Preface to Surface to Surface

by Richard Galpin
Published by Hales Gallery, London and Galleria Leme, Sao Paulo, 2008


Up to 2001 I had been making works based on the theme of ‘erasure’ by deleting newspaper text[1], painting over existing paintings[2], and using scratchcard rub-removable ink[3]. I then discovered a simple technique in the studio; I found that by lightly scoring the surface of a photograph with a scalpel, the surface emulsion could be removed, while leaving the fibrous backing paper intact. Crucially, this new technique enabled me to develop a visual language from the partially erased images, with my conceptual interest in the act of erasure becoming a foundation for a more visually based practice.


The first ‘peeled photograph’ works were made from small snapshots of my immediate urban environment in south-east London. Initially particular formal elements were retained, such as shop signs or the windows of 1960’s social housing blocks. I quickly moved to shift the focus away from the content within the original photograph (such as the specific reference to modernist architecture in the 1960’s housing blocks) by broadening the range of subjects photographed[4]. References to particular early modernist movements[5] continued, but were concentrated in the aesthetic of the finished works.


While working with photographs of scaffolding and pylons, I began to increase the fragmentation of the images, cutting the structures free from their base, and creating free-floating forms[6]. In the Rollercoaster works, in addition to isolating structural elements, the adherence to pre-existing form was further liberated by leaving fragments of sky that took their shape from reversed or inverted rollercoaster structures[7].


In the early cityscapes the white background space was used as a void within which isolated elements could appear to hover, or form seemingly impossible relationships, counter to expected perspectives[8]. In later works, after isolating various elements against a white background, I cut further negative space into the remaining forms[9]. In the most intricate 2004/5 works the visual language still developed and mutated out of the building forms. The works began by following rules suggested by the buildings, and then as each pattern was established the rules were broken, shifting the logic, and scoring one decorative device across another[10].


Photographing in high-density cities such as Sao Paulo and New York has enabled me to increase the dynamism of the work. When framing and composing the initial photographs my decisions are now informed by my intentions to employ particular compositional strategies in developing the finished works. One approach is to look for shots where the subject fills the frame to develop with reference to abstract painting composition[11]. For other works I find particular viewpoints from which buildings appear to collide or form a mass which attaches itself to a foreground object. These shots will then be worked into a centralised composition, which I envisage as a sculptural form while working[12].


In the recent Cluster works[13] the logic and language of the work is both restricted and expanded. The areas of the photograph selected are exclusively blocks of uninterrupted surface texture – joined by connecting lines which are not suggested at all by the original image. These lines are actively misleading, often reversing perspective. This approach increases the amount of colour and surface retained from the original photograph, while allowing an independence of form. The complex dependency of image to source co-exists with a new figurative freedom.

1 No News Is Good News,1997, tippex correction fluid on newspaper.

2 Painting Out Uncle Eddie’s Legacy, 1999, installation of 64 painted-over artworks.

3 Scratchcards I - V, 1999, silver rub-removable ink and ink on board, hinged frame with lock, and key.

4 E.g. Art Reference (books), 2001, p.26-27, based on bookshelves.

5 Constructivism, Futurism etc.

6 E.g. Crowland, 2003, p.33.

7 E.g. Crazy Mouse, 2004, p.36-37.

8 E.g. Beyond this Point, 2001, p.22-23.

9 E.g. Belas Artes (Sao Paulo), 2004, p.44.

10 E.g. The Other Side, 2004, p.41.

11 E.g. ‘All-over’ painting; Cluster XX (Planopolis), 2007, p.72-73.

12 E.g. Cluster VI (Dlropolis), 2006, p.64.

13 All works p.55-79.

© 2017 Richard Galpin