John Latham
Observer IV 1960

Artwork details

John Latham 1921–2006
Observer IV
Date 1960
Medium Plaster, resin, books, wire, metal and spray paint on canvas and board
Dimensions Object: 2440 x 1830 x 380 mm
Acquisition Purchased 1983
Not on display

Display caption

Following 'The Burial of Count Orgaz' 1958 (also in this room), in 1959-60 Latham made four book reliefs. These comprise the 'Observer' series of which this is the final work. Like the other three reliefs, 'Observer IV' has a triangular composition. The three points forming this structure represent three kinds of 'observing persons' which Latham connects with the three brothers in Dostoevsky's novel 'The Brothers Karamazov'. He interprets the brothers as representing three states of existence and self-awareness. The three points in the work thus correspond with the brothers and, in turn, with the states that the brothers represent. The mass of material on the right relates to Mitya who signifies spontaneous experience and instinct. Mitya is connected by a tube to Ivan at the top of the canvas who signifies an intellectual state capable of observing the Mitya state. The small, wedge shape at bottom left is linked with Aloysha - independent of Mitya and Ivan and signifying a higher reflective level capable of observing the other two. Dostoevsky's novel informed Latham's view of the artist as an 'incidental person' who, like Aloysha, is an independent observer, reflecting and reaching insights through intuition. Latham has commented that the 'Observer' series 'isn't intended as allegory but as geometry (evenometry) of the three basic kinds of person.'

August 2004

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