Themes/Character: Shaping alter egos

Shepherd Manyika and Kirsty Gentle

Insights Tutor and Editor

Shepherd picks out some key artists that may inspire you if you’re working on a brief about character and story telling.

Whether it’s fine art or fashion, character and storytelling are hugely important for conveying messages about who we are individually or collectively and the world we live in. Furthermore, alter egos, or fictional characters can be an interesting way to explore our identity and the world we live in.

Shepherd introduces us to some artists who create thought-provoking work that can be humorous, unsettling or serious, sometimes all at once. What they have in common is a multimedia or mixed media approach to artwork; they all combine found or overlooked objects with drawing or painting, performance, sculpture or video to create characters and make observations about life as it is today.

Tony Oursler

Credit: Tony Oursler, ‘Antennae’, 2002. Exhibition view from Station, Magasin III, 2002. See the installation in action via YouTube

As a multimedia and installation artist,Tony Oursler’s work brings together different forms, and mainly focuses on sound, text, sculpture and projection. He’s perhaps best known for his video projections overlaid on dolls, spheres or super-sized with outdoor environments. His obsession with technology has made him a pioneer in the realm of video art and through his work he continues to focus on how mass media can affect the human mind. His ghostly work can often be unsettling and sometimes humorous at the same time. Sound, video and 3D objects or environments are often different fragments of his work that you can explore separately. Together they work as an introduction to his surreal characters.  

The Public Art Fund and Artangel commissioned one of Tony’s most renowned works, ‘The Influence Machine’ in 2000.
Find out more about the project via Artangel

Deborah Roberts

Credit: Deborah Roberts, ‘Untitled 2018’. Copyright of the artist. Courtesy of Stephen Friedman Gallery.

African American artist Deborah Roberts makes collages using found images –photographs, magazine clippings, and images from the internet to create her own visual language. Her figurative works often feature fictional black children. They, “depict the complexity of black subject-hood and explore themes of race, identity and gender politics.” Deborah’s image-making can be described as social commentary; critiquing perceptions of ideal beauty and stereotypes; asking questions about ‘what is heroic’? By manipulating images – adding drawn and painted elements – her work becomes multilayered. She explains, “With collage, I can create a more expansive and inclusive view of the black cultural experience.”

Find out about Deborah Roberts and her work via Stephen Friedman Gallery

Explore more of Deborah Roberts’ work as well as other groundbreaking black creatives at Somerset House’s exhibition ‘Get Up, Stand Up Now: Generations of black creative pioneers’ on show until 15 September 2019.

Oskar Schlemmer

Credit: ‘Bauhaus Ballet: A Dance of Geometry’, courtesy of Great Big Story. Watch the 1970’s reconstruction of the ballet, named ‘The Triadic Balletvia YouTube.

This year the Bauhaus is 100 years old. Amongst the celebrations for this influential school of art and design you’ll find performances of ‘The Triadic Ballet’. Watch the videos above and it’s hard to believe that it was created by Oskar Schlemmer in 1916 and performed in 1922. Schlemmer was a polymath – he worked across sculpture, set design, painting, choreography. The ballet is named after a trio of geometric forms- the circle, square and triangle- that shape the costume design. It also refers to the colour backdrops – yellow, pink and black- that segment the ballet into three. The costumes were the antithesis of a regular ballet- and impose their own layer of character onto the performers by restricting the dancer’s movement and casting their own silhouettes on stage. 

Find out more about the Bauhaus online

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