Auditorium and selected works: Sophy Rickett

Brancolini Grimaldi Gallery, London
7th July to 27th August 2011

Brancolini Grimaldi, the new gallery space in the centre of London, is setting a high standard in the display of contemporary art photography and establishing itself as a place to visit. A successful gallery must be discerning in the work that it shows so that ongoing debate is stimulated and a clear identity is established. This is important for the general viewer of the exhibition as well as the paying collector who literally buys into the show. The synergy between the current exhibition of Sophy Rickett and the previous show of Clare Strand is apparent. But whereas Strand revealed how photography can mislead through concealment and absence, Rickett looks at the relationship between light and darkness, the fundamental elements of the medium.

The darkness of night has been Rickett’s favoured location to make images since the mid 1990s. She came to attention with her series ‘Pissing Women’ (1995), which showed well dressed female executives doing what they ought not in the city at night. What should be concealed is illuminated for us to see. This drawing of the image out of the darkness becomes more pronounced as her work progressed with ‘Joyrider’ (1996), where car headlights pick out suspicious nocturnal figures as they stand in the road. By the late 1990s, with her series ‘Untitled Landscapes’, she had reached a point in the craft of her images where the highlighted subjects glowed out from a sumptuous black surface. The inky blackness of the print is both a physical presence but also a photographic absence – it is where there is no light and the camera has not been able to draw its image. In contrast Rickett tightly controls her areas of light, that paint in luscious colours.

‘Auditorium’ is a 2007 work that was commissioned by Photoworks. On display is a 22 minute film by Rickett along with six photographs. The film and the photographs show the internal spaces of Glyndebourne Opera House, a suitable subject for a photographer who works with the theatrical stagecraft of lighting. Rickett’s dual screen projection takes us through the mechanics of the curtain being raised for the performance. This process is disorientating as the camera, and so the viewer, ascend and descend within the framework of the theatre’s backstage structures. As the curtains raise what we look out on to from the stage itself is the empty auditorium. Rickett has reversed expectations, the audience is onstage and their empty seats are bathed in light and colour. Five black and white photographs provide the continuity with previous images made by Rickett especially with a series of photographs that she made of her own London studio in 2002 that allowed slivers of light to peak out from behind closed curtains. Likewise the single large colour print, ‘Pink Curtain’ (2008), demonstrates her mastery of illuminated colour.

Earlier work by Rickett is displayed in a smaller side gallery and in the office space. The large print ‘Untitled’ 2001 is a simple image that exemplifies the seductive quality of Rickett’s work: a swathe of yellow flowers spread out on green grass under a black night sky. Rickett’s photographs share with Strand’s a refined production that compares well with the luxurious surfaces of Fine Art paintings.

Sophy Rickett was on show at the Brancolini Gallery

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