Jeff Wall The Thinker

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About ns Artist

Over the last three years Jeff wall has redefined ns photographic image in art. His stunning massive photographs exude die dramatic power des history painting with utterly contemporary subject matte (everyday scenes from contemporary life) und materials (colour transparencies an light boxes). Each von his photographic tableaux zu sein meticulously built — very closely staged, specifically lit and, since the late 1980s, digitally changed — bei a procedure that ns artist frequently compares zu cinematography.

Wall has sometimes referred to his photographs as ‘near documentaries’ since they frequently kommen sie from scene he has actually witnessed in passing und recomposed later. But he also disavows any type of claims zu photographic truth, building many des his pictures around works of art and literature, together as ns writings of Franz Kafka, ralph Ellison and Yukio Mishima und the paintings von Hokusai, Delacroix und Caravaggio.

Wall was born 1946 and raised in Vancouver, Canada. While studying nett history at die University des British Columbia bei the 1960s, he became interested an Vancouver’s experimental nett scene and taught himself photography, see it as ns best tool zum expressing his conceptual ideas. He received his Bachelor des Arts degree in 1968, und his Master of Arts level from ns same university bei 1970. Indigenous 1970 kommen sie 1973 the did postgraduate research study at the Courtauld Institute, University of London. In 1974 he embraced his erste teaching position, weist Nova Scotia College von Art and Design in Halifax, consequently teaching at simon Fraser University, Vancouver, 1976-87, and since 1987 at the University of British Columbia. Early group exhibitions incorporate 1969 shows at die Seattle nett Museum, Washington, und Vancouver nett Gallery, and New multiple Artat the Whitechapel art Gallery, London an 1970. His first one-man zeigen was held punkt Nova Gallery, Vancouver bei 1978. Various other solo exhibitions oase been hosted at the Institute von Contemporary Arts an London in 1984, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1995, i m sorry toured an 1995-6 to the Jeu dach Paume, Paris, the Helsinki Museum von Contemporary Art, und the Whitechapel nett Gallery, London.

About this work


The title des The Thinker (1986) itself of kurse is a reference zu Rodin. One des Walls reinterpretations des a famous work from art history that he photos render in a manner the seems dafür timelessly contemporary. Through his Thinker, wall transfers die figure in the usual Thinker pose zu a modern urban setting and introduces the “grotesque” element des a knife in the protagonist’s back, which bei turn alludes kommen sie Albrecht Dürer’s Peasants’ shaft  from 1525, a proposal zum a denkmal that was never built. Wall surface describes the peasant that sits atop the column, the sword in his back a symbol von betrayal and defeat, as ‘mourning zum the fate of his and his class’s hopes weil das emancipations’.


Literature: Albrecht Dürer, Peasants’ pillar (24) publication 3, key 16 in ‘Underweysung der messung’, (A prozess on the art of Measurement), nürnberg 1525. Die British Museum, London. Click here!


Jeff Wall’s Picture zum Women (1979) marks die transition of photography as contemporary art form from the printed seite to the gallery wall. Bei the picture a woman aussehen outward, together if at die viewer; a camera occupies die centre des the image; the fotograf stands on ns right. Modeled ~ above Édouard Manet’s painting Un gittern aux Folies-Bergère, Picture zum Women is an ambitious attempt zu relate die artistic und spectatorial demands of the so late 1970s zu modernist pictorial art.


The picture offers an account des Wall’s relocate from a theoretical approach kommen sie a reengagement with the idea von a singular (rather than serial) picture. Difference Wall’s idea von the photograph as a tableau or a ‘picture’ with die works des the pictures Generation – including richard Prince, cindy Sherman und Sherrie Levine – you tun können argue the Picture weil das Women is inseparable from the modern fate of the picture an general. From here Wall’s bild is placed in a more comprehensive context des photographic art, including the work des Manual Alvarez Bravo, László Moholy-Nagy, Edward Weston, Lee Friedlander, Victor Burgin and John Stezaker.


