PRESS RELEASE: GLENN IBBITSON CONSIGNMENT
“Consignment” is an ongoing multi-media project comprising paintings, prints and film. The work developed from an initial theme of escapology into a meditation on the contemporary social and political environment. The composition of the figure physically enclosed within the confines of the frame, was chosen for its symbolic potentiality; it suggests simultaneously both penal cell or hiding place and refuge. It is deployed here as a visual metaphor for the individual as the object of:
1 political oppression; the suspension of human liberties and the enforced submission of the individual.
2 human trafficking: referencing the high risk strategies employed in acts of global transmigration, either voluntary or coerced, and those situations into which people are willing to place themselves and/or others, in the [often vain] hope of improving their economic circumstances.
The paintings and prints are all square in format, with dimensions ranging from 8cm to 92cm, and have all been painted and designed to hang any way up.”
The project has been constructed from multiple series of works which share the same dimensions, medium and specific colour range. These groups are designated a batch number, comprising individual pieces or units which are numbered individually. They are file numbered, rather than given titles. This dispassionate system is employed to emphasise the objectification of the subject matter, where humanity is reduced to mere commodity.
All works are exhibited with their batch and unit reference, complete with barcode.
The short film: “Consignment”, accompanies the exhibition and has a running time of about 5 minutes.
Batch 35 units 1-2 oil on panel
Batch 31 units 1-5 oil on canvas
Western Mail Oct 28 2011
An unsettling new exhibition tackles themes of human confinement and trafficking. Artist Glenn Ibbitson speaks to Jenny White about his work
BEARING dispassionate numbers instead of titles, the paintings inside the Tenby gallery depict human figures contorted into wooden crates.
Naked, their faces turned away from the viewer, these are people stripped of their identities and treated as goods.
“I didn’t want to get into lyrical titling,” says Glenn Ibbitson, explaining the use of numbers on his work. “I wanted the figures to be objectified.”
The unsettling effect is intensified by a short film, in which shots of a confined human figure (actually Ibbitson himself) are interspersed with brooding night time footage of a tollbridge crossing. Aside from the show’s title – Consignment – there is no suggestion of how it should be interpreted, but you’re left with the uneasy sense that the figure in the film – indeed all the figures in the exhibition – are human contraband.
Besides the life-size images, other works in the show include smaller monotype prints, small acrylic paintings and watercolours – and in every case viewers are left to draw their own conclusions about their significance.
“One of the things I don’t like about contemporary art is those really verbose press releases that say things like, ‘The work seeks to address…’,” says Ibbitson. “It turns the public off and it’s the public I really want to communicate with. There’s no magical alchemy about being an artist, it’s a profession like any other. If we fail to communicate visually without needing to resort to mass verbiage the work’s a failure as far as I’m concerned.”
Ibbitson has been working on Consignment on and off for a number of years. It sprang, quite unexpectedly, from a project on circus performers.
“The next painting in the series was going to be an escapologist, so I constructed a crate with a view to doing some photographs while I was posing inside it, but as soon as I got into it the whole mood changed. Physically I felt really constricted because it was about three feet cubed. I’d never felt that claustrophobic before – and I knew I could get out at any time. It became quite easy to understand why certain techniques can be classed as torture.”
The large scale of the paintings makes it easier to empathise with the boxed figures. Ibbitson’s ability to create such compelling life sized images owes a lot to his artistic background. Trained at Harrogate College of Art and then Hull College of Art, he went on to work as a set painter for the BBC in London.
“The scenic art was the education I never got at art college,” he says. “It gave me first rate visual training and a salary and I learnt to work to deadlines, on a variety of scales and in a wide range of styles. My experiences there have continued to feed into my painting practice.”
Now based in the countryside just outside Newcastle Emlyn, he works in a farm outbuilding that gives him the space to paint big pictures. Having previously worked on canvases 18ft x 60ft for the BBC, he finds large-scale painting comes naturally. He usually keeps his palette several paces back from his canvas, so that he has to keep stepping away to assess his work from a distance.
“This means that the paint remains quite loose close up but the details that I need fall into place at viewing distance,” he explains.
Where possible, he paints from life, often calling on his partner, the artist and printmaker Carole King, to act as his model. But with Consignment, he realised he would be asking too much to ask a model to crouch in a box for long periods of time – so he did it himself, filming his movements from above and using stills to help him create the paintings.
This kind of inventive and uncompromising approach is typical of Ibbitson, who chooses his themes based on gut feeling and follows them wholeheartedly.
“It’s always something that strikes a chord with me personally,” he says. “I’m not a crusading kind of artist but if something sticks, I have to paint about it. It’s completely intuitive.”
Crucially, he allows himself to follow that gut feeling with no concern for his potential audience or for the commercial viability of the work. Just as his country home is pleasantly isolated, so is his position in relation to the rest of the art world. And he wants to keep it that way.
“I think the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that distance from the contemporary art scene is no bad thing,” he says. “Because I have never had a high profile, I do not need to serve up a specific product for a particular market, and there is no obligation to follow trends. This means I am able to keep my options open. I am able to step from one project to the next in any medium I choose. I work on things I can believe in, not on work I am obliged to produce.”
Batch 26 units 1-5 drypoint prints
Catalogue available through Nant Publishing: ISBN 978-0-9563567-2-79
Consignment at Tregwynt Mansion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2qjzq39qHA
Interview with Gaynor McMorrin at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKeX38Cos2w [filmed by G. McMorrin]