Adrian Wiszniewski

Chez Nous

1987

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Not on display

Artist
Adrian Wiszniewski born 1958
Medium
Woodcut on paper
Dimensions
Image: 2335 x 1773 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1987
Reference
P77194

Catalogue entry

P77194 Chez Nous 1987

Woodcut 2335 × 1773 (92 × 69 7/8) on four sheets of Somerset paper each approx. 1200 × 910 (47 1/4 × 35 7/8); overall size 2400 × 1823 (94 1/4 × 71 3/4); printed by John Macaechnie, Glasgow Print Studio and published by Glasgow Print Studio in an edition of 25
Inscribed ‘Adrian Wiszniewski 16/05/87’ below image b.r., ‘“Chez Nous”’ below image bottom centre and ‘7/25’ below image b.l.; image includes words ‘Chez Nous’ bottom centre
Purchased from Nigel Greenwood Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1987
Lit: Alex Kidson, Adrian Wiszniewski, exh. cat., Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool 1987, pp.38–9, repr. p.39

P77194 depicts an imagined family scene, with a father seated and reading a book (centre), a girl (centre left) and a boy seated on the floor (bottom right). The wood-cut was printed from four large boards, each one inked in a different colour: top left in black, top right in green, bottom left in blue and bottom right in brown. P77194 was executed at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool during Wiszniewski's artist-in-residency between September 1986 and June 1987. The print was made when Wiszniewski was also working on ‘Silent Mutations’, 1987 (gouache on paper, Kidson 1987, repr. p.26), with which it shares the division of the image into four sections. P 77194 was Wiszniewski's first woodcut and was specially made for the exhibition New Edition Prints, held at the Nigel Greenwood Gallery in March 1987. Wiszniewski later used woodcuts in combination with other media in such works as ‘Sculptural Essence’, 1990 (acrylic on paper and woodcut, repr. Adrian Wiszniewski, exh. cat., Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh 1990, p.34 in col.). There were no preliminary studies or drawings for P 77194 and the artist worked directly on boards supplied by the Glasgow Print Studio. The artist used a wide variety of marks and invented shapes in the image because, as he wrote in reply to a questionnaire sent by the compiler on 25 November 1992, ‘I had no real knowledge of how to do a woodcut, but to prevent boredom I knew that I had to play with textures across the whole surface and revel in their interface with the content’.

The woodcut was originally conceived in eight parts with four additional panels placed to the right of P77194. This larger composition would have included a seated mother figure wearing a hat. A remnant of the mother's hat, decorated with a tennis ball, can be seen at top right of P77194. When asked why the final work consisted of only four sections, the artist replied, ‘I ruined one of the sections and so dropped it down to six, and then on working-out the composition on the boards I decided that four sections was a saving of time, space and energy’. According to the artist, ‘the globe and the words “Chez-Nous” were used to recentralize the reduced composition’ (note to the compiler dated 23 February 1994).

In the 1987 Walker Art Gallery catalogue (p.38), Alex Kidson described the artist's way of working: ‘Wiszniewski worked on all four sections simultaneously, starting from the head of the father at top right. He moved on to the bird at lower left, an invented griffin-like creature but here a family pet; then to the head of the daughter at top left and then to the boy lower right’. Kidson went on to describe the scene depicted in P77194 (pp.38–9):

The father sits in a designer-chair reading a book (the portrait on the cover suggesting it is the book of the meaning of life). His teenage daughter, sunk in reverie, touches the needle of a horn gramophone with her fingers while her lips approach the unusually tall and thick spindle of the turntable; the younger son and pet bird contest ownership of a globe. The proximity of the mother's figure off at the right is signalled by a large floppy hat decorated with a tennis ball, a symbol which signifies both the spirit of family games and her own specific role as childbearer.

The central position of the father, and the spider's web behind him, indicate that the scene is of his imagining; a male parent's musings on parenthood. Diane Wiszniewski's pregnancy had recently begun and ‘Chez Nous’ is the first work in which the artist explores some of the general implications of a momentous new phase in his life.

During 1987 Wisniewski worked on a number of images which reflected his preoccupation with his wife's pregnancy. These included ‘Landscape’, 1987 (acrylic on canvas, repr. ibid., p.14 in col.) and ‘Robertson Park’, 1987 (ink and acrylic on paper, repr. ibid., p.31). On one aspect of Alex Kidson's interpretation Wiszniewski commented, ‘I think Alex misinterpreted the horn gramophone as a spiders-web. At the same time I think that it is a good misinterpretation’. In fact the artist had chosen a horn gramophone because of ‘its sculptural-creature-like-gothic qualities and because it dates back to a time and set of values out of step with those of our own-thus pointing to the otherli-ness of the world depicted in “Chez-Nous”’. The spindle on the turntable of the gramophone is also the transmission aerial represented on RKO record labels: ‘R-K-O made films like King Kong, Frankenstein, The Mummy etc. and had a transmission aerial hugely out of scale on a revolving world and an even more out of scale bi-plane rotating it as its trademark.’ About the picture book held by the father, the artist commented ‘I have always been interested in books without words’. All the objects in P77194 are from the artist's imagination.

The title ‘Chez Nous’ is incorporated into the image and has a particular significance for the artist: ‘“Chez-Nous” is a common name applied to wooden plaques outside often ordinary, suburban houses, the idea being to denote a very distinctive and individualistic vision and way of living behind a rather banal facade. The irony is that “Chez-Nous” is so wide-spread that it underlines a commonality to individualism.’ Wiszniewski explained why he gave the work a French title: ‘French means “art”. Art including its most pretentious aspects is best expressed in French in the same way as religion is in Latin. “Art” is looking at yourself from abroad, abroad is France and France is the “Tour Eiffel”.’

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996

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