I think this is achievable, but it will take more work and a better understanding of the process to get good results. Any suggestions?