John Latham

Film Star


Not on display

John Latham 1921–2006
Books, plaster and metal on canvas
Object: 1600 × 1981 × 228 mm
Purchased 1966

Display caption

This work was titled ‘Film Star’ because it appeared in Latham’s film Unedited Material from the Star. It incorporates books whose pages have been painted in 12 colours. Because the books can be opened at different pages, the work exists in different states. The film consists of a series of shots of the opened books so that they seem to be animated and appear suddenly to open, close and change colour.

Gallery label, September 2016

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Catalogue entry

John Latham 1921-2006

T00854 Film Star 1960

Not inscribed.
Assemblage, principally of books, plaster and metal on canvas, 63 x 78 x 9 (160 x 198 x 23).
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1966.
Exh. Galerie Internationale d’Art Contemporain, Paris, April 1962 (no numbers); Foired’Art Contemporain, Petit Palais, Paris 1963 (no numbers); Galerie d’Aujourd’hui, Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels, October 1964 (no numbers).

The pages of the books are painted each with a range of 12 colours. By turning the pages the distribution of the colours can be changed. The artist wrote (May 1967) that ‘Film Star’ ‘was made in 1960... with a film in mind. The film is used as part of an action, 1966, and has been shown in Düsseldorf and Amsterdam as well as Paris and London (Mercury Theatre, 23 and 30 September 1966)... This was an interesting thing to have made because of the introduction of a new event group, like movement in serial time... Also as interior decoration-how long does it take to get “used” to ? Change of state after a week or two is a very distinct energiser, and makes one look again with a fresh eye. This can go on indefinitely through cycle after cycle - or so it seemed to me when I had it on the wall.’

He also said in conversation that the title refers both to the fact that the assemblage was made for a film and because it contains female symbols. The film lasts for ten minutes; there is no lateral movement but the colours are changed in rapid tempi. The ‘action’ referred to comprised two figures, male and female, painted black and red and dressed in printed paper, books and paper-covered balloons with large headpieces. Black makes orderly and Red disorderly movements about the stage after the film ends and the two of them mutually tear off books and papers until one or both are nearly nude, when one decapitates the other and the film begins again (Documentation provided by the artist).

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1966–1967, London 1967.


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