Graphic obscura

Earlier last month few could have escaped the surprise announcement of a new David Bowie album, scheduled for a March release, titled The Next Day.

The artwork dropped with almost as much of a shock, to some, as the album. The artwork places a white square over the original iconic cover of “Heroes”, Bowie’s 1977 collaboration with Brian Eno which is considered by many as one of his best works. While this was sacrilege to some, others, along with myself, thought it a brave masterstroke by Jonathan Barnbrook, who has worked with David Bowie for the last 10 years.

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David Bowie – The Next Day. Sleeve by Jonathan Barnbrook, 2013

On seeing Barnbrook’s work for Bowie, I immediately drew associations between The Next Day sleeve and a new jacket for George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four by David Pearson that was showcased on the Creative Review blog shortly before the announcement of the Bowie album. Here, Pearson obliterates the title and author of the book to reflect the redacting of history in this classic Orwellian tale.

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George Orwell – Nineteen Eighty Four, cover by David Pearson, 2013

Naturally enough though, I wasn’t the only person to make such a comparison as Richard Weston’s Ace Jet 170 blog testifies. And there, my thoughts would have rested, beaten in the blogosphere to writing a post about the Bowie/Orwell connection.

However, I then got thinking about these two pieces of work and their deliberate graphic obscuring—where one piece of communication has been interrupted by another to create a new work that forces the viewer to question what they are reading—and how this related to things I’d been observing in my everyday. For a little while now I’d been noticing such occurances as road markings being obliterated by the visual remains of where road works had taken place, their primary communication scarred and temporarily interrupted; or where different street signs had been overlaid partially obscuring aspects of one or both.

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JacobsWay

These observations have started to inform a new photographic project of mine, (working title Graphic Interruptions), which currently only consists of some test pieces posted to Flickr. The obvious differences here are that Barnbrook’s and Pearson’s work both deliberately interrupt one visual device with another to form a new narrative, where as what I had been looking at were mostly accidental. I don’t quite know yet where this project is going, but I’m finding it visually intriguing.

But then this visual intrigue was whetted again this week when I succumbed to buying the John Stezaker monograph, which I had been coveting for some time. The book was published in 2011 to accompany his exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery the same year. Unfortunately I missed the show, but was bowled over by the images that were shown alongside many of the rave reviews in newspapers and on blogs at the time. Could it be that this work, first seen a couple of years ago, had stayed with me and fed my visual thinking when walking around and noticing my graphic interruptions?

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John Stezaker, Mask IV, 2005

Mask IV is typical of the collage work that attracted me to Stezaker. At first, I didn’t make an immediate connection between all of the above and the influence Stezaker’s show, directly or indirectly, has potentially had on my thoughts about what the book calls ‘occlusion’, (the art of blocking).  But I am beginning to now.

And then, looking through the book, I came across two images that made me wonder whether Stezaker’s work had also influenced, consciously or otherwise, Barnbrook’s The Next Day sleeve:

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John Stezaker, Tabula Rasa XI, 2008

John Stezaker, Tabula Rasa II 1983

John Stezaker, Tabula Rasa II, 1983

With or without placing ‘The Next Day’ text in the white rectangle, you can easily see the connection between this and the sleeve of the anticipated David Bowie record.

My observations here are purely that, observations. I’m drawing together recent thoughts that may or may not have fed into each other, but that do spark a line of questioning regarding the narrative of an image. This might just become my 2013 obsession.