Richard Learoyd’s fifth exhibition with the gallery presents new photographs made over the last three years in the artist’s London-based studio. Working in a room-sized camera obscura, Learoyd carefully stages his subjects, such as nude models, mirrors, candles, taxidermied animals, and flowers both vibrant and wilting.
The subjects of Learoyds photographs are rendered in crisp detail by directly exposing the image onto photographic paper without a negative.
Learoyd’s models suggest a classic timelessness. Often clothed in amorphous fabrics, they are disconnected from fashion. In this new work we find a number of images featuring red, whether in clothing or props which are juxtaposed against the cool backgrounds and shadows.
Animals in Learoyd’s work “are objects of contemplation, reminders of the fragility of life rendered with an admiration for their often strange beauty,” writes Philip Gefter in the catalog which accompanied Learoyd’s recent Fundación MAPFRE survey exhibition.
In many of Learoyd’s recent works, fine lines criss-cross the image, defining or obscuring the pictorial space, and bringing elements of drawing or etching into the image. The lines are made with string suspended in front of the lens or pressed flat against the photographic paper inside the camera obscura—or a combination of these techniques.
Nodding to Henry Moore’s etchings of elephant skulls, Learoyd purposes both fine black and white lines across the surface of this photographic triptych, thus fracturing the space around the subject. In Learoyd’s 2015 monograph Day for Night, curator Martin Barnes writes that these threads are one of Learoyd’s most prominent motifs, acting like “the lines of a drawing within the photographic space,” and implying the existence of “binding connections, the unspoken contracts between the visible and invisible.”
Mirrors have been a long-running subject for Learoyd, who photographed deteriorating antique mirrors during his first years working in the studio. In more recent images, they sometimes reflect objects outside the frame, building complicated arrangements that expand the picture beyond its edges. Here, a central mirror seems to be at once reflective and transparent, showing the flame of a candle that may or may not be the one at the center of the plinth.
In some images, Learoyd uses threads to partially obscure the figure, pushing the nude into abstraction and suggesting tangles of neurons or blood vessels. In others, networks of fine threads serve as a weightless armature.
Inspired in part by Paul Gauguin’s 1902 painting Still Life with Parrots, Learoyd’s photograph captures the iridescent feathers and the talismanic form of the two birds. Learoyd describes the image as “a joyous celebration of the exotic mingled with the tragedy of mortality.”