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Rodney Graham: "Central Questions of Philosophy" Review - Lisson Gallery

3 October – 3 November 2018



Rodney Graham is a Vancouver-based artist and musician, who is best known for his large-scale photographic lightbox works, in which he features in a variety of guises. His exhibition at Lisson Gallery London presents his first new body of lightboxes following the largest presentation of his work in this format last year in Germany.

White, then suddenly bright light. Walking into the Lisson Gallery with its picture-perfect white cold walls I felt an immediate warmth from Rodney Grahams Lightboxes. This particular work of art is Graham’s largest lightbox to date. Vacuuming the Gallery 1949 (2018) is a four-panel piece featuring a 1940s gallery set loosely based on a photograph of art dealer Samuel Kootz. Here , like all of Graham's lightboxes, the artist disguises himself as Kootz. In the distance, an art dealer admires Graham’s own abstract paintings. These same paintings hang right in front of the lightbox itself in the gallery. These Abstract oil works are bursting with colour, with outlines of black and white based on a drawing by Alexander Rodchenko.

Moving into a smaller room at the Lisson I am met by a single lightbox, Tattooed Man on Balcony (2018). Here Graham is seen clutching the balcony railing and staring onwards. As per the title, Graham’s arms are covered in tattoos; a view many visitors quite enjoyed, as they got close to try and identify each one. The suburban feel of the work with its warm pastel colours could put anyone at ease and produce an urge to go find the sun and mimic Graham.

I made my way to the second floor of the gallery. There, with all four walls covered with artworks, the two lightboxes are most eye-catching. The first is another representation of Graham, where two panels show him sitting down in a library. He is sitting, and again staring onwards, whereas in the second panel he is accompanied with a dog in his lap. Though it appears he has the same expression in both panels, I can't help but feel he has a slight smirk in the second when his dog appears. The installation is a recreation of two Pelican paperback covers associated with the philosopher A.J. Ayer’s The Central Questions of Philosophy, an introduction to the most commonly talked spheres of philosophy.

The second lightbox is the smallest in the exhibition, titled Unused Prop: French Telephone (2018). It does not feature Graham but a solitary antique telephone placed upon a paint-splattered table. Here Graham gives the illusion of the telephone cord extending as where it ends in the lightbox a real cord appears out of it and plugs into the wall.

The exhibition concludes upstairs in the hallway at the Lisson; several small A4 sized paintings of a girl siting on the floor grace the walls. Each artwork has a different colour, and each has different markings and brush strokes. Some blue, some green, these paintings have the same background, but the varied surfaces are hypnotising.

The exhibit is an incredible experience; Lightboxes take centre stage and attract everyone with great force. The viewer cannot help but stand and stare at every tiny detail. To be able to just walk in and admire these works is a joy, one that can be repeated over and over. Graham’s work makes us also want to put ourselves in different disguises, possibly in different lightboxes of our own mind. These works of art are nothing short of spectacular and should definitely be explored by the art lover.