Vinyl lettering on the gallery wall blankly asserts that 'KEITH ARNATT IS AN ARTIST'. Centrally positioned, this undeniable conceit lies at the crux of this astute display of photographs that affectionately references both art history and the commonplace. By placing seven of his much-celebrated photographic series in dense proximity, this exhibition confirms Arnatt as a uniquely subtle and warm advocate of artistry and image making.
At once a nod to the photographic tradition of topography and a humorous take on the saying that dog owners come to look like their hounds, the black-and-white series 'Walking the Dog' (1976-79) pictures such pairs. When viewing these gently ironic portraits it slowly becomes apparent that with each, Arnatt has captured a moment in which both walker and dog stare directly at the lens, as if posing.
Eliciting a similar transformative moment, 'The Visitors' (1974-76) sees Arnatt follow in the footsteps of amateur photographers by documenting visitors to Tintern Abbey. In accordance with the great tradition of British tourists, the resulting 'snapshots'– picturing couples decked in matching outfits – are strangely formal and come to look eccentric, staged.
A coloured series, 'Miss Grace's Lane' (1986-87), marks an important transition for Arnatt, with the artist exploiting the vivid tones of Fuji colour film to depict littered patches of rural wasteland in a soft golden light. Monumentalising such drossy traces of human existence, this series parodies the ethereal romantic works of Samuel Palmer, lightly undercutting ideas of the sublime in British landscape painting.
As announced by his proclamatory text work, Arnatt was a practitioner driven by the productive worry of what an artist might be. It is perhaps telling then, that imaginative transformations take centre stage in this significant show of works.
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