Aldridge's new work responds to that of the artists Maurizio Cattelan, Harland Miller and Gilbert & George. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue with an original essay by Michael Bracewell.
Aldridge is a photographer who is well known for staging elaborate mise-en-scènes that have an icily erotic, film noir quality. Long interested in art history, his highly stylized work draws inspiration from representations of the female nude in art, as well as in pulp fiction and pin-ups. As Aldridge states: ‘In my work there is always a push and pull between high and low art.’
The idea for this show – and for the concept of making work ‘after’ that of other artists – was born when Maurizio Cattelan invited Aldridge to stage a photo shoot in his exhibition Not Afraid of Love at La Monnaie in Paris in 2016. Aldridge spent the night in the museum with Cattelan creating his response to Cattelan’s work in his own visual language: bold, statuesque, Valkyrie-like nudes that seem both to haunt and dominate Cattelan’s sculptures of the pope, Hitler and horses in the rococo interiors.
Later, while Aldridge was talking to the painter Harland Miller, a long-time friend, Miller mentioned that his work was partly inspired by the Penguin paperbacks designed by Aldridge’s father, the acclaimed graphic designer Alan Aldridge. The two talked about inspiration and artistic interpretation and Aldridge hatched a plan to make images in response to Miller. In terms of technique, Aldridge was inspired by the screenprinting of photographs pioneered by Warhol and Rauschenberg in the 1960s and 70s, in particular by Rauschenberg’s collage-like print Signs (1970), which he saw in the recent exhibition on American prints at the British Museum. ‘As a photographer, I liked the idea of creating a screenprint from a photograph, of going from mass media to art. Lots of artists have used photographs in their prints but it is less common for photographers to repay the compliment, so to speak, and work with printmaking.’
Since Aldridge’s work is focused on artifice, he was especially drawn to photographing Gilbert & George, who have dedicated their life to being a living work of art: they always appear immaculate and in character and their London townhouse is a kind of permanent stage set. Aldridge created a vignette about the arrival of an androgynous young visitor coming to stay with the pair; the scenes are eerie and enigmatic but hint at an elusive narrative. For this project, Aldridge was drawn to the strangeness and appeal of vernacular photography. ‘The Gilbert & George series is a counterpoint to the other work in the show,’ says Aldridge.
Aldridge’s images ‘after’ Maurizio Cattelan are glossy C-print photographs. Those in response to Harland Miller are screenprints made to evoke the grainy Sunday newspaper supplements of the 1960s and 70s. His work in response to Gilbert & George uses the Victorian photogravure technique but with the addition of hand-painted blocks of pop colour. As Aldridge comments: ‘I am responding to these three different artists not just visually but texturally by using photographic images to create different kinds of prints.’
Aldridge sees (after) as a way to assert the complex nature of the photographic image in the age of the i-Phone. ‘Today anybody can take a good photograph so what does the medium mean today,’ he asks. ‘What about going out of your comfort zone as a photographer and pushing the camera to the limit? In this show I am thinking about how photographic images have been consumed and asking the question: do they have to be photographs? I have never seen photography as simple. I like the formal mise-en-scène. I think that fiction and theatricality can be more truthful than documenting reality, especially in this age of fake news.’