John Marriott is a multidisciplinary artist and writer whose prolific output demonstrates a vast knowledge of art history, cultural theory, and intellectual curiosity. An exhibiting artist for over 20 years, he approached the AGH in 2016 with an innovative proposal: to highlight historic portrait sculpture from the permanent collection in a way contrary to the typical rules of exhibition and display – shot in complete darkness and illuminated only by the ambient light from a cell phone. Mining the collection for intriguing sculptures, Marriott worked with this concept to identify the works as well as test various light sources until he achieved his desired effect. The result of his investigations are the 8 inkjet prints that comprise the series Play of Light, re-imaginings of naturalistic historical busts, now eerily exposed and illuminated. This series of photographs aptly describes his artistic approach, as in his own words, he strives to “design works that are critical, rigorous, playful and that offer(ed) layered readings and experiences.”
Consider for example, the image of Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux’s 19th century Bacchante with Roses (above), whose youthful face is dramatically emphasized from the front in a haze of blue light, the viewer’s sole focal point until the cell phone from which the light emanates proves itself as the potential source of her laughter. Marriott’s tongue-in-cheek presentation of the light source is typical of his working method by which he takes something familiar and purposefully makes it unfamiliar and new, playing with the viewer’s sense of recognition.
Not only is Play of Light a continuation of his tendency to repurpose the well-known, it also affords the idea of art history as something fluid, something to be reimagined for a modern time.
Play of Light is an innovative series due to its concept and its alliance between the modern (if not mundane) technology of the everyday, and the classical form of historic fine art. In his proposal for this project, Marriott wrote “as an artist my practice includes explorations of how art and context work together to create experiences for viewers.” These photographs are the direct evidence of that statement considering the multiple layers within each: the historical fine art object, the strange and unfamiliar light, the unexpected mobile device, as well as the ambiguous surroundings. Throughout his artistic career, Marriott is concerned with the viewers’ experience being an active one and enjoys flipping iconography on its head, to create something entirely new. Not only is Play of Light a continuation of his tendency to repurpose the well-known, it also affords the idea of art history as something fluid, something to be reimagined for a modern time.
Play of Light is the first work by John Marriott to enter the AGH permanent collection. While there is an obvious connection to the historical sculpture collection, this series skillfully joins works by other Canadian artists concerned with conceptual art, such as Les Levine, Iain Baxter&, Robert Downing and Eric Cameron. It also joins a particularly rich collection of contemporary photography, adding to work by Susan Kealey, April Hickox, Sorel Cohen, Suzy Lake, Stephen Shore, among others.
John Marriott (Canadian)
Play of Light 2018
series of 8 photographs after works in the AGH permanent collection
Epson pigment inkjet prints on archival Epson Premium Lustre paper
24.7 x 20.8”; 62.7 x 52.8 cm
Gift of the artist, 2018