These photographs mark a new direction in Wall’s work into the arena of still life, and show him exploring the interface between representation and abstraction.

An Octopus 1990, Some Beans 1990

These two images are identical except for the pile of beans in one of them and the octopus in the other. The strong lighting and deep shadows create a mood of privacy, even secrecy, accentuated by the setting, which appears to be a cellar. Both beans and octopus seem out of place on the worn and mismatched tables. A pair of pictures naturally invites comparison, but here the rules for doing so are left undefined. Wall considers these works to mark a new direction, one that allows for greater uncertainty in the meanings of his pictures.

Jeff Wall An Octopus 1990

Jeff Wall
An Octopus
1990
Transparency in lightbox 1820 x 2290 mm
Cinematographic photograph

Collection Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris
© The artist

Jeff Wall Some Beans 1990

Jeff Wall
Some Beans
1990
Transparency in lightbox 1820 x 2290 mm
Cinematographic photograph

Goetz Collection, Munich
© The artist

Diagonal Composition

The works entitled Diagonal Composition continue Wall’s exploration of the still-life genre, but in this case draw inspiration from early twentieth-century art, particularly the abstract images of artists such as El Lissitzky, Theo van Doesburg, and Alexander Rodchenko, whose paintings typically comprised grids of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines.

Documentary-style photographs of old, neglected spaces and cleaning areas are an ongoing theme in Wall’s work. These discovered scenes focus attention on the ordinary and overlooked, or as Wall puts it, on ‘the unattributed, anonymous poetry of the world’. At a formal level they echo the interlocking lines and bands of colour employed by the early pioneers of abstract art, but they also invite a social reading. Capturing the long passage of time that has scarred and degraded these surfaces, they evoke traces of lives lived by unknown inhabitants.

Jeff Wall Diagonal Composition 1993

Jeff Wall
Diagonal Composition
1993
Transparency in lightbox 400 x 460 mm
Documentary photograph

Purchased from Marian Goodman Gallery, New York (General Funds) 2003
© The artist

Jeff Wall Diagonal Composition No. 2 1998

Jeff Wall
Diagonal Composition No. 2
1998
Transparency in lightbox 525 x 640 mm
Documentary photograph

Collection of the artist. Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery, New York
© The artist