Born in 1972 in Australia, Shaun Gladwell has emerged as an influential contemporary artist because of his ability to use a number of techniques and materials in developing paintings, video, photography, drawing and printing1. Gladwell appears to be one of the modern artists whose skills have broken from the past in terms of specialization and application of both materials and skills, especially due to the digitalization of his methods of production2.
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He derives ideas by combining arts and sports, making it possible to include the theme of aesthetics. He combines a number of digital techniques such as slow-motion and long pans in most of his work. Gladwell’s work also shows evidence of aestheticism of poetry that is built from a number of techniques such as distortion of speed, displacement of time and space as well as reversion of gravity3.
Since 2000, the artist has produced a number of works that have become popular in Australia, the US, and Europe. For instance, in 2009, some of his works were exhibited that the Venice Biennale. By looking closely at his productions, it is possible to understand how he constructs them and how his constructions contribute to the concepts therein. The purpose of this paper is to analyze three of his recent works in order to examine how he uses techniques and materials to communicate his ideas about life, nature, and society.
Perhaps some of the major themes that emerge from analyzing Gladwell’s latest works are the ideas of interaction and collisions of people, vehicles and animals in different landscapes, especially in Australia4. The artist draws from the history of both art and film to investigate the relationships between humans, the human body, images, and landscapes drawn in the contemporary world. Speed, time, and space are evidently some of the most common aspects of Gladwell’s works.
The use of techniques in developing these themes is an important aspect of Gladwell’s work. In his work, “Blue and White Linework Composition” developed in 2008, Gladwell provides the viewers with documentation of various aspects of the contemporary urban environment5. In this work, he uses several “Line works” to describe the different lines in the Australian urban landscape. He traces various roads within a contemporary urban road. This work seems to be closely related to his earlier video known as “double linework” produced in 2000. However, it is evident that the artist has increased his use of digital materials in the 2008 production. For instance, it is evident that his 2008 work concentrated on the use of the camera’s viewfinder as the artist’s eye. In this way, the artist aims at elaborating the notions of flaneur developed by Baudelaire as well as the notion of Situationist strategy of deriv6.
With this technique, the artist has been able to introduce a relatively new idea of rolling and drifting. To develop this concept, Gladwell has experimented with the idea of creative movement in an urban landscape use a bicycle, a skateboard or a motorcycle7. As described above, this technique allows the artist to include the important aspect of aestheticism while also involving the notions of function, space, time, and speed. First, the artist’s technique attempts to offer the ideas of experimentation drawings, which also creates the notion of tracing landscapes. He attempts to use these techniques and skills to explore the normal human life in cities and towns. In addition, it is evident that the artist’s conception of the connectedness of landscapes is presented in this work. For instance, it attempts to show how contemporary communities, societies are connected by simple objects- lines on roads. By closely looking at this film, one is able to argue that the artist uses the pre-existing cartography to extend and connect roads and road systems, which also connect various communities, societies, and regions.
Secondly, it is worth noting that function plays an important role as a concept in Gladwell’s work. To develop this conception in his artwork, Gladwell has attempted to involve the use and “misuse” of forms, which allows him to create critical understandings and experiences. Again, his “Linework” work of 2008 provides this evidence8. For instance, he uses video technology to create a symbol of order and significant shifts between white and blue lines in the Sydney road systems. In fact, it is important to note that most of these lines were developed during the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The artist seeks to show how these lines provide aesthetic value and important landmarks in the city of Sydney. In addition, the concept of speed is developed with this technique because the use of skateboards and motorcycles in tracing the white and yellow lines instill the idea of a running athlete during the past event, which marked an important part of the contemporary Australian history9.
In his 2007 work “Helmet reflection”, Shaun Gladwell attempts to use the technique of creating reflection using color and light to create the concept of reflection. Exhibited in the Venice Biennale in 2009, the “helmet reflection/inversion” attracted a lot of audience due to his ability to create a diverse body of themes. From a closer look at the artwork, it is evident that the artist wanted to connect the concept of modernity and ancient tales. The helmet is a hand-colored etching that the artist derived from the contemporary Maddest Maximus film series10.
He wanted to use it in developing the idea of modernity in artworks. The Maddest Maximum series is one of the most popular films in the modern context, which appeals to the theme of modern life11. However, a closer look at the helmet reveals additional concepts that the artist wanted to express. For instance, the image of the motorbike helmet has an additional feature. From this, a large flower is depicted growing from the image. It is a Waratah flower, one of the most common flowers in Australian landscapes. The flower image is seen reflected in the water. The reflection was used to signify popular mythology in ancient Greece. In this mythology, Narcissus, a hero, fell in love with his image while sitting next to a pool of water.