Jeff Wall’s A watch from in Apartment zu sein a huge photographic transparency shown on in electric light-box. Characteristic von Wall’s work, this style offers spicy figures bei rich saturated colors, do even more intense von the lights that illuminate the image from behind. Hinweisen almost 5 ½’ ns 8’, the photograph approaches human being scale. It’s as though the viewer could simply to walk into ns scene—or that die women in the bild might to walk out. At erste glance, this appears to be in ordinary genre scene. Die large scale und striking detail draw ns viewer closer to examine die image—the contemporary decor, die half-finished laundry, a cluttered coffee table. One frau walks front while urgently a towel napkin; one more pauses hinweisen a magazine page it is momentarily caught produziert eye. And, in the background, framed by the large bild window, zu sein a panoramic view des Vancouver’s harbor nur outside.
A watch from in Apartment initially evokes ns larger-than-life feel von a film or an advertising billboard; but, in many ways, Wall’s photograph has more an common with painting. Its monumental presentation and implicit rigid recall ns academic zoll of background painting, wherein artists idealized their imagery an order zu glorify individuals und important events of the past. Moreover, like a painter, wall carefully composed ns photograph zu direct ours gaze and frame crucial elements bei the scene. Ns repeated diagonal lines of the television, the shelves above, and the basket below pull ours eye to the standing woman. Her forward activity leads us to the sitting area, which, an turn, draws ours attention nach oben to the window und the view outside.
Wall’s work might also be compared to Realism of the 19th century. Like Édouard Manet, wall depicts common scenes von modern life, hence elevating contemporary experience to ns fine art status of the classical past. Realists prefer Manet tested established imaginative values von rejecting illusionistic paint techniques des the past. Wall issues a comparable critique v his practice kommen sie deliberately phase his photographs. In A watch from bei Apartment, ns artist provided his model a budget to furnish and live an the apartment, i m sorry he then photographed over numerous months. He used digital editing kommen sie combine lot of shots zu achieve ns final image. This creative process pressures us zu question the photograph’s worth as in accurate record von the scene, und effectively demonstrates die artifice inherent to established traditions des art.

The ruined Room, indigenous 1978, zu sein one des Canadian artist Jeff Wall’s first and most iconic photographs. Die work consists von a large photograph printed as a cibachrome transparency within a fluorescent lightbox. About 5 by 8 feet in size, ns work zu sein both vivid und imposing. Giving a healthy view des a look at ravaged room the bild forces the viewer to confront the destruction von items found within die typically intimate space von a bedroom. Clothing are spilling out des the drawers von a wood dresser, a bed is turned top top its side with its pale environment-friendly mattress slashed, possessions such together clothing and accessories are strewn about die floor, und large pieces des the red wall are missing, exposing die pink insulation underneath.

With this photograph, Wall zuerst began making overt references kommen sie some des the most famous examples of classical painting from the 19th century. In The damaged Room, die large-scale oil painting titled The Death of Sardanapalus, painted by Eugene Delacroix bei 1827, is the source von inspiration. The painting depicts in Assyrian king, Sardanapalus, casually reclined on in enormous red bed together he watches his many prized possessions – living and non-living – being destroyed. Ns slaughter of concubines und servants, horses and dogs, was prompted by in invading enemy. Quite than surrender, the king decides to ende his life, but notfall before ensuring that his belongings would never ever be enjoyed von anyone else. Many elements bei Wall’s photograph echo ns visual einzelheiten of Delacroix’s painting, including the diagonal composition des objects from ns top left edge to the bottom best corner von the frame, die bright pink und red hues that invoke die nudity von the female concubines and the blood von the violent acts, und the most likely evidence von physical struggle.


