The Sarjeant Gallery has had a long association with Richard Wotton and his photographic work. His images are well represented in the Gallery’s collection and have regularly featured in the gallery’s programming in both solo and group exhibitions. The forty-five portraits featured in this exhibition and the accompanying publication Marking Time: Portraits of the Inked reveal an intriguing new direction from an emphasis on architecture to tattooed people.
Although this may seem like a seismic shift in focus, his interest in portraiture has been present since the late 1970s, and, if anything, this new body of work weaves together these two strands of his practice. They are portraits, certainly, but on the skin of each of the subjects is a visual architecture of the everyday: symbols, signs, images and lines that are drawn from a vocabulary as unique as it is universal. The subject matter of the tattoos is diverse and eclectic: a shark swimming from an armpit, a peacock in profile, cartoon cars, spider webs, tendrils and text. Today, tattooing is more popular than ever and it is now widely accepted across class, gender and cultural boundaries. The internet and social media have enabled even easier access to imagery and therefore made the creative direction of these pieces a more collaborative process between tattooist and tattooed.
This project started in Whanganui but, as it grew, Wotton also travelled to Wellington and Auckland to photograph. The spectrum of participants is as mixed as the designs they have chosen to adorn their bodies, and the crisp composition of these portraits allows us to see both the extraordinary detail of their tattoos and their narratives.
Wotton’s portraits give us permission to look closely but to do so in a respectful way; putting his subjects at ease in turn allows us to look without the discomfort of staring. These photographs allow us to see into a world that might not be familiar to us. In his photographs of tattooed people, Wotton’s curiosity is an echo of what many of us are thinking – what makes someone want to permanently mark themselves? What are these inked images of and how do they link together on the canvas of a body?
His deliberate choice to photograph in black and white is indicative of the fact that as much as this project was initially inspired by the art of tattooing, it has evolved into one that is clearly about people who have chosen to display elements of the cartography of their lives on their skin. The Sarjeant Gallery would like to congratulate Richard for creating this engaging new body of work and thank each of the participants for their willingness to be involved in the project.
Curator & Public Programmes Manager
All photographs in the exhibition are inkjet prints on archival paper, printed by the artist
18 June - 11 September 2016