Keith Arnatt

Portrait of the artist as a shadow of his former self


Not on display

Keith Arnatt 1930–2008
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Image: 605 × 665 mm
Transferred from Tate Archive 2010


Portrait of the artist as a shadow of his former self 1969–72 uses the cast shadow to question accepted limits of photographic veracity, while also offering a portrayal of the disappeared or absent artist and the trace that he might leave behind. Arnatt has commented: ‘I was beginning to become aware of the unreliability of photographic evidence and began to play with that feature. I felt that what a photograph could not tell or show might be just as significant as what it could.’ (Quoted in John Roberts, The Impossible Document: Photography and Conceptual Art in Britain 1966–1976, London 1997, p.47.) For this work (a black and white variant of the colour work of the same title, Tate T07647), Arnatt stood on the pavement at the door to the Newport College Art department while a colleague drew a chalk line around the shadow he cast on the pavement and the wall behind. The silhouette was filled in with semi-transparent grey-brown paint and the scene was photographed. The resulting image depicts an anamorphically distorted figure positioned as though it is standing on the pavement. It is pictured as an image of a shadow among other, real shadows, revealing the trace of a now absent figure, fixing in time that which is ephemeral and fleeting.

This is one of a group of works which were exhibited, or intended to be exhibited in Keith Arnatt’s participation in Seven Exhibitions at the Tate Gallery, London in 1972. Other works from this group are Invisible Hole Revealed by the Shadow of the Artist 1968 (Tate P13145), Art as an Act of Retraction 1971 (Tate P13140), Art as an Act of Omission 1971 (Tate P13144), I Have Decided to Go to the Tate Gallery next Friday 1971 (Tate P13142) and Rejected Proposal for the Peter Stuyvesant ‘City Sculpture Project’ (For Cardiff City) 1972 (Tate P13141). In their range they illustrate the move in Arnatt’s work from the making of situational sculptures to a documentation of performative acts that question – through a linking of philosophical text with image – the status of art and the role and identity of the artist, whom Arnatt shows to be in different states of disappearance. This group of work was presented by the artist to Tate Gallery Archive in 1972 and transferred to the collection in 2010.

Further reading
Seven Exhibitions, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1972.
The New Art, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 1972.
I’m a Real Photographer: Keith Arnatt Photographs 1974–2002, exhibition catalogue, Photographer’s Gallery, London 2007.

Andrew Wilson
May 2010

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