Lisson Gallery

Rodney Graham speaks to the Financial Times about new paintings

1 May 2020

Rodney Graham: the conceptualist who makes painting his muse | The multimedia artist builds up layers of literary visual reference to create dense yet witty work

“I’m getting to my studio,” replies Rodney Graham when I ask him how he’s negotiating lockdown in Vancouver. That response says everything about the central role art plays in the life of the 71-year-old conceptualist.

Indeed, since his first works from the late 1970s, which riffed on the mechanism of the camera obscura, art has been not only Graham’s practice but also his subject. Little wonder, then, that painting is the muse behind his latest work.

Created for the Frieze New York Viewing Room and the gallery space — both online, naturally — of Graham’s dealer, Lisson Gallery, the sequence evolves out of an earlier cycle Vacuuming the Gallery, 1949, which Graham created in 2018.

That work comprises a lightbox display depicting a mise-en-scène of a postwar gallery hung with the graphic, abstract paintings fashionable at that time. Centrestage is occupied by the art dealer — white, male, middle-aged, pipe-smoking and played by Graham — as he nudges a vacuum cleaner across his already spotless carpet. In the background, an elegant woman peers at a picture as if considering purchase.

It’s a witty gesture, taking a swipe at gender stereotypes as much as the art world. Although the paintings may be dated, the depiction of the blue-chip commercial gallery as an exclusive faux-museum, accessible only to the moneyed few, is even more acute today.

The new presentation, entitled Painting Problems, focuses on Graham’s paintings themselves, apparently of a similar era to those in Vacuuming the Gallery. They are however more varied and complex than their 2018 predecessors. Their floating shapes, geometric here, fluid there, and contrasting shades — some pale as sky, others in hard blacks and bruised purples — riff on Cubism, Art Informel and Constructionism. You feel you know the author but can’t quite remember their name.

Click through to the Financial Times for the full interview.

Click here to watch Rodney Graham in the studio discussing his new series 'Painting Problems'.

Rodney Graham speaks to the Financial Times about new paintings
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