Blind James (white) is a photograph of British-born Hollywood actor James Mason (1909-1984), from which Douglas Gordon has excised the eyes, thus creating a ‘blind’ portrait. The photograph is a black and white Hollywood publicity still of the actor, who starred in such films as Odd Man Out 1947, The Desert Fox 1951, A Star is Born 1954, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea 1954 and North by Northwest 1959. It shows Mason’s head and formally suited shoulders and chest in front of a blurred backdrop in which a large carved coat of arms may be distinguished. The actor’s blank white almond-shaped eyes contrast oddly with his urbane smile, conferring an uncanny and even sinister effect.
Blind James (white) is one of an on-going series of unique works in which Gordon ‘blinds’ such famous Hollywood actors as Cary Grant (1904-86), Kim Novak (b.1933), Bette Davis (1908-89), Jean Harlow (1911-37), Jane Russell (b.1921), Marlon Brando (1924-2004) and Paul Newman (b.1925).Gordon uses black and white or colour headshots of film stars, mainly in films from the 1950s and 60s, that he sources from film poster and photograph stores and the internet. He cuts out the stars’ eyes and mounts the image on white or black museum board or a mirror. Many stars feature more than once. To date the series comprises approximately two hundred works of the same size, framed in white, black or silver. One hundred of these (all those framed in black) are a complete set in the collection of the artist’s son, James Gray Gaskell Gordon. The artist is currently working on a series of larger format images.
Based in Glasgow and New York, Gordon works in various media including text, photographs, video and various types of installation. He has become best known for works made using existing film footage – both documentary and fictional – altering its pace, context or scale. A particular fascination with film noir has been one of the hallmarks of his oeuvre. For his most famous work, 24 Hour Psycho 1993 (Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg), he projected the thriller Psycho (1960), directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980), on two screens simultaneously at a speed so slow that all narrative continuity fell apart and the original sense of shock ceased to function. Similarly 10ms-1 1994 (T07276) and Déjà-Vu 2000 (T07782) use slowed-down film footage in multiple projections. Dualities such as darkness and light, positive and negative, and the tensions between good and evil feature prominently in Gordon’s work. For his Turner Prize exhibition at Tate in 1996, the artist displayed Confessions of a Justified Sinner 1995 (Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, Paris), based on the horror story related by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94) in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), in which a good man struggles with his evil alter-ego. Gordon’s video works A Divided Self I and II (1996), in which a hairy arm and a shaved arm grapple endlessly, are likewise concerned with a struggle between two opposing aspects of a single person.
Gordon has commented:
I try to take something familiar and look at it again, and again, and again, reexamining and re-presenting it ... looking at something familiar can act as a metaphor for all sorts of other things in your life. One way to look at something over and over again is to take it apart ... in an analytical, structural, quite academic fashion, or we can simply put one thing beside itself and see how they compare
(Quoted in Richards, p.223.)
In Blind James (white) Gordon uses a simple procedure – the excision of eyes – to re-present a familiar or iconic image – that of a film star. In this way he challenges the role of publicity photographs in presenting the famous film stars in a positive light. His excision emphasizes the mask-like nature of the stars’ roles as actors and icons, suggesting an unknowable double or alter-ego, hidden behind the attractive patina of the photograph or portrait.
Judith Olch Richards ed., Inside the Studio: Two Decades of Talks with Artists in New York, New York 2004, pp.223-5
Turner Prize 1996, exhibition brochure, Tate Gallery, London 1997, [pp.4-5]
Katrina M. Brown, Douglas Gordon, London 2004