In his classic tome on two-dimensional design, Wucius Wong indicates that it takes at least three elements for something to be considered repeating. Repeating elements is one of the first theories you learn as a textile designer. I spent an entire semester discussing the theory of words and their meanings in design language. We were all in agreement: for repetition, two isn’t enough. What about over three hundred?
Wucius Wong’s theory is the first thing that comes to mind when I look at these pictures from an exhibition by the artist Francis Alys, showcased at the National Portrait Gallery in London. In room after room, over 300 portraits of Saint Fabiola are displayed: the same woman in the same pose, the same traditional rendition. Repetition – the same image seen over and over again.
The artist has collected these paintings from flea markets and garage sales in his adopted home of Mexico City. Most are painted by amateur artists. All portray the same woman, again, and again, and again. What Alys points out is that, though the images are similar – they all portray this woman, Saint Fabiola, in the same traditional veil, seated in the same pose and with the same background color – each individual image is unique. Each bears the mark of the artist. One may paint her nose with a slant; another may paint her with makeup or a solemn expression. The artists have copied a widely known image, but interpreted through their own eyes. We see repetition, but without absolutely identical images.
The larger art here is in the repetition of the “pattern,” or image. But, Francis Alys is showing us that even copies bear the mark of the creator. Seeing the same image repeated hundreds of times makes for an impressive impact. Viewed as a whole they represent merely a single pattern; viewed more closely, they demonstrate that, even when re-creating someone else’s work of art, the artist’s uniqueness shines through.
*Photos borrowed from California Literary Review.
I love the color combination of the shades of red and blue. Love visiting your blog, you always come up with interesting things…. Were did u come across this?
Beautifully written. Thank you. (tearing up a bit, sniff)