This week’s studio session involved selecting and sharing the work of an artist that inspires my own practice. In even approaching this process, a whole series of questions came to mind. My first instinct was to reach for the bookcase, which perhaps not surprisingly led me time and time again to select books by photographers – almost exclusively of the social documentary variety: Diane Arbus, Daido Moriyama, Larry Clark, Nan Goldin, Nobuyoshi Araki and Slava Mogutin, among many, many others.
Each time I selected a photographer or particular series, convinced of its importance to me, and therefore presumably my work, I realised it was pleasure and not inspiration I was drawing from it. Though interested in the seemingly no-holds-barred approach of the likes of Mogutin, Golin and Araki, or the eye of Diane Arbus that seems to pick out the most peculiar of subjects and simultaneously humanise and dehumanise them, I couldn’t define how their actual practice informs my own, though I obviously do take away much from each of them, if only in the sense that I see myself as a detached perspective, an outsider in the literal sense trying to make sense of, and in some cases manipulate, a world that I don’t fully fit into and that seems to not fit me.
Essentially, this is a rather long way of explaining my choice to share the work of Barbara Kruger, someone who seemed obvious to me, but perhaps that’s the point. Beginning her ‘creative career’ in advertising and magazine publishing – not a far cry from how I’ve found myself paying the bills – I’ve taken much inspiration from her approach, both literally and as a vague kind of sense of encouragement.
Utilising the language – both actual linguistic and visual – of the world in which she cut her professional teeth, and subverting that language, Kruger places her works into the context of the everyday, allowing its message to land feet first into the world of mere muggles and raise questions, make comment and point the finger. She is unapologetic not only of her love for so-called “low” art, the art of popular culture, but of her understanding of its power to influence – and her will to use it to do just that. She always had an agenda – be it political or social – and she approached it head on and in the most-direct way she could, speaking to the viewer instead of at him.
This direct approach extended beyond her visual works into a series of essays and articles written by the artist throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s, which provide a scathing of modern life, executed with a sharp conversational tone, and often with a sense of humour, touching on subjects from sex and gender to power and death, all of which could be transported almost word-for-word to describe contemporary life.