The new exhibition at the Norman Rea Gallery shows the work of collagist Graham Hutchinson. The artwork colonises the white gallery walls in two large clusters, the pieces tastefully colour co-ordinating thanks to the aging yellow of Hutchinson’s chosen media. The pieces start life as books, postcards, and magazine cuttings from flea markets which are then rearranged to suggest Hutchinson’s unspeakable ‘secrets’, which seem mainly to be signified by the erasure of faces, phallic symbols, and the ugly matter of exposed human bodies. Leaving aside psychoanalytical conjecture about the artist, it is disappointing that instead of finding a visual mode suited to the expression of ‘the rituals, tensions and absurdity that occurs between the two sexes’, presumably in the here and now, Hutchinson chooses to use the oh-so-fashionable medium of vintage photographs to convey his message. This aesthetic arguably lends itself more to discussions of gender in a bygone age rather than in our own, and speaks more to Hutchinson’s fetishization of past symbols and styles of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ than to the artist’s apparent interest in modern heterosexual relationships.
Jiri Kolar, and more recently John Stezaker, have both utilised the medium of photographic collage for specific conceptual ends (discussions about consciousness and the photographic image respectively) and executed their ideas using meticulous craftsmanship; the difficulties of transcending this pre-existent artistic style to ‘make it new’ are visible in Hutchinson’s work, which seems to unite collage of ’50s and ’60s imagery with his own psychology somewhat arbitrarily. Some of the works do cleverly manipulate photographs and the trappings of print culture to create an interesting or amusing composition, as in a piece where the bottom halves of poised ’50s fashion models are given torsos comprised of fragments of reptile anatomies. These moments of fun make a visit to the exhibition worthwhile in order to appreciate the bizarre, uncanny potential of collage with found images. Repeated visual tropes suggest Hutchinson’s preoccupation with alienation and sexuality: images of naked or partly naked bodies are warped or contorted through the manipulation of collage; happy, well-coiffed monochrome couples have their faces erased by paint, paper, or burning. The works are well arranged, forming pleasing compositions on the walls, variously attached straight onto the boards, bulldog-clipped, or hung on tacks, contributing positively to the exhibitions pleasing – if conceptually ill-supported – rough-and-ready ‘vintage’ aesthetic; but perhaps it would have been advisable to frame the pieces in order to raise them from their originary materials to ‘art’, and to prevent artworks going astray – I rescued one from the floor, priced between £80 and £200. No reader, I did not nick it!
‘I think we should see other people’ is worth popping in for a brief peruse, for the moments where the artist makes the most of his chosen media to create an amusing or arresting juxtaposition of cuttings, or to revel in that pleasingly vintage aesthetic we’d like our arty bedroom walls to convey.