Following his acclaimed retrospective exhibition Through the Forest, at MACBA, Barcelona, Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel and Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg in 2010-11; Rodney Graham presents new and recent works at Lisson Gallery.
The artist shows a selection of light-boxes, representing mise-en-scenes which have both a sculptural and cinematic presence. These painstakingly detailed and chromatically rich digital tableaux represent scenes that conflate the artist’s mundane observations with the illustration of moments – often overlooked or forgotten – originating in literature, music, film or art history. Graham himself, a distinguished silver-haired man, is recognisable as he appears in a variety of guises as the protagonist of these compositions.
The exhibition at Lisson Gallery includes the monumental light-box Paddler, Mouth of the Seymour (2012-13), on show for the first time in Europe. The large three panel light-box is based on a painting known as Max Schmidt in A Single Scull (1871) by the great American Realist Thomas Eakins. The original painting depicts Schmidt (a friend of Eakins and a championship racer); Graham adapts this to a contemporary setting, playing Schmidt as a contemporary kayaker on a break. The work forms part of a series of works depicting the classic theme of the Four Seasons and represents autumn. This yet to be completed series is accompanied in the exhibition by Sous-Chef on Smoke Break (2011), representing summer, and Smoke Break 2 (Drywaller) (2012), representing winter.
Moments in the history of painting are often a source of inspiration for Graham, whether a specific detail from an existing painting, or the figure of the amateur painter. New work Cactus Fan (2013) is, like Paddler, inspired by a 19th century painting: in this case a small humorous work by the German romantic painter Carl Spitzweg known as the Cactus Aficionado (1865) is reimagined.
Graham’s work engages with trajectories and detours in the history of representation, as well as a diverse range of social, literary and popular references. Emerging from a group of prominent conceptualist artists in Vancouver in the 1970s, the artist has explored an extensive range of media – comprising music, literature, painting, film and predominantly photography. Graham’s work is distinguished for its intellectual rigour and extensive references to philosophical, psychoanalytic, and literary traditions.