Monday, September 24, 2012
Photographer: Thomas Robson
Posted by Harry Warwick
Defacement or enhancement? That is one the more obvious problems that Thomas Robson’s artwork poses. Do we see his modifications as a form of digital vandalism, an avant-garde aggressive on visual high culture, or as a radical but positive reconfiguration of fine art?
Robson’s offensive on traditional portraiture is original and striking, undeniably. While sometimes he imitates splashes of gaudy paint across the pictures, these modifications are clearly the product of computer generation, and herein exists the real anxiety. The images exhibit temporal duality. They share ground in tradition and undergo the groundbreaking shocks of the digital age. This complicates interpretation somewhat, and we revert to our earlier question, in an alternate form. Should we approach these works as defaced fine art or as depthless symbols of the postmodern?
Note as well the location of these pixelated interventions. Some cover the face; others arch around it. Passing into the domain of art, personal identity becomes ambivalent, itself double-faced. Robson thereby challenges the stability that portraiture was meant to confer on the sitter. The artistic methods likewise prove antithetical. The dextrous and deliberate work required to create accurate portraits seems at odds with the apparently random application of shapes and colours.
Rare is it that we find such conflict focused in one artwork. Often we search for unities amidst the disjuncture, harmony among discord, but through the sheer contradiction of these images, Robson sets out a genuine challenge to our interpretative skills.