Ovenden, Graham. (5 of 5). Oral History of British Photography

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    BL, London, United Kingdom

  • Interviewees

    Ovenden, Graham 1943- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lau, Grace (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 5. Graham Ovenden (GO) has love/hate relationship with Bacon. Bacon's anguish is eloquently stated, he is unique. He belongs to the cult of ugliness; there is no illuminosity in his art. Ref. Rembrandt: even the dark has to have great depth, he etches deep into the dark. Bacon's personal experience is a carnal act, and sexual art. Not an ecstatic art; his own interpretation, viciousness. GO comments on commercial, fashion photography. His collection of old music records. Believes fashion is the process of the loss of innocence: "because what is instant and shiny must become tawdry and tardy." He never takes advantage of the commercial market because photography is very personal. He is delighted when he sells his paintings. GO criticises the Royal Photographic Society as amateurish, trustees being "totally incompetent, and should be shot" because they have a great photographic collection but can't make it work. Bradford is "a wonderful idea that's been totally ballsed up by egoes". He is not so critical of the V&A whose main problem is lack of funds. National Portrait Gallery is a classic example of bad organisation and missed a major opportunity at the 100th anniversary of Lewis Carroll with their only average show. GO is equally critical of major American and European museums where tenth rate material have been given the exposure of great art. Germans and Japanese are more professional. The Serpentine lacks humanity and intellectual sophistication, promotes bad art. He believes that for the health of art, the best thing is to close every single art museum and gallery for the next twenty years, level it all down, then leave it to regenerate itself. Art will always continue. GO talks about digital and computer imagery, can be wonderful tool, ability to knit images together seamlessly. Explains how he can produce a pencil drawing which, when photographed, looks exactly like a photographic print. It relates to draughtsmanship, tonality and structure. Because of his eyesight, he doen't do it now, feels he can match Durer and Picacco's drawings in pure technical aptitude. It's a type of surrealism, a double-take. GO is now fluent in the computer graphic processes, uses his own imagery. Has about 700 prints. Working on set based on the angel and demon theme which is a combination of imagery and poems; not pornography but on the edge. Comments on his published books: "they are not just fragments of paper, they are works of art so treat them with that degree of respect and dignity and enjoy them". He loves looking at rude Victorian photos as much as French landscapes, loves looking at people, their foibles, their elegance; "I'm an enthusiaste for life." Art is like a pandoras box; lots of strange and dark things come out. GO comments on inkjet printing that has a pure and aesthetic quality whereas modern plastic printing papers are appalling. He uses 'Archers 300 gsm paper: "results are velvety and absolutely yummy." He moulds his artwork or photograph together with total integrity, so you ask am I looking at a drawing or a photograph? Its a combination of tradition and the most advanced form of printing. Photography and painting run parallel for him, his emotive response is always there, towards landscape or the girl child. "I don't look on myself as a photographic historian, I'm a total dilitante who loves photography and communicates to an audience. Photography is above all, about pictures not about words; its a visual communication." GO criticises "the whole structure built up by critics and art historians is total tautology; its repeating prejudices and opinions of the critics concerned." Refers to Brian Sewell who knows a certain aspect of art but is also a fool, a complete court jester who understands nothing of modernism. Talks about great period of modernism from 1915-1925; John Heartfield, Moholy-Nagy, Erte's fashion designs, Art Deco. Refers to Hirst and Tracy Emin phenomenon, 'dirty secrets', and retrogressive. "They think they are at the cutting edge of art but its the last thing they are because the cutting edge of art has never been with the Establishment." Refers to William Blake as a 'quaint old-fashioned eccentric, totally barmy as far as the art establishment is concerned.' GO thinks that immediately any major establishment claims to be avant-garde, view it with suspicion: "they make the mistake of being the circus show itself rather than the viewer of the circus." GO makes brief comments about Sally Mann, Tobias Golding, Hamish Fulton, Richard Long. Approves of 1930s American photography, e.g. Dorothea Lange. His income is from selling his paintings. Can't afford to buy photographs but swops pictures with other artists. Refers to political correctness making it impossible to photograph children at any level, clothed or unclothed; puts parents and child in great danger. A case of officialdom acting like the perverts rather than the protectors. History will show its a period when the Western world goes mad, one of the dark periods. The average person is neutral, influenced by tabloid mentality. Editors are like the Nazis; they are corruptors of children's minds. Quotes 'Aunt Glady's principle on art: never use the word "like" which is insulting. "I'd say this ennobles your soul." "So art has all the stratifications of nobility and spirituality, but it can also be a pet pig as well." (refers to a poem with music composed by Heinman (?) for his pet pig). END

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