James Welling: Mind on Fire

James Welling, Summation, 1981(detail). Inkjet print. Image © and courtesy the artist.


14 September - 25 November 2012

American artist James Welling (b.1951) emerged as an important figure in the ‘Pictures Generation’, an influential group of artists working in New York in the 1980s, famous for their pioneering use of photography. This exhibition brings together a hundred and fifty of Welling’s early, experimental and abstract works from this period.

Welling tested the mechanical and technical parameters of photography, from making his own camera out of a shoe box to using a wide range of film and papers or even making photographs without using cameras at all. This period of intense experimentation generated numerous collages, paintings, notes and ephemera before culminating in a number of iconic series: minutely crumpled aluminium foil evoking starry skies or lunar landscapes; luxurious drapes sprinkled with dough suggesting snow-capped mountain ridges; and abstract colourfields appearing as sun-drenched horizons.

By focussing on simple, repetitive motifs Welling sought to remove photography from its subject, in order to trigger personal associations in the viewer and to explore how we see, rather than what we see.

Press Release List of Works Glossary