Birtles creates a visual itch, by putting in tension photography’s flatness with a visceral punch. The artist critiques the assumptions of photography as a valiant and true recording of reality. Touching on the mediums failed promise and sensorial shortcoming. Birtles work pre-existed the numerous present dialogues concerning image manipulation.
Sculptural props are created from clay or inflatables for the photographs these are covered in expressionistic gloopy paint or dense all over graffiti asserting highly tactile qualities. The images then undergo a series of flattening via multiple re-photographing of these sculptural props. Highlighting the inherent loss of the images information. Jarring repetitions and Mis-registrations of overlaid images frustrate, until it is realised, this effect is anticipated. Re-entering and re-colonizing affective modes and sensorial pay off promised by advertising.
Through these props Birtles engages in the language of abstract expressionists, yet critically takes a detached sidestep and elimination of the intense romantic drives of the Americans artists.
In a marked contrast to Abstract Expressionism Birtles, concentrates on the uncanny and the awkward sensory experiences that are distinctly difficult to categorise or process. Sensory overload and cross associations are examples of an experience overflowing language, that are focus of the artist.
The photography contains a qualities of both the visceral incitement of Francis Bacon and Pop-art’s appropriation of images from popular culture and public discourse.
In material and subject Birtles underscores a comedy of matter and of an undoing. In this the work is resonant with Richard Prince and Paul McCarthy.
Birtles presents video portraits of artists, musicians, performers, friends, acquaintances, resonate with the psychic discharge of Arnulf Rainer's applications of paint on to photo portraits. They Probe emotions and fictionalise through the process of manipulation and camera techniques of lighting and composition. Tricks such as repetition and making the sitters choose specific lines suggest ‘free will’, giving a shot that is seemingly uncontrolled yet staged.
These ‘personal’ contributions are placed in a montage of stop frame animation where invited members of the public are performing, the clay and inflated sculptures/drawings morph into each other. Fragments of operatic recording, taken from the performances (an opera singer chants the poem ‘ Ye Slapstick Daisy’ poem by writer DJ Pangburn. Accompanied by a montage of saxophonist Terry Edwards album ‘FIT 014CD’)
There is an irreverent interrogation throughout the work, poking at the powerful unmediated effect of these images in newspapers, advertising and television soap operas. Splotches invade scenes looking like onomatopoeia sense speech bubbles or like paint and ink jammed in the printing press.
It is in this way that Birtles photography seeks to ‘to unlock the valves of sensation’ as Francis Bacon put it. This is borne out through the Material tactile pleasures and displeasure's, sculptural relief vs flatness, distance vs proximity, play out back and forth. Which is out of reach, desirable, repellent and the desires to reproduce these sensorial effect.