Christine Wilkinson is described as an abstract photographer who utilises digital techniques to produce her mesmerizing studies of light and colour. Her recent work has been gaining increasing popularity, with viewers sometimes describing them as being landscapes of colour. For the past year Christine has been experimenting with various methods of printing to produce different outcomes, including printing on wood, metal, chiffon and paper.
At Photo London this year Christine Wilkinson and Gas Gallery will be launching a new body of work ‘The edge of Disintegration’ and a series of Monochrome works that will incorporate these various methods of working. Ahead of the show I interviewed Christine to tell us more about her practice.
Interview with Christine Wilkinson by Gina Cross – July 2021
You come from a background in filmmaking and video. Can you tell us more about the starting point for your current process and was it informed by your earlier practice?
As a foundation student at London College of Printing (now LCC) in the 1970s I began experimenting with any piece of equipment I came across. Some of my earliest work was made with the college’s first colour photocopier. Its arrival was so exciting we queued to use it. I copied soup cans rather than paper in a kind of homage to Andy Warhol.
In the darkroom I was using type on tracing paper in the enlarger in place of a negative, I also remember tearing pages out of a dictionary – that worked quite well. I don’t know why I had this compulsion to use the equipment this way … maybe it was the mid 70s punk influence.
(See pic of the soup cans)
Then in the late 80s videoing programmes like Snub TV (indie music series) we’d use the Betacam camera in pretty unconventional ways, always trying to experiment and seeing how far the BBC technical department would let us go!
Your process of abstract photography – did this initially start in the darkroom or have you always worked digitally.
So today I’m still experimenting – this time with a combination of analogue and digital processes from my kitchen table using whatever’s available around the house, my Canon AE1 film camera, an iMac (with an old version of Photoshop), a cheap HP printer/scanner, occasionally a pencil and any household objects that will fit in the scanner.
This current body of work began in 2006 when I was teaching myself to use Photoshop. I discovered that, rather than using the digital darkroom to create the perfect picture, it was more fun, for me anyway, to push the images to their limits, sometimes almost to the point of disintegration. Somehow it was important to me to make the process visible, a reaction to the way Photoshop was, and still is, being used to create the perfect female image.
Can you describe for us what the motivation is for your work and how you develop your imagery?
My motivation is to constantly explore the process and have fun with it. The abstract photography work began in 2006 with a series of analogue photographs of car headlights taken from the top of a No 4 bus one rainy night in north London. Taking off my wet, steamy glasses I was transported into this glorious kaleidoscopic myopic world of swirling colours and light … this was the most fun I'd had all day and I wanted to share the experience.
This set of photographs was a beginning and I’ve used them ever since. I liken them to a kind of sourdough starter. I’ll leave them for a year or two coming back to them and taking them in a different direction. Eventually the original image isn’t important … you’re left with a bunch of pixels to play around with.
You have stated previously that 'I'm using photography and the photographic process as a tool for creating colour and shapes.' – for those that may not know anything about these processes, how would you best describe it?
Most of the post-production work is done in Photoshop, simply using the basic photographic tools, no filters or effects. Although I have recently allowed myself to start using layers!
You’ve stated previously that you ‘start with an image of light on which I make marks, almost like a form of drawing.’ Do you actively draw over your original images or is this mostly created by utilising darkroom tools in photoshop and applying colour and masking areas? Is there a parallel with your process and analogue darkroom methods?
I wrote this back in 2014 when I was using the pencil tool in curves for a particular set of images. It got a bit obsessive and I got repetitive strain injury so had to stop that line of inquiry …
Do you continue to take photographs or are you working from an archive of images at the moment?
I’m still working from that set of images taken back in 2006. I took a decision around that time that there were enough images in the world … though of course I’m still adding to them! The Canon AE1 is in for repair and we’ll see whether I go back to film. I love that feeling of loading a film into the camera and manually winding it on, being restricted to the number of images you can take and really looking at what you’re taking. But like everyone else I use my phone most of the time now.
I’m feeling a new project will surface soon, a new direction, possibly veering towards sculptural work.
Would it be fair to say that your obsession is colour and light? When you are in the process how do you know when you have achieved the image you want?
I would say that colour and light are the raw materials and what I’m looking for is a feeling or a mood.
There’s a quote from the artist Agnes Martin that resonates with me …“The grids and later works do not so much represent conditions in the material world – light, shape, form – as states of mind”. *
Along the way the process throws up such a diverse range of possibilities. It’s my job to recognise the route that for me is worth following. And of course the direction you go in is determined by so much cultural information. You’re looking for something you recognise maybe, something you like? If it resonates with the viewer is it because we have grown up with those similar cultural references – looking at the same art, magazines, TV, media?
The graphic designer Vaughan Oliver summed it up nicely "One thing leads to another, and during the process you’ll stumble upon something that just happens, and that in a way gives you the feeling of what you were looking for in the beginning."
Basically I just potter around in Photoshop until I find what I’m looking for. The process is full of happenstances, some that will take me by surprise, a ‘wow’ moment maybe. Then I have to put the image away and come back to it in a couple of months to see if it still works.
I guess though my main motivation is the pleasure I get from making these images. Recently my work’s had quite a bit of interest on Instagram (@_christinewilkinson) and what always amazes me is that pleasure in making equals pleasure in looking. If I’m excited about an image the response is equivalent - there seems to be a kind of collective consciousness going on there.
It’s a mixture of chance and control which brings to mind some of my favourite quotes on that subject….
“Art ‘Requires a Relaxation of Control’ Agnes Martin *
And Dominic Eichler writing about Wolfgang Tillmans abstract work …
“’Silver’ involves a kind of giving up of the creation of the print to chance effects produced by photographic technology. All of the artist’s images involve some kind of balancing act or interplay between control and chance.” **
Agnes Martin again … “That which takes us by surprise – moments of happiness – that is inspiration.” *
Your process is quite distinct. Is there a particular movement or artists that have inspired your work over the years?
I’ve already quoted a few of the artists I’m inspired by – Agnes Martin, Wolfgang Tillmans, Vaughan Oliver …others include Josef & Anni Albers, Ellsworth Kelly, Neville Brody, James Turrell, Rinko Kawauchi, William Klein, Uta Barth, Bridget Riley, Tess Jaray, Jack Whitten, Howard Hodgkin, Mary Corse, Suzan Frecon … and too many more to mention.
- Agnes Martin quotes are taken from Nancy Princenthal’s biography on the artist ‘Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art.’
- Dominic Eichler, ‘Thinking Pictures’ essay in ‘Wolfgang Tillmans Abstract Pictures’
A new collection of Christine Wilkinson’s work will be available to view at Gas Gallery Stand D11 in the Discovery section. Full details of the show area available here