Mike Curry’s new exhibition Abstracted:Architecture opens at Anise’s Shad Thames gallery on Wednesday 18th September 2019.
A study of the buildings in and around Canary Wharf as they relate to the bodies of water that surround them, Mike creates serene images that seek to extend the abstraction of reflections in water to create something new that the eye cannot immediately recognise. Using in-camera multiple exposures and blending modes, his resultant images are peaceful and meditative — a stark contrast to the chaos inherent to the buildings from which they are derived.
Prior to the exhibition opening in Shad Thames, we caught up with Mike to ask him a few questions about this body of work and how his abstractions speak to his experience of the City of London.
Hi Mike. Thanks for speaking to me today.
You have a diverse practice that you’ve built up over 30 years, working for a range of commercial clients as well as teaching photography in various different contexts. Could you tell us a bit about how your practice has developed over the years and how these varying experiences influence what you do in your artistic practice?
I think my practice has developed over recent years partly because of being encouraged to express myself freely and photograph exactly what I want to by fellow photographers like David Ward — that and having the confidence that comes with being self-employed for 35 (!) years which means I am finally finding my true path artistically and it is one that I am happy to explore fully.
Before, I think subconsciously, I was perhaps trying to emulate other artists or photographers without realising it, which led to some artistic blocks as it wasn’t my true calling so to speak. Finding a body of work like my reflections series that truly grabs you means you will spend more time refining and perfecting the techniques and explore them more fully, leading to a total immersion in your ‘style’ which, for me, was the thing I was searching for!
Doing so means the process becomes more meditative and therefore a pure joy to practice. Having been given commercial contracts that allowed me artistic freedom and consciously booking time in my diary to work on my reflections series meant it has developed fully but was born alongside commercial work with understanding clients.
Mike Curry ‘Lift’
‘Abstracted:Architecture‘ takes a perhaps counter-intuitive look at one of London’s most iconic locations, visible for miles around. Rather than looking up at these towering buildings, you’ve pointed your camera down. What drew you to this space initially and how was your experience of capturing these serene and peaceful images in one of London’s busiest areas?
I was drawn into this space by a three-month contract with Canary Wharf PLC to photograph the Wharf in an abstract manner.
While your first reaction is to look up at the buildings, I soon discovered that during certain weather conditions I spotted patterns on the water’s surface and tried (unsuccessfully to start with) to photograph them.
I made a few initial discoveries by ‘accident’ while trying to improve how they looked and refined it from there.
I feel invisible sometimes photographing there as everyone is very focused on their jobs as I stand still amongst the chaos. I have even been known to lay down to take photos and have had multiple people stepping over me without complaint!
You cite a range of Abstract Expressionist painters who have inspired your work, including Mark Rothko. I’ve always found it interesting how there are versions of Rothko’s later paintings in his earlier work. For instance, 1938’s ‘Entrance to Subway‘ (see right) is, on the one hand, a realist artwork, but it also contains within it the abstractions that would later become his focus.
It has been said that the Abstract Expressionists were freed from aesthetic constraints by the advent of photography, but here you are taking a somewhat similar approach to your own environment. Can you tell us a bit more about your relationship to this kind of work? And how do you understand photography’s ability to likewise focus in on, and abstract, our experiences of the world around us?
Mark Rothko ‘Entrance to Subway’
“Entrance to Subway” is a great example of how I feel I view the world around me. It is broken down into colour palettes, shapes and forms and when I am not photographing reflections this is my next love.
The difficulty is finding a cohesive theme but the nearest I have come to one so far, apart from my reflections work, is the mini series “Not Graffiti” (see below left) about the council painting over graffiti — an art form in its own right it seems.
Photography’s ability to abstract our surroundings is liberating for me, whether using long lenses to abstract detail (see below right) or with macro lenses or the iPhone. I hardly ever look at an urban scene without trying to abstract it into simpler elements.
Mike Curry ‘Not Graffiti’
Someone once said that you can “never step into the same river twice”, and that certainly seems true of a river like the Thames, as well as the city through which it flows. Having spent the last thirty years in London and documented its changing architecture, how do you see your work developing in the future? Are your abstractions a direct response to this constant state of flux?
My work will always be abstract I feel now as I find it a particular restful activity being able to extract a sense of beauty from everyday surroundings. I am waiting to be bitten by another bug other than reflections in water but I am always experimenting photographically as a playful activity in different urban venues like the sample attached of commuters (see below) taken recently at Canary Wharf. The constant state of flux entrances me and I am always seeking to simplify it to reveal the beauty that is all around us and create something from nothing…
Mike will be giving two free tours of the exhibition as part of Open House London on Saturday 21 September at 3pm and Sunday 22 September at 12pm.