Subterranean Blues at Mark Hix‘s CNB Gallery presents an exhibition of new photographs by the acclaimed British artist, Peter Newman.
The show is comprised of eight large-scale works that appear, at first glance, like planets suspended in a pitch-black universe. However, closer inspection reveals them to be depictions of city streets taken from the ground up. Dramatic and mesmerising in equal measure, they form part of Newman’s long-term ‘Metropoly’ project, which connects to earlier serial and typological photography, such as the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher, the German artists who methodically recorded the mechanical structures of the industrial age.
I had the chance to speak with Peter about his artistic practice and forthcoming exhibition.
How did you become involved in creating art / was there a specific moment that you decided to pursue it as a career?
I always loved drawing. I remember early at school people commenting on drawings I did. Later I was lucky to have two very inspiring teachers who really encouraged me. They gave me the keys to the art department, so I could make things on the weekend. They also made me see a significance in artwork as a way of looking at the world. I was probably about 14 or 15 when I decided that’s what I wanted to do.
Your upcoming exhibition comprises eight large-scale works that form part of your long-term ’Metropoly’ project; how did this project begin and how has it evolved?
The project came out of a previous series of work. I was making paintings of airplane trails. For source material, I’d take lots of photographs of the sky. As I live in the city, these would often have bits of building at the edges. I started to be interested in these quite abstract shapes and how they were shaping the sky. So I gradually took wider and wider angled photographs and started to investigate the optics that could capture everything overhead. It then became interesting to record the architecture of different cities. I became very aware of how this is a constantly shifting view as well as an accumulation of what’s been made up to now.
The panoptic nature of the lens you use was originally invented for astronomy; in relation to your work how important is the role of the sky and our relationship to what’s above?
It seems very appropriate the lens has that history. Partly as the project came from a previous sky-based series of work. Even though now it might seem more about the architectural landscape. But I think of cities as like an aperture themselves. The buildings are both a literal representation of what has come before, but also a metaphor for other kinds of constructs, and frame a view of everything that is outside of where we are. I think the sky represents the future.
At first glance the works appear like planets suspended in a pitch-black universe, in some ways reminiscent of Image AS8-14-2383 taken by the astronaut William Anders during the Apollo 8 mission in 1968; to what extent does the Cosmos play a part in your artistic thinking?
I enjoy the irony of using a lens meant for recording the cosmos now producing images of the earth as a series of self contained worlds. I think it’s probably hard to overstate the significance of the Anders photograph in terms of the way it shifted our perception of the world. And yet I’m of a generation that has grown up with an image of our world from the outside. To have some of that mirror like quality in a photograph is something to aspire to.
While the photographs are predominantly urban, an intriguing counterpoint is created in two of the eight works – one of an ancient redwood forest in California, and the other of the Eden Project in Cornwall – how do you feel the urban, man-made, and ‘nature’ correspond?
I think I’m always looking for some kind of composition or balance. Whether it’s between the buildings or how they combine with natural elements. We recently crossed the point where the majority of the world’s population now lives in the city. And the urban expansion is likely to continue. I myself have lived most of my life in the city. I include the Redwood forest photograph in the show as I think it introduces the idea of time. It could have been taken at any time, and shows a world that existed before human history. So perhaps it’s a contrast against which the cities can be viewed. And yet it’s also intricately linked to architecture. The trees are ready made columns and a fundamental material for construction. I like the Eden Project as it’s represents a view that is both futuristic and celebrating the natural world. But it also reminds me of the film Silent Running, and connects to how science fiction is often warning of the impending decline of the natural world and the need to build structures to sustain life. So as a photograph it pulls in two directions.
Have you got any future projects / plans lined up?
I’m releasing some time-lapse video works called the ‘Dial’ series on Sedition, the online art portal. They’re a development from the ‘Metropoly’ photographs, but depict a 220 degree view, that includes the activity at street level. Which is why it made sense for them to be moving image works. I’ve just installed a permanent Skystation sculpture in Nine Elms, London. This is an interactive sculpture to lie on and look upwards. And I’m now working on a couple of projects to place it in different cities in the future.
– Harry Dougall
Peter Newman, Subterranean Blues is on view at CNB Gallery, 24th November, 2015 – 14th February, 2016, 32 Rivington Street London EC2A 3LX, Admission: FREE