12 Mothers | The Photo-Collages of Mark Griffin

A review from Nancy Kay Turner

Dreamy and complex, these large-scale gridded, photo-collages of Mark Griffin seamlessly blend abstraction and figuration with startling juxtapositions and patterns. Griffin's work intentionally revels in happy "accidents" as he spontaneously paints with chemicals on photographic paper. When he develops these images they look remarkably like abstract-expressionist paintings, freezing in time the gestural flair and the vigor of the artist's own energy.

Griffin re-invents the image even as his work harkens back to Victorian soft-focus photography. In the late nineteenth century, when photographers used glass plates and the models had to sit still for a long time, the results were often blurred as the subject shifted imperceptibly during the sitting. Griffin's intentional use of blurred images serves a different purpose by allowing the viewer to focus on the whole instead of the part. For Griffin, the figure is secondary to the overall symmetrical and heraldic pattern that the pieced -together sixteen by twenty photographs form. This unique format--eighteen horizontal 16" x 20", images on photographic paper, casually placed create a vertical quilt which often suggests x-rays or fossils or teeth.

Griffin employs the post-modern strategy of using the camera as a collector of images, a vehicle for expression. His work critiques the obsessive pristine technique that has characterized much of photography in the twentieth century. Griffin follows in the footsteps of Lucas Samaras (who painted on Poloraids) by actively manipulating both the print and the negative. Sometimes he scratches the negative and also paints chemical on the resulting image. Like the Starns twins, who scotch tape their images together, Griffin's work speaks to the fragility and imperfection of life.

The first work in the Twelve Mothers series, is appropriately entitled "Untitled 1, 1992, mixed- media, photo collage, 60" x 96". Structurally, the image draws the viewer to the periphery first and them into the middle where white lines drawn on photographic paper become breasts, stomach and hands. Naked females swirl around the central image creating a sense of motion, speed and even music in the way they relate and repeat. Like a Busby Berkeley musical number with the showgirls prancing around, the arms and legs of the "Woman" intrigues and titillates us. Griffin sees the female as being both nurturing and wrathful, and incorporates weapons (knife) in the hand of the model.

"Untitled 4, 1992, mixed -media, photo collage, 60" x 90", incorporates a single hand holding a knife. The hand is raised and ready to strike. Seen alone, the image seems almost quaint and melodramatic, like a still from a silent movie. And indeed, as the image is repeated eight times it further reinforces the sense of a reel of film. This reference to the narrative or implied story is intriguing and keeps the viewer involved in decoding the sequence and also assigning meaning to the arrangement.

Griffin's essentially achromatic images are occasionally tinted with brown washes and tones, suggestive of decay and mold, as if these were old, forgotten pictures left in an attic and water damaged. Alternately mystical, magical, and primitive, these large-scale photo collages are both grand, intimate and resonate with intelligence, beauty and originality.

Nancy Kay Turner writes for Art Scene, Art Central and Art Week and has reviewed artists such as Cindy Sherman and Jonathan Borofsky.

View the 12 Mothers Series