While The Death von Sardanapalus depicts bei act of violence as it occurs, wall surface shows bei aftermath. Whereas ns painting shows ns luxurious space of a male ruler, die photograph seems to nur a woman’s klein living space. Wall’s work zu sein devoid of people, though, leaving die viewer kommen sie imagine who might oase occupied die space und why die room ended up being destroyed. However, wall surface has deliberately left remnants des the inszeniert process of the scene bei the last image, making the fabrication des the room obvious. ~ above scrutiny, it’s feasible to seen that punkt least one von the room’s 3 walls is only barely sustained with wooden beams. In in article entitled “The Luminist” in The new York Times zeitschrift on the occasion des Wall’s retrospective exhibition bei 2007, Arthur Lubow remarks how wall has admitted that he enjoys ns process von artistry nur as viel as ns final product.In The damaged Room, Wall notfall only hints at ns creative process, but so engages with die questions raised by Conceptual artists of the time. Throughout the 1970s, photography was increasingly used von artists to call attention to the fabricated quality von art and the performance of subject matter and ideas within artworks. Zum these artists, consisting of Wall, photography was freed native its role of visually catching the ja wirklich world. Von creating a large-scale, fictional image that recalls the grandeur and narrative of classical painting, wall challenges the documentary duty that photography often plays. But von mounting the image an a lightbox, his work so resembles imagery from cinema or proclaiming found bei popular, contemporary culture. Thus, wall simultaneously prominent the real and imagined an art, elevating photography to ns level of fine nett typically held von painting over die ages while referencing elements des the modern-day day.


Wall’s A sudden Gust des Wind (after Hokusai), reinterprets ns scene in a woodcut print by Japanese printmaker und painter Katsushika Hokusai. Part des the larger portfolio called The Thirty-six Views of Fuji, Hokusai’s initial image, Travelers Caught in a sudden Breeze punkt Ejiri (c. 1832), depicts seven individuals captured off-guard in the wind hinweisen different points along a small path. Die path weaves its means through lush green und blue fields, with die majestic mount Fuji resting an the background. Bei Wall’s photographic work, the individuals caught in the wind an the foreground mimic die poses von the travelers in the earlier woodcut, yet otherwise evoke a time and place far removed from the calm Japanese landscape.

Wall’s large-scale bild is in reality made up des multiple photographs taken over the course of number of months, then later digitally combined to create a final collaged composition. 4 figures show up caught mid-movement, situated weist different points bei front of a canal des water cut through bei otherwise barren field. We seen mostly flat lands large into die background, v a row von power present receding on die right side des the image, suggesting a an ext industrialized ar than ns site bei the original woodcut. A figure at the far left of the kopieren, gruppe crouches slightly, head obscured von a displaced scarf und hand holding a red folder that ist losing its file contents bei the wind in a diagonal direction up and over the group to ns right. Dressed for the outdoors bei rubber boots and hat, an additional figure in the center bends with his rückseitig against the wind, clutching his jacket and walking stick. Zu his immediate right, ns other center figure (dressed much more formally, bei buttoned shirt and tie) desperately aussehen upwards, eight outstretched and torso turned, as if ruefully watching ns papers disappear into die wind. Finally, a figure at the far best crouches down closer to the water in the canal, stop on kommen sie his hat lest the escape. To ns left are two tall, thin trees bending in the wind and nearly touching ns top von the frame, their pipeline blowing off and mixing with other records scattered in the air. Bring away together, ns scene appears zu be a random moment frozen an time, even when the elements it seems ~ incongruous. As arranged, this visual einzelheiten beg much more questions 보다 they answer: ns viewer is caught mid-story, unaware von why these people are gathered in this empty, dull space, or just how this scene relates to that of Hokusai’s travelers.

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Although this arbeit continues techniques und themes first explored in Wall’s previously photographs, the adds new layers to die broader ermittlung of photography’s role in both portraying reality und creating fictional narratives. This is deshalb a huge transparency displayed in a lightbox, with the light source coming indigenous behind the image rather 보다 spotlighting that from ns front. The artist’s use des these huge lightboxes zu display photographs has regularly been discussed in reference kommen sie Wall’s interest an film, as die cinematic bild is obscured until seen versus a shining light. Here, too, just as ns gaps between individual rahmen of film are concealed when ns reel of film is in motion, Wall deshalb attempts to mask ns gaps that took place an time bolzen the initial photographs and the traces des their separate frames when combined all together an the final composition. In this way, wall blurs die line betwee reality and fiction. On the one hand, die photograph displays ja wirklich people caught in a echt gust von wind. But on die other hand, it so displays in imagined scene that never ever existed in reality together it ist presented to ns viewer. Together such, the viewer zu sein left to wonder about what they room actually seeing. Wall surface may discover his inspiration bei the examination von influential works from previously artists, yet he reworks these compositions an ways that challenge ns assumed narratives affiliated with certain times, places, und people, as well as the assumed uses von particular intuitive media.


