James Pyman

On the Sound


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
James Pyman born 1962
Lithograph on paper
Unconfirmed: 210 × 260 mm
Purchased 2000


On the Sound is one of twenty works produced by contemporary artists for the Cubitt Print Box in 2000. Cubitt is an artist-run gallery and studio complex in north London. In 2001 the complex moved from King’s Cross to Islington and the prints were commissioned as part of a drive to raise funds to help finance the move, and to support future exhibitions and events at the new gallery space. All the artists who contributed to the project had previously taken part in Cubitt’s programme. The portfolio was produced in an edition of 100 with twenty artists’ proofs; Tate’s copy is number sixty-six in the series.

Pyman’s print is a lithograph of a black and white Kodak contact sheet showing twenty-four small positive images. Rather than photographic images, however, each of the individual frames displays the reproduction of a drawing. The drawings all depict a landing strip at an airport seen from the same low perspective. Each of the frames shows a slightly different scene. They read from left to right and top to bottom following the numerical markers on the film strip, creating the impression of an animated film or flipbook.

In the foreground of each image is a field with long billowing grass. On the left a T-shaped control tower is highlighted against an overcast sky. An airplane facing the viewer in the middle distance takes off, moving higher and growing larger frame by frame until it eventually disappears out of the top of the image in the seventeenth frame. As it does so, another airplane comes in to land from the far distance, taking up the former position of the first plane on the ground. This second plane continues to trace the steps of the first, ascending towards the viewer and continuing a loop that could go on ad infinitum. As the images progress, another airplane taxis slowly across the frames horizontally from left to right, passing behind the control tower and in front of a perimeter fence that divides the field of grass from the airport. A flock of birds emerges from the left side of the image and flies in a diagonal direction up and to the right, gradually getting smaller as they head toward the horizon.

This print emphasises the contrast between stasis and movement. Although reading the individual frames consecutively gives the impression of dynamism, the images themselves are static, demonstrating the extent to which the appearance of movement in still images is produced mentally.

Pyman is best known as a draughtsman; he won the Pizza Express Prospects Contemporary Drawing Prize in 2003. In the mid 1990s he produced a series of comic books entitled Nine Panel Grid. These magazines, which include semi-autobiographical stories, all adhere to a tight formal grid of three by three frames per page. On the Sound has a similar aesthetic to the back pages of these magazines, which are illustrated with repeated images of everyday scenes with subtle shifts between the panels.

Further reading:
Todd VerBeek, ‘Nine Panel Grid’, Beek’s Books, www.rzero.com/books/NinePanelGrid.html.
Maev Kennedy, ‘Award takes art back to basics, Guardian, 9 May 2003, www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,952254,00.html

Rachel Taylor
April 2004

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