These assemblages are an ongoing studio project I began this year showing people who turn their backs on the noise of society, e.g. politics, social media, and cell phones, seeking solitude. They show people on beaches, alone as the individuals they are, even in a group. Our society is very group-oriented, and we are expected to conform to our groups. Through images and text, I show people, small as they are, who have carved out time and space for themselves.
Prof. Arlo Kent is the main piece with smaller assemblages exploring the world more deeply. I start with collage that I’ve painted and dissected, and adhere it to canvas with wheat paste. Photographic images printed on acetate are layered and attached over the collage. The mats on the smaller pieces—windows within windows—are voyeuristic, like peering through a viewfinder. I want the viewer to experience the same feeling, preserving the feeling of aloneness I feel for the subjects. A handmade frame of ash completes each assemblage.
Each piece shows the imprint of my hand. Blemishes are intentional, expected, welcomed, including uneven frames and exposed or stray pieces of collage jutting beyond the mat, especially now that we have AI. The pieces and the artist are guaranteed to be 100 percent human-made.
Do you ever feel you or your work are so misunderstood that you could just spit?
And don't give me the line that it's not misunderstood, it's just bad. Bullshit.
Photographers--and I use that term loosely because the photography-based world has so radically changed since the days when Ansel Adams was king--tell me I shouldn't focus so much on the materials but on the image. And I just want to scream, They just don't get it!
The materials now are just as important as the image, if not more. Today, the image, or in this case, the "photograph", whatever the hell that is, has been subsumed by the artwork. The photograph is no longer sacrosanct. You can no longer print it, put it in a frame, hang it on a wall and bow down before it. It is now a commodity. Words used to be that way. When the printing press was invented, words were locked up in a safe. Now we print them out and staple them to a bulletin board: Ice Cream Social Tonight! Which is why I staple my images. Images are just as commonplace as a piece of paper. Which is why, for example, the staples in the above image (two pieces of acetate printed upon and layered, btw) are just as important to the work as the image. In this case, I'd say they were equal.
If I used a violin in my work, it wouldn't mean much. But when Ai Wei Wei uses one, it has an entirely different meaning. A violin, in Wei Wei's world, could have gotten him killed. It would have pegged him as an intellectual. You have to know the meaning of objects and materials, otherwise you won't experience the richness of a piece of art.
In my work, the material I use--plebeian material, I like to call it: cheap stuff--directly addresses the high cost of making art today. When I use acetate sheets, window screen, lathing, I'm saying, You don't need the multi-thousands of dollars to buy a Nikon Z series camera and lens to make an image. You don't need the money for a degree from RISD or Yale. The material is conveying as much message as the images. They're equal. They're democratic.
John Greiner-Ferris is an artist in the Boston area. Sometimes he makes images. Sometimes he writes. Sometimes he does both.