I met Michael Graf back in about 1984 (although he will probably correct me on this as he has a very precise memory for dates, even other people’s dates). And talking about precision leads very conveniently to the topic of this post – Michael’s current exhibition, The Greenwood Street Projects.
It was a one day only affair, this Sunday just gone, hung in two rooms - horizontal continuous panels folding around the three sided spaces. Michael’s work has for some time now focused on painting pages of photocopies from books. Usually the photocopies are skewed, often with the blackened edge showing where the book had slipped partially out of position on the photocopier. He paints repetitive series which take the same page and move the image around on the photocopier, resulting in different composition. From a distance his paintings can look like digital images – literally photocopies mounted on a canvas board. On closer inspection however, it becomes evident that it is a painting that it has been meticulously and lovingly painted. There is, therefore, that moment of wonder when the discovery is made - a work of art, which only moments ago was just a throw away photocopy.
In this current series, there is an overlying grid of pencil lines; the artist’s cartoon gridlines, traditionally used on large paintings or frescoes to ensure that the original drawing was accurately transferred to the wall. I like the idea that this traditional grid also reflects the lines found on a photocopier. In the first room, there is a series of images which focus on four pages placed one on top of the another. Each consecutive painting then takes the top page and places in underneath. It is a never ending circular series which starts back at the place it began.
Knowing that Michael works in a library has me thinking of those piles of discarded photocopy sheets one finds to the right hand side of photocopiers. The sheet is discarded because the original was not precisely placed in position on the photocopier. I picture Michael gathering these sheets, (especially the ones where it has taken the user five tries before they succeed in finding the correct position). What stated out as sloppy and lacking in precision -a result of impatience and a hurried way of life, is then transformed slowly and meticulously into a work of art. It almost makes up for the forests destroyed by impatience.
A couple of months ago, I had a lovely evening meal at Michael’s flat. The Bernstein with Mitropoulospanels were propped against the wall on the other side of the room as we ate. Over the course of the evening, I observed the paintings, comparing each to the other, marvelling at the precise detailing of the Pied-de-poule fabric just visible beneath Mitropoulos’ jacket. Towards the end of the evening, it was the differences between the images that were most apparent, not the similarities. My eye had adjusted to the detail and noted that there were in fact each unique, individual works of art and not identical at all. There’s a whole layering of concentration that these paintings ask of the viewer, which involves giving them time and patience. I love that paintings which are all about precision will always be lacking in perfection because of the human hand, no matter how skilled and patient it is.
Imagine a world where there was only the photocopier, and our impatience.
For more photgraphs of this exhibition, see Julia Ritson’s website gallery