This Landscape Has Changed
The Royal College of Art (2019)
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.