The gods were angry at his action, especially after he failed to break his image in the water. Therefore, they decided to punish him by turning him into a flower. An analysis of this theme reveals the artist’s ability to connect modernity and traditions. In addition, it reveals his ability to connect his artwork with the previous artworks that expressed the same ancient mythology. For example, the myth of Narcissus was reflected in the 1937 painting “Metamorphosis of Narcissus” developed by Salvador Dali.
It is also worth noting that Gladwell has used color as a material and shading and video techniques to develop the concept of “speed and destruction.” Although he is an enthusiast of speeding, he attempts to use the helmet to develop the theme of the relationship between speeding and death in contemporary times. In addition, he uses the concept of Narcissus to show how speeding is related to Narcissus’ story, both of which end in self-destruction12.
In other words, the helmet and the reflection are connected to the idea of using excessive speed, whether with skateboards or motorbikes, to cause self-harm and death due to possible accidents. In Gladwell’s work, the figure of the helmet appears as a human skull, which was most likely used to prefigure the concept of death. Each helmet has a figure “eight,” which was most likely used to symbolize the symbol of eternity. This is a controversial concept that the artist develops using video and artistic techniques because it seeks to challenge the notion that speed is always associated with death. The symbol probably tells the speeding rider or skater to cheat death.
In his 2007 work “In a Station of the Metro,” Shaun Gladwell shows his ability to use digital techniques and digital materials such as small screens, multi-channel, and projections in developing important themes and concepts that reflect modern life. It offers a variation of the artist’s intended themes. It depicts performers vigorously making artistic strides an unidentified metro station, perhaps in Japan. The vigorous performers support the entire weight of their bodies with mere hands. Their cheeks are seen positioned only a few millimeters from the shiny floor while their legs freely suspended in the air above. They hold their pose but suddenly wake up and start walking. Although this work depicts modest gestures, Gladwell uses real figures animated from still paintings.
In this work, Gladwell used the above-mentioned materials and techniques to create and express the concept of freedom of movement, modernity, and humor in the public places13. These concepts are used to depict the themes of modern urban cultures and subcultures. The work depicts the creativity that is becoming important in various urban centers across the world. For instance, the reclaiming of privatized urban spaces to allow the freedom of human motions is developed.
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In conclusion, Gladwell also uses technologies such as videos, animations, and slow-motion to depict the concept of the space between still and moving images. This concept attempts to show the vigorousness of the modern urban centers, where the need for free spaces is an important aspect of the urban society14. The moving paintings also seek to introduce the concept of the shift from the traditionally popular still paintings to a modern idea of moving paintings enhanced by technology15.
The artist wanted to drive the idea of making the old paintings move and show other feature in their position, which appeals to the eyes of the viewers16. In fact, traditional paintings create an idea of suspense in that the viewer develops the need to see other aspects of the scenario, yet it is not possible because paintings depict still objects. As such, Gladwell wanted to use technology to break this past and allow viewers to see other aspects and scenes in a painting.
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1 General Books, Male Artists: Australian Male Artists (Sydney: General Books LLC, 2010)94.
2 John McCallum and Ian Maxwell, Australian Arts, where the Bloody Hell are You?: Australian Arts in an International Context: Proceedings of a Symposium Held at the University of Sydney on 2006 (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 2007), 68. Web.
3 Glenn Barkley, Museum of Contemporary Art Collection (Sydney: MCA Store, 2012), 161.
4 General Books Australian Men by Occupation (Sydney: General Books LLC, 2010), 112.
5 Art Space, “In a Station of the Metro by Shaun Gladwell,” Art Space Gallery, 2013. Web.
6 ing Mike Stubbs, Karen Newman, and Lewis Biggs; We Are the Real-Time Experiment: 20 Years of FACT (London: Foundation of Art and Creative Technology, FACT, 2010), 32.
7 UQ Art Museum, “Shaun Gladwell,” The University of Queensland Arts Museum, 2013. Web.
8 Art Gallery of South Australia, “Shaun Gladwell: The Approach,” Art Gallery of South Australia Publications, 2012. Web.
9 Giancarlo Politi, Flash Art (London: University of London Press, 2011), 28.
10 ACMI, “Shaun Gladwell Education Resource Kit,” Australian Center for Moving Images, 2014. Web.
11 Daniel, Palmer, “Shaun Gladwell,” Frieze Magazine, 2012. Web.
12 Andy Dong, John Conomos and Brad Buckley, Ecologies of inventions (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 2013), 59.
13 Kaldor Public Art Projects, “Shaun Gladwell: Blue and White Linework Composition, Kaldor Public Art Projects, 2008”, 2013. Web.
14 Anne Kay, “Education Kit Video Art: Shaun Gladwell,” Museum Galleries of New South Wales, 2013. Web.
15 Christiane Paul, Digital Art (London: Thames & Hudson Limited, 2008), 67.
16 MCA, “Shaun Gladwell: Stereo Sequences,” Art & Australia 49, no. 2 (2011): 341.