Mat Collishaw is a key figure in the history of British contemporary art. He is one of the founders and leaders of the Young British Artists movement.
In 1988, at the Freeze exhibition in London, organized by his friend and classmate, Damien Hirst, Collishaw presented Bullet Hole, a Cibachrome piece mounted on fifteen light boxes. This work became Collishaw’s best known piece. At the exhibition, students of Goldsmiths’ College changed the trajectory of the development of Western European art, bringing an end to the “painting revival of the 80s” and turning the focus to everyday questions of society and the harsh realities of life. A new generation of artists emerged – the Young British Artists.
Illusion and desire are central themes in Mat Collishaw’s work, through which he questions and breaks down traditional perception of familiar images. Collishaw analyzes the influence of hidden mechanisms and visual techniques on the subconscious of the viewer. His work draws attention to the delicate balance between poetic romanticism and shocking, dark illusionism. The forbidden has always been a focus of Collishaw, “I am fueled by things in my past which were suppressed or held at a distance, which have generated some form of hunger to make my work.”
Collishaw often refers to the work of old masters. Most of his works contain references to historical themes and classical techniques of portraying nature, characteristic of the culture of a given era. Borrowed images are digitally processed and appear in a new interpretation of the relationship between representation and reality.
In Black Mirrors: St.Sebastian, Andromeda (2017), paintings by Niccolò Renieri and Vlaho Bukovac appear as ghosts in mirrors framed by black Murano glass. Animated figures come to life in a new form in front of the viewer, reproducing subjects of famous works and blurring the boundaries between the real world and the realm of classical painting.
Collishaw’s interest in the Victorian era is no coincidence: 19th century Britain viewed itself as a leader in scientific progress and empirical soberness. Referring to this period in his works, Collishaw imitates its ornamental, romantic style, but at the same time sheds light on society’s darker side, where base instincts are inherent in man regardless of the time period or of aesthetic or scientific advancement. His interest in this era is also associated with the study of the early Victorian technique used to create optical illusions. With the help of spectral projections, innovative photography techniques, and zoetropes invented in the early days of the Victorian era, Collishaw recreates effects that underlay pre-cinematic animation.
All Things Fall (2014), a piece created for an exhibition in the Borghese Gallery in Rome, brings life to the biblical story of the extermination of babies in Bethlehem and is a reference to the painting The Massacre of the Innocents by Ippolito Scarsella. The zoetrope includes 300 separate figures and it is programmed to rotate at 60 revolutions per minute with LED lamps synchronized to flash 18 times per second. The figures themselves remain motionless. Rapid changes of frames along with flashes of light create the illusion of movement, the effect of “moving pictures”. Art critic Waldemar Januszczak described the piece as “nothing less than a contemporary masterpiece”. It is an optical illusion that draws the viewer in and renews questions about the oldest social conflicts.
The Albion (2017) is a projection of the famous oak tree in Sherwood Forest, Nottingham, said to have sheltered Robin Hood. The trunk of the thousand-year-old tree began to die a few centuries ago and since Victorian times it has been supported by complex steel structures. With a laser scan and the “Pepper’s Ghost” technique, the projection of the oak appears as a living creature permanently captured by man to recreate the illusion of life. Gasconades (2017), a series of hyper-realistic paintings, continues this theme with images of garden birds, referring to the popular XVII century paintings of birds and animals by Carel Fabritius (The Goldfinch, 1654) and other works of Dutch masters.
“My desire is to show the viewer how the time in which we live affects our perception of the world around us. These days, it’s difficult to slow down and absorb imagery of the past. Over time, our perception of paintings changes, not only because they become iconic, but because the media around us has totally changed. We don’t generally stand around looking at a picture that’s not moving, because it’s not that interesting compared to what else is on offer. I’m trying to reintroduce the concept of time to these works, to prompt the viewer to look at each of them a little longer and thus immerse themselves in the history of each picture.”
Mat Collishaw’s works have been exhibited in numerous museums and public collections globally, including: Tate, London, Somerset House, London; Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, UK; Galleria Borghese, Rome; Pino Pascali Museum Foundation, Bari; Bass Museum of Art, Florida; Freud Museum, London; Galeria d’Arte Moderna, Bologna, Italy; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville, Paris; The Brooklyn Museum, New York; Museo di Roma, Rome; MNAC, Barcelona;Arter Foundation, Istanbul; British Council Collection, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, Torino; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; Museum of Old and New Art, New South Wales; Olbricht Collection, Berlin.