Michael Raedecker



Not on display

Michael Raedecker born 1963
Oil paint, acrylic paint, wool and cotton thread on canvas
Support: 1575 × 2032 × 45 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Gytha Trust 1999


This is a large beige-coloured painting of a section of landscape. It is dominated by an area of horizontally stitched threads, set within a flattened, roughly oval shape, representing a pool of water. The threads range in colour from a light greenish-beige at the bottom, through tonal gradations of greyish browns, to a darker greenish brown at the top. A ridge, created by a line of wool covered in paint, delineates the outline of the pool. The threads were stitched into the canvas over a layer of poured paint, the same beige as the background, into which lines following the contours of the outline had been scratched. On the right side of the painting the pool is flanked by a convoluted rock-like form in shades of grey paint. Its shape suggests perspectival space, in keeping with the flattened form of the pool. The rock’s shadow is indicated by a narrow margin of horizontal grey threads echoing those of the water pool. A narrow strip of rock has been painted at the bottom left of the painting. In the foreground above this, green and white stitched threads depict stunted flowers. Although monotone, the painting’s ground is textured with scratches and odd bits of thread or fibre incorporated into the paint. Raedecker has been making paintings incorporating thread since 1993. He has explained:

Working with thread is something that’s become my technique. Using it is sometimes quite elaborate ... I think of it like building ... memory from the recollection of influences from the past, in the present, maybe even building the future. I think if I had embroidered the whole image then I would go too far, it would really be too much like craft or folk art ... there are certain details which are important so they deserve more work and more detail. Others are empty. There are things happening on the surface of the overall image which hopefully make your eye float around the image ... I always try to find different means for how to use thread ... I don’t fill everything in. I leave room for the viewer to step into the image.

(Quoted in Die Young Stay Pretty [p.42].)

Raedecker’s paintings typically depict landscapes and modern interiors, always eerily devoid of humans or animals. His colours are muted and cool in tone – blues, greens, greys, browns, beige and white. To make a painting, Raedecker alternately suspends the canvas vertically in space, allowing him to pass threads through it with ease, and lays it down flat in order to paint on it. Dilute acrylic is applied in thin washes or, in a thicker state, is poured, creating organic pools and blobs. The drying process of the poured paint creates unpredictable effects, which the artist enjoys. Stitched threads and scattered fibres matt into layers of the paint and emerge from it. Natural and synthetic yarns and fibres are mixed with such decorative elements as sequins and, occasionally as in overnight (Tate T07515), narrow strips of wood veneer of the type used to cover the surface of furniture and panelling. The paintings convey moods ranging from melancholy to the vaguely sinister. Their restrained colours and at times desolate emptiness contrast with the tactility of the materials, resulting in an enigmatic sense of unease.

Raedecker grew up in suburban Holland watching American television series featuring middle-class suburban American families. While these suburban worlds were an early source for the scenarios depicted in his paintings, Raedecker believes that in more recent work they provide the formal structure for him to express ‘how I experience life’ (quoted from an unpublished conversation with the artist, 10th March 2000). Although buildings in his paintings are accurately delineated according to perspectival rules, the landscape is often viewed from strange angles, creating unreal, dream-like spaces. The horizon is usually absent and, although carefully delineated shadows indicate that light falls, its source is never apparent. With its predominantly beige and grey tones, the landscape portrayed in spot appears to be decaying, an industrial wasteland or some other abandoned site. Its title may be read as subverting the notion of a pleasant ‘spot’ in the landscape which, in this instance, is a muddy grey area representing a large ‘spot’ of possibly polluted water.

Raedecker specifies that his titles should be all lower case letters because for him, a title is ‘just a word’ associated with the image of the painting (quoted from an unpublished conversation with the artist, 16th October 2002), rather than a proper name.

Further reading:
Die Young Stay Pretty, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London 1998, pp.7,8 and 42-5, reproduced (colour) p.45
Michael Raedecker: extract, exhibition catalogue, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven 1999, reproduced (colour) p.13
Turner Prize 2000, exhibition brochure, Tate Britain 2000, [pp.8-9]

Elizabeth Manchester
August 2002

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Display caption

Raedecker incorporates thread into his paintings, using various methods to apply it to the canvas and exploring the different visual effects these can create. Raedecker’s images appear familiar but dreamlike, and are often derived from photography, television or film. spot depicts a desolate landscape. The painting balances elaborately worked motifs with apparently vacant areas of canvas. ‘There are things happening on the surface... which hopefully make your eye float around the image’, the artist has said. ‘I don’t fill everything in. I leave room for the viewer to step into the image’.

Gallery label, September 2008

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Technique and condition

The painting was executed on a single piece of medium-weight, slightly open weave, commercially primed linen canvas that is stretched around its original softwood expandable stretcher and attached with wire staples at the rear. The commercial white priming has been analysed as an acrylic emulsion gesso material and exists as a reasonably thin and even covering through which the canvas texture remains very evident. The back of the linen was sealed by the artist with an unpigmented acrylic emulsion 'size'.

The image is created with acrylic and oil paint, and cotton and wool threads, although the precise order of execution of paint / thread application is not entirely clear. However, an overall 'imprimatura' layer of grey acrylic emulsion paint was probably first applied over the entire canvas. This is a thin pinkish grey colour and was probably watered down slightly before application. Further paint layers were then applied, interspersed with the positioning of some of the cotton threads. For example, the outline of the spot shape consists of threads that have been painted over with (and held in place by) the grey acrylic paint. Once the overall paint application had been completed, the two 'organic' grey / white forms along bottom and right edges were created with much thicker acrylic paint, which appears to have been poured onto the canvas with the painting in a horizontal position. The paint in these areas is very smooth and exhibits wet-in-wet blending and a few areas of bubbles. The 'spot' shape was then created with cotton thread in a range of blue hues and was presumably threaded through the canvas with a needle. The flowers in the foreground were probably the last feature to be added. The petals consist of oil paint that was squeezed directly from their tubes at the back of the canvas, through holes that were punctured in it. The paint has dried in twists and curls on the front. The green stems of wool were probably added last, once the oil paint had (at least partially) dried. The painting is not varnished.

The painting is currently in excellent condition. Providing the appropriate level of care is taken when handling or displaying the work (the threads in particular are very vulnerable to being snagged etc), the painting should remain in good condition. This includes the use of a barrier when on display. The main concern with this work is that the light resistance of the threads is not known. Fading tests are currently being carried out in the scientific section of Tate's conservation department, but an overall lowering of light levels would be beneficial.

Tom Learner
June 2000

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