Unprinted II 2006 is one of a set of three small rectangular photo-etchings mounted on grey paper, which depict silhouettes of women superimposed on top of each other against multi-layered backgrounds. The other works in the set, which are also owned by Tate, are Unprinted I 2005 (Tate P20288) and Unprinted III 2006 (P20290). The prints are largely made up of discrete blocks of colour, the tones of which vary where the layered images overlap. In the central portion of each image a number of silhouettes of women are layered over one another and some elements of their bodies – such as crossed legs and locks of hair – stand out in blocks of white, revealing that they are made from cut-out shapes rather than photographs. Each work offers partial and sometimes contradictory hints of a setting behind the women: Unprinted I includes a dim image of a wall with ridged rectangular shapes reminiscent of door panels or picture frames; Unprinted II features what appears to be flowered wallpaper and light filtering into a room through windows and blinds, while simultaneously showing an area of grass under the silhouetted women’s feet, suggesting that the figures are in fact outside; and the background in Unprinted III includes a wall with frame-like shapes on it overlaid with an image of a chain-link fence.
Unprinted II was made in 2006 by the British artist Angus Fairhurst. He derived the images in Unprinted I, Unprinted II and Unprinted III from magazines and the compositions of all three are reminiscent of the many collages that Fairhurst made in the 1990s and 2000s using a range of sources from popular culture, such as the 2004 series Three Double Pages from a Magazine, Body and Text Removed. A considerable number of these collages incorporated magazine pages with sections cut out of them in the shape of the images originally printed on them, which were then layered over each other so that fragments of the pages in the layered set could be seen through the cut-out holes of the sheets above. Fairhurst may have used a similar technique in the process of making Unprinted I, Unprinted II and Unprinted III, but rather than collages, these three were produced as photo-etchings, a method that involves applying a photo-sensitive coating onto an etching plate and exposing it to light, thus forming photographic images on the plate that can then be etched. Whereas Fairhurst’s collages retain the surface texture and tone of the original magazine pages, the etchings replace them with a complicated play of colour and light. The etchings are also much more spatially ambiguous than the collages because they do not feature any actual, physical shifts between layers, but simply suggest them through the use of colour.
By employing the deliberately contradictory term ‘unprinted’ in the titles of these works, Fairhurst emphasised the way in which he used them to experiment with negative spaces – with what is not printed in the scene rather than what is. In choosing to use the medium of photo-etching, Fairhurst distanced the magazine images even further from their sources, removing detail by fading, colouring and overlapping the images, and this removal of clarity adds further to the impression that the figures and scenes are not quite present, as though they have remained ‘unprinted’.
Unprinted I, Unprinted II and Unprinted III seem to invite reflection on media representations of the female body. The women in these works often wear high-heeled shoes and there is a strong emphasis on their wavy hairstyles, such that although much detail is lost through the act of cutting them out, they retain the appearance of magazine models. The art historian and curator James Cahill has argued that the techniques of removing and re-arranging images that Fairhurst used in this series and related works can be compared with ‘the process by which visual advertising itself selects, excises and dissimulates’ (James Cahill, ‘Infinite Possibility and Variety: Metaphor, Methodology and Influence in the Art of Angus Fairhurst’, in Craddock 2009, p.15). While designs in magazines and advertisements are often composed of images from a range of sources that are combined into a clear and seemingly unified picture, these works appear to demonstrate confusions and contradictions arising from this same process. Similarly, in 1995 Fairhurst suggested that his interest in emphasising the cut-out edges of images, rather than producing a seamless pictorial space, stemmed from a desire to reveal media techniques by showing ‘how something is made’, thereby ‘removing artifice, removing illusion’ (quoted in ‘Brilliant’: New Art From London, exhibition catalogue, Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis 1995, p.35).
Sacha Craddock and James Cahill, Angus Fairhurst, London 2009.
Krikey! Kentemporary Prints: Kent Print Collection 4th Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, Jarman Studio 3, University of Kent, Canterbury 2010, pp.28–9, reproduced p.28.
Supported by Christie’s.