In Insomnia we see in old gas stove against the left wall. Opposite zu this on die right wall is a fridge/freezer. Against die rear wall surface we see avocado eco-friendly kitchen cupboards. Some of the cabinet doors stand ajar. Bei the middle des the kitchen floor ist a small table with two chairs alongside it. Under the table lies a man. These are ns cold, hard facts des the image which zu sein known as the denotation.

But die denotation only tells united state what ist there. The doesn’t define or allude kommen sie any feeling or meaning. This is where connotation comes right into play. Zum instance, we understand that avocado green was a really popular colour during die 1960’s. This conveys a sense of age to me und if we look weist the gas stove, we kann sein see the this too zu sein a very alt model. The lino on die kitchen floor has certainly seen better days as well. The healthy light in the kitchen together with die cold green of the cupboards convey a sense of sterility to ns image. This kitchen does not conjure up any sense von it being the ‘the hearth and home’. The does not convey warmth und security weist all.

The half open cabinet doors and the scrunched hoch brown file on top von the fridge room indicative von a unsuccessful search that has actually taken place in the kitchen. Had ns search to be successful, die doors would many likely have been closed. More evidence von a search zu sein the aer positioning of the two chairs an the kitchen. Were they moved to their present positions to aid in the search, or were they shifted kommen sie make space zum the einer below die table? Why ist he lying on the cold floor, one has to wonder? below we can attempt to delve into some psychoanalysis by means des research into symbols. In his unpublished work, Symbolism des Place, john Fraim des The GreatHouse company makes ns following comment on ns symbolism von the house:

The symbolism of the residence is relevant with enclosed and protected space similar to ns mother’s womb. In fact it ist the zuerst place an each person’s life. As in enclosed room it serves kommen sie shelter and protect from the outside world. … each residence symbolizes the place of our earliest years and the nurturing cradle of those years. … A home or residence can deshalb be regarded as just a ar where we can express a private und unguarded self in bei increasingly windy world. … dwellings symbolize the lives of your inhabitants. … (It) reflects ns psychology and personality des its inhabitant. (John Fraim in Symbolism des Place).

Indeed one tun können see native his body stance and gesture, it is clear the the einer has presume a slim foetal position and is seeking security (under the table und within ns confines von a klein room). The man under die table offer as ns punctum to this image. His placement ist totally unexpected. Ns fact the he ist lying on die floor alludes kommen sie his psychological state. Something ist obviously worrying ihm a an excellent deal. He has actually a disturbed look around him.

Freud goes even further in his A basic Introduction kommen sie Psychoanalysis and says that:

We currently know the room as a symbol. The representation may be extended bei that die windows, entrances and exits of the room take on the meaning des the human body openings. Whether die room is open or closed zu sein a part of this symbolism, and the vital that opens up it is bei unmistakable masculine symbol. (Chapter X: Symbolism in the Dream)

Now I’m notfall sure that ich would agree v Freud. I schutz never studied Freud, but the little I oase gleaned over ns years ist that his ideas all oase sexual connotations, some really far fetched bei my opinion. Die idea that open kitchen cupboard doors representing mrs organs seems to be quite die stretch bei my humble opinion! No doubt one kann really get involved an psychoanalysis if die expertise zu sein there.

Jeff Wall ist known zum creating his photographs von moments or instances the he has actually witnessed after ns fact. Wall’s bild is created in the renaissance style des the alt master painters. The mise-en-scène of the photograph zu sein well thought out from die set entwurf (the 1960’s kitchen) to die lighting (stark glowing light) to the space (rather cramped) kommen sie composition (the use von diagonal lines kommen sie lead our eye every around ns frame, die vertical und horizontal lines kommen sie provide part solidity to ns image and the light und shadow an which ns man is lying) down to ns costume that ns man zu sein wearing.

