Interview for Photomonitor by editor Christiane Monarchi following my solo exhibition 'Assemblage' at Serchia Gallery Bristol.
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In this new conversation with Louis Stopforth, we explore the artist’s dialogue between photography and sculpture. While Stopforth’s recent exhibition Assemblage at Serchia Gallery, Bristol has just finished, below we share views of the installed works in situ and an exploration of their meanings and materiality.
Christiane Monarchi: It’s tricky to ask about works in an exhibition I haven’t seen in person, but with the installation views and closeups presented here I feel I can close my eyes and appreciate an in-person response. Your exhibition at Serchia is a three dimensional experience of photographic ideas, and I’m intrigued to explore their genesis. You mention your Grandfather’s sculptural practice and Cy Twombly as major influences, could we start with those? I imagine that in each case there is a large element of awe and wonder in what has come before, how did the creative flow start for you to make something new with these inspirations?
Louis Stopforth: Following on from my final year project at University, Not a Plane Figure But a Solid (After Abbott), it was a very natural step towards Assemblage and the influence of these two practitioners. It was during my third year of University when I began to think of the photograph in terms of a Duchampian readymade. I was constantly interrogating the photograph as a sculptural object and the ideas of Marcel Duchamp were very easily applied: a mass-manufactured product with a physicality that was never the intended point of observation but was undeniably present. However, post-University my perspectives shifted a little and I began to think of the photographic medium more so as one of assembled matter. The photograph is a conflation of so many different elements; light, chemistry, subject matter and physical matter to name a few examples. Naturally then the sculptural work of Twombly started to resonate. He famously brought together disparate objects, fused them together with resin and often coated them in thick, globular white paint that ultimately formed one singular thing. Given my then residence with my grandparents this naturally brought in the influence of my grandfather’s practice as he worked in a very similar way, gleaning found objects and bringing them together to make sculptures of his own. I grew up observing these creations long before I was ever aware of Cy Twombly or even modern art for that matter. Thus began my experimentation with creating sculptures out of found materials only instead of solidifying them with resin I used photography and carried on the conversation from there into an exploration of photography itself as assembled matter. Like much of my work it’s very holistic in nature.
CM: It is interesting for me to see your works using a minimal palette in a time of oversaturated colour everywhere one looks. Indeed, Twombly had said ‘White paint is my marble’, but his use of colour in painting was also prolific. Could you let me know how you feel about the palette you have engaged with?
LS: It’s great that you mention Twombly’s use of white paint and its relation to classical sculpture made from marble. Initially when producing Assemblage I really wanted to take Twombly’s ideas and materials as a point of departure. That’s why I began working with a minimal palette that included a lot of white objects. However, it’s interesting how photographic film depicts it’s subject matter. It is a material that is biased. Depending on the film stock used the results can be drastically different even if the same thing is photographed in identical lighting conditions. John Hilliard’s Seven Representations of White, 1972 beautifully illustrates this. Therefore, whilst I was working in a way that was specific to my location and place in time, much of the tonality is a result of the film I had to hand. This was further exaggerated by the low-quality inkjet printer I was using to print the work and the various papers that were available. So much about this project was grounded in its relevance to place and as a result working with what I had available.
A viewer of the exhibition approached me and mentioned that the palette reminded them of Robert Ryman’s paintings. This statement really resonated with because it got me thinking about how he wanted to depict light itself, its interaction with surface. Light of course being fundamental to photography, especially when observing it at its most distilled: a surface receiving and recording light.
CM: Distilled indeed, a good word there. Also relevant for me is ‘still’ – and the ability to go back to these time and time again for a sense of groundedness. Or is there hidden action, evidence of performance?
LS: Absolutely! Whilst it isn’t a focal point of the project it is certainly present. The physical engagement with materials is something that was essential in its production. Of course, there is an initial physical engagement with the creation of the sculptures, balancing and manoeuvring the objects into their temporary positions. The actual photographing of the subjects was in some respects a performance in itself too. Following on from a conversation I had with Victoria Louise-Doyle back in 2020 I have become incredibly self-aware of the performance we all make when photographing a subject: the way in which we move around a subject, responding to it until we feel the angle is right to take the image. Also, when creating the collage work there was naturally movement involved although I feel this is a little more self-evident. Slicing the prints in response to printing errors and then constructing them anew was a very tactile way of working and one in which I have often worked when exploring the materiality of the photographic medium.
CM: Is this series finished for you, or are there ideas that you may come back to over time?
LS: For me this series is complete. Whilst the ideas of assemblage in relation to photography will persist I believe Assemblage as a body of work to be complete due to its nature as a place-specific project. Was it not for the relevance of living and working at my Grandparents’ I believe this could be a work that would continue to grow exponentially, never fully reaching a point of conclusion. This is something that arises quite often when investigating both the representational nature of photography and its inherent, yet overlooked, materiality. Without there being some sort of anchor to a project of mine this way of working can become self-referential to the point of being inescapable, allowing no real conclusion to be found, only more work to be produced. Like Antonio, the protagonist in Italo Calvino’s The Adventure of the Photographer, I would find it all too easy to become consumed by the obsession that all photography can truly depict is itself.