Saturday, December 05, 2015

Lorca's Olive

Laurie Clark, To The Hills, 2006

A recent survey by Jeremy Cooper, Artists' Postcards: A Compendium, divides the field into ten categories (aside from promotional postcards), each of which could be illustrated with cases involving landscape imagery.

  • Artist-designed postcards - there are many examples; in an earlier post here I am holding up one that features in the book - by Francis Alÿs, a view of a flat sea with a description of the artist's journey on the reverse.  See also the postcard by Laurie Clark above.  Artists have been designing postcards since their invention.  The future Expressionist Emil Nolde earned money by designing them in the 1890s and his strangest designs were a sequence of giant faces drawn into mountain ranges.
  • Manipulated postcards - where artists overpaint or erase parts of an image; in Bridges for example Tim Davies covers over the landscape to leave their structures floating in space.  I get the impression many artists have done this privately - I've referred before to playful postcards sent to friends by Peter Lanyon and Cooper includes an example by Josef Albers in which he has overwritten an aerial view of the woods near Black Mountain College.
  • Composite postcard pieces - a fine example of an installation involving a collection of photographs is Susan Hiller's Rough Seas, which I described here at the time of her Tate exhibition.
  • Postcards in collage - John Stezaker's uncanny film star portraits with landscape postcards over their faces are a well-known example (on show at the Whitechapel recently).
  • Boxes, sets and books of postcards - among the book's examples of these kinds of work there is Carl Andre's Three Works on Land (1979), a concertina of nine black-and-white postcards documenting three land art sculptures: 'Angellipse', 'Timbering' and 'Quadrill'.
  • Postcards in mail art - this art form which emerged alongside Fluxus is obviously central to a discussion of postcards in art and the book includes many examples. Michael Leigh's The Arses of Scotland (1996) can be seen in a Lawrence Norfolk article on the Tate Archive. 
  • Postcard presses, designers and photographers - this disparate category includes the output of presses I've often referred to here, such as Coracle, Wild Hawthorn and Moschatel.  Among photographers Paul Greenleaf has dealt with landscape in projects like Correspondence (2007-9), where he re-photographed scenes from 1960s postcards.
  • Graphic postcards - Thomas A. Clark's postcard for his Moschatel Press, below, is an example of a purely textual image; the book provides another one by Peter Liversidge printed in a font that looks as if it might disappear in snow: In the bleak mid-winter months very little stirs on the North Montana Plains (2000).

 Thomas A. Clark, Anything which is understood is a postcard to yourself, 2008

  • Postcards as pictures  - lastly there is art in which postcard images are transferred into paintings, as in the photorealism of Malcolm Morley, or prints, like the Katharina Fritsch images of Essen that I've mentioned here previously.
The other artist I mentioned in that earlier post on Fritsch and postcard-based landscape art was Tacita Dean.  She is quoted in the introduction to Artists' Postcards: A Compendium: 'recently I have begun, quite unintentionally, to collect old postcards thematically.  It started with finding an attractive postcard of a frozen water fountain.  On finding the second frozen water fountain, I had begun a collection...'  Among her postcard-related works is Washington Cathedral (2002), two grids of non-identical found postcards published at different times; the cathedral was begun in 1907 and only finished in 1990 so these postcards represent a colorized dream of the yet-to-be-completed monument.  She also produced an edition of postcards linked to her film The Green Ray; I said here recently that the green flash of the setting sun is difficult to see on screen but it is visible in the postcard.   

Here is Jeremy Cooper's description (he is fond of exclamation marks) of another Tacita Dean postcard, Lorca's Olive (2007), inspired by a trip to Cadaqués, where 
'her host informed her that his grandfather used to tell of having seen the painter Salvador Dali and the poet flirting in a particular olive grove in the village!  Dean looked for the olive grove but discovered it had been destroyed by a fire, only one tree remaining.  She photographed the tree and made it into a postcard, as if from the 1920s, the time of the alleged affair, putting two coats of silver on the surface of the black-and-white photograph to give the impression of age.' 
This postcard is referred to at the end of a 2011 James Purcell review of an exhibition of personal postcards at the Federico García Lorca Foundation, curated by Martin Parr.  'The framed cards extend along the wall in an unbroken line. But look closer, and you can find the moment when Lorca’s correspondence ends. The family postcards themselves sweep on, albeit with gaps in time. No mention is made of the atrocities, grief and terror having been expressed elsewhere, privately...'  Tacita Dean's postcard, which featured in another exhibition at Lorca's house/museum in Grenada, can also be related to the writer's death.  After being killed by a Fascist militia his body was dumped among olive trees, or so it was thought.  'The postscript to the postcard: Lorca’s presumed grave was excavated in 2009, and was found to contain no bodies. To date, there is still no news of Lorca’s whereabouts.'

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