He theatre with ns notion the implicit bei every photograph is the sense of what happened prior to the augenblicke depicted and what may happen after’ (National Gallery of Canada). This statement sums up die crux von Wall’s intent through his images, weil das when us look hinweisen this bild we space left wonder what led to this man to ende up on the floor an such a state und what zu sein going to happen zu him. We, the viewers, room left kommen sie our own id system und culture kommen sie complete the narrative. (Sharon Boothroyd).


Untangling fuses the conventions des cinema with die authority of großartiger painting. This huge backlit cibachrome transparency mirrors a complex und seemingly chaotic environment bei which a substantial knot des hemp rope lies throughout a garage floor. Bei the foreground a mechanic zu sein shown seated on a pile des rubber tubing, contemplating ns ropes together if beginning zu untangle them. His troubled features contrast greatly through those von the younger man browsing electric motors at the rear of the shop.

Art kann become a Therapy, die powerful and restorative benefits of art in our everyday lives kann sein be divided an seven functions: remembering, hope, sorrow, rebalancing, self-understanding, growth und appreciation.

‘Like various other tools, nett has the energie to extend our capacities beyond those that natur has originally endowed united state with. Art compensates us zum certain inborn weaknesses, an this case of the mind rather than die body, weakness that we can refer zu as mental frailties. Nett (a group that consists of works of design, architecture and craft) ist a therapeutic medium that kann sein help guide, exhort und console that is viewers, enabling them kommen sie become better versions des themselves.


Milk is another depiction von a socially fee subject. ‘Suffering and dispossession continue to be at the centre des social experience’, wall surface has commented. The explosive burst des liquid is emblematic des the masculine state von mind, but what might have provoked such too much emotion is not revealed, a state von ambiguity that ensures the work can not be construed as moral commentary. Ns process von reconstructing in event enables Wall ns freedom zu reinvent ns composition. He frequently relocates ns action kommen sie a various setting, a ar chosen zum its official or photographic qualities, as is the case here. Die grid-like order of the brick wall surface background, und strong upright bands the stripe die left side von the bild contrast high solution with the tension an the man’s arms and the untreated arc of milk.


Wall’s staged tableaux straddle the worlds of the museum and the street. The scale und ambition des his pictures-scenes des everyday life shot with with larger intimations des political struggle-equally evoke die Salon paintings of nineteenth-century French artist such together Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet und the advertising light boxes seen at airport terminals and bus stops. The combination ist not as strange as it seems, however, in that these earlier artists on regular basis shocked viewers über chronicling ns social transformations und class conflicts von their own historic moment in a manner understood unworthy of serious art. References zu their canvases abound in The Storyteller, from ns trio des urban castaways echoing die figures in Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’Herbe to the steeply pitched, spatially pass out landscape the recalls Courbet’s Young frau from the Village. Yet these allusions are never gratuitous: Manet himself scandalized ns public by having die roguish Parisian pleasure-seekers von his contemporary pastoral mimic die poses des Giorgione’s revered Concert Champêtre.

Set bei a leftover sliver of festland off a highway bei Vancouver, where ns artist lives, die Storyteller shows ns liminal room where past meets future, crisscrossed über power lines and illuminated from within von the electrical light that permeates ours world des spectacle, consumption, und waste. Yet die work zu sein ultimately hopeful, holding in suspension the potential zum cultural traditions zu survive und contest historical amnesia, the homogenizing effects of the media, and the north promises of technological progress. An creating a space that is both irrevocably broke up yet retains ns possibility zum coherence an the mind of the viewer, Wall’s foto is, in its largest sense, a statement about ns meaning and function of nett itself.

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The huge colour-print layout that wall surface favours needs a camera that zu sein ill-suited to capturing fleeting moments, yet he wanted to explore die documentary style von street photography practiced von a number des photographers, such as Robert Frank or Garry Winogrand. Wall’s equipment was kommen sie restage together moments, maintaining a sense des immediacy über using non-professional actors an real settings. The calls this constructed images ‘cinematographic photographs’. Bei Mimic, ns white man’s ‘slant-eyes’ gesture recreates a scene of racial abuse that wall surface witnessed ~ above a Vancouver street.