James Welling: The Mind on Fire, MK Gallery, Milton Keynes

James Welling: The Mind on Fire, MK Gallery, Milton Keynes

The Mind on Fire is the first solo exhibition in a UK public gallery by the American artist James Welling. Comprising around a hundred and thirty works, the exhibition at MK Gallery will recreate some of the artist’s seminal photographic shows from New York in the early to mid 1980s, charting the development of his abstract language and experimentation with photographic effects.

Welling was an seminal figure in the ‘Pictures Generation’, a loosely-knit but influential group of artists working in New York in the 1970s and 1980s, including Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince and Cindy Sherman; collectively they became famous for their pioneering use of photography, and contributed to the gradual integration of the medium into the mainstream of contemporary art.

From the outset of his career Welling tested the parameters of photography by experimenting with the technical properties of cameras and photographic equipment, from making his own camera out of a shoe box to experimenting with a wide range of photographic film and papers.

The Mind on Fire brings together a group of works that display the sense of experimentation of this early period in the artist’s career. It includes collages, paintings, notes and ephemera related to this early period, all of which culminated in an iconic series of Aluminium Foils. These small-scale silver gelatin prints of minutely crumpled aluminium foil from the restaurant he worked in at the time, offer abstract, minimal images, which have been likened to starry skies or lunar landscapes.

By focussing on simple, repetitive motifs Welling sought to remove photography from its insistence on the referent in order to arrive at something approximating the ‘essence of perception’. In concert with Welling’s desire to see how we see, rather than what we see his reduced yet very specific subject matter prompts a range of personal associations in the viewer.

The Mind on Fire, 14th September until 25th November, MK Gallery, 900 Midsummer Blvd, Milton Keynes, MK9 3QA. www.mkgallery.org

Credit: James Welling, LA-C 33, 1977, Image © and courtesy the artist