Untitled A, B, C and D
belong to a more extensive series of
photographs Sherman made while she was studying art at the State University College at Buffalo, New York (1972-6). She selected five images from the series and arbitrarily labelled them A to E. They were enlarged and reprinted in editions of ten. Tate’s copies are the first prints in each edition. Sherman has explained the origins of this Untitled series:
These images were from a series of head shots that I made to show the process of turning one character into another. At that time I was merely interested in the use of make-up on a face as paint used on a blank canvas. I was experimenting with several types of characters – i.e. starting with an old person who then gradually became a drag queen. While the original series showed the entire process (about fifty 3” x 5” photos), later I chose a smaller group to make into slightly larger separate pieces. I unintentionally shot them with a very narrow depth of field, leaving only certain parts of the face in focus, which gives some of the features [a] malleable quality.
(Quoted in Contemporary Art, p.98.)
Sherman initially studied painting at Buffalo, making self-portraits and realistic copies of images she found in magazines and photographs. She began using photography after being introduced to Conceptual art by a teacher who inspired her to bring her childhood activities and obsessions into her work. She has said that as a child she was introverted, adding that ‘as a girl I used to always enjoy dressing up and being made-up. A lot of girls might like to look like their moms, but I would try to look like a monster or an old lady. Maybe I could have been an actress.’ (Quoted in Paul Taylor, ‘Cindy Sherman’, Flash Art, no.124, Oct. – Nov. 1985, p.78.) In this series of images Sherman combined painting (on her face) with photographic portraiture, assuming the personae of three female characters of different ages and one male. Variations in hairstyle and the use of hats in two of the photographs are the only props used. Below the chin the artist is bare. Two pale lines running down from either side of her neck, the result of being in the sun in a halterneck top, are clearly visible in each image and emphasise the theatricality of the work.
The character in Untitled A wears a crocheted hat and has the most obvious make-up. Her dark eye-liner and lipstick, accompanied by heavy rouge just under her cheekbones to thin her face, suggest a woman in her thirties. Her submissive smile and the angle at which her head is tilted convey the sense of someone shy and anxious to please. The character in Untitled B, who is male, has joined-up eyebrows, and darkening under his eyes and chin and between his nose and mouth. For this image Sherman wore a cloth cap and pulled her chin into her neck to give the character a genial, comic air. The character in Untitled C has the least facial darkening. Her makeup mainly consists of thick mascara on her eyelashes, contributing to the wide-eyed innocent look she aims at the viewer from under her fringe. She appears only marginally older than the character in Untitled D, whose hair is held back with a pair of butterfly grips. For this pose Sherman darkened her face between the eyes, under the chin and in a line between her nose and the edges of her mouth. In all the images, Sherman has combined evident staging with the successful portrayal of a character type. This was later to become the artist’s signature technique, permitting her to evoke a wide range of emotional and thematic registers. Bus Riders 1976 (Tate P78495-508 and P78535) is a series of photographs Sherman made shortly after leaving college, before she moved to New York and made her famous series of Untitled Film Stills 1977-80 (Tate P11516-9).
Rochelle Steiner, Cindy Sherman, exhibition catalogue, Serpentine Gallery, London and Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh 2003, p.13, reproduced p.24
Amanda Cruz, Elizabeth A.T. Smith, Amelia Jones, Cindy Sherman: Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles 1997, p.197, reproduced [p.xii]
Monique Beudert, Sean Rainbird, Contemporary Art: The Janet Wolfson de Botton Gift, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1998, p.98, reproduced p.57
November 2000/September 2001