An Absent Presence
SM Art

The traditional role of the portrait is to commemorate likeness. John Atherton confronts this. In this exhibition he uses the traditional portrait to examine our memory and show it to be inconsistent and ephemeral.

The source of these portraits is a 1987 school yearbook found in a barn in rural Herrljunga. Those students are the original subjects of the portraits. Their presence is hard to detect amidst the layers of torn paper, broken pieces of cardboard, and ruptured imagery. ’We are given a considerable dose of confusion. The physicality of this rupture emphasises the ephemeral nature of memory.’*

Atherton’s portraits suggest a vast hinterland of narratives and creative ideas. There is a rich unseen history embodied in the stratification of materials and images. He employs a Chinese-whispers progression of ideas, moving the work forward into exciting and unpredictable territory. The viewer may be unsettled by the anonymity. Atherton insists that we look for a personal exchange with the image, knowing that personal narratives and a creative journey lie beneath the surface.

 The yearbook is rewritten. The memories are lost, the ideas in a state of flux. The people and their lives are fragmented. Their portrait, a ’fragment of a fragment’*, has been reapplied, reappropriated, and then removed.

They are an absent presence. 

*Stefan Finsinger, bluebee magazine. Issue No.3, Spring


Galleri SM Art
Storgatan 33
523 30 Ulricehamn

Lures Exhibition
Tension Fine Art

Nothing but itself.

A found school yearbook, John Atherton’s seemingly arbitrary starting point; the beginning of a journey from anywhere to anywhere. The yearbook is rewritten, the memories lost, ideas in a condition of flux, the people, their lives, fragmented, used as mere components: reapplied, reappropriated and then removed, an absent presence. Ambiguity and uncertainty are the expectation, altered meanings, manipulated forms, a change of mood and a new interpretation.


Travers Smith
CSR Art Prize

Dieter Ashton MA, Print John Atherton MA Print, Ieva Austinskaitė MA Photography, David Barreiro MA Photography, Rosie Harriet Ellis MA Photography, Max Gimson MA Painting, Oliver Harding MA Ceramics & Glass, Elena Helfrecht MA Photography, Wenqingao Lei MA Photography, Zhuohui Li MA Painting, Malgorzata Lisiecka MA Contemporary Art Practice, Aphra O’Connor MA Ceramics & Glass, Giulia Parlato MA Photography Emily Platzer MA Painting, Jhonatan Pulido MA Painting, Tommy Ramsay MA Photography, Susan Rocklin MA Painting, Fernando M. Romero MA Painting, Lex Shute MA Painting, Osaretin Ugiagbe MA Painting, Jinya Zhao MA Ceramics & Glass

View Catalogue HERE

bluebee Magazine
Volume 3

This piece is a confrontation of the portrait, sitter, and subject. Detectable pieces of the self become distilled with every new layer of paper, cardboard, and misprinted imagery. We are given a considerable dose of confusion. The physicality of this rupture emphasizes the ephemeral nature of memory. The ‘original’ portrait of Lagerholm (the unidentified subject) is sourced from a 87’ yearbook in rural Sweden. Thus, John’s piece becomes a fragment of a fragment. We may ask, has the subject somehow been preserved? What nuance is applied with these discarded, found, or recycled items? Where this process may imply erasure, John has found new memories.

We are provoked and speculative at once by this gradual anonymity. John insists that we look for a personal exchange with the image. John is inspired by the sculptures of John Chamberlain and paintings of John Hoyland. Following their treatment of the portrait, John is intrigued by the abstraction and revision that projects from the anti-portrait.


View magazine HERE

This Landscape Has Changed
Royal College of Art

John Atherton’s current body of work confronts the traditional role of the portrait. He uses the portrait archetype, not as memorial or commemoration of likeness fixed in time, but portraiture as a catalyst for the personal and private speculations of the viewer. The viewer’s own personal responses projected onto the portrait are the real subject of his work.

Atherton’s work is, in a sense, anti-portraiture. The presence of the sitters, the original subjects of the portraits, are hard to detect and decipher amidst the considered confusion of layers of paper, cardboard and misprinted imagery. These ‘layers of time’ are the history of the portrait, but a portrait that has broken down, allowing new memories to be created in the process. The ephemeral and utilitarian materials of everyday use, discarded, found, recycled, re-used and reappropriated, are employed here as metaphors for the fragmentary nature of memory and the passage of time.

The source of these portraits is a 1987 school yearbook found in a barn in rural Sweden. The yearbook commemorates a significant and probably life-defining transition for those involved: graduating from school.
The Class of ‘87 is a mysterious artifact. Who are these people? What are their relationships to each other, where are they now and what have they made of their lives? These people are not entirely anonymous, their names are printed beneath their photographs in the yearbook. Atherton adds the titles to each of his individual portraits and in the process provokes the viewer to make a perceptual-shift and ‘read’ the visual work in a different way.