To walk beside a painting by Canadian artist David Spriggs is an experience not to be missed. His works tread neatly along an unusually blurred frontier between sculpture and painting, greeting viewers with an all encompassing vision that powerfully touches on the ethereal. How does he realize such arresting pieces? By meticulously painting on hundreds of sheets of thin, transparent film.
What results are powerful cyclonic forms frozen before our eye; three dimensional figures that float in space; and intense fields of color so tangible you could reach out and touch them… almost.
Over the last decade Spriggs has been perfecting his one of a kind technique and growing the size of his artworks to room filling proportions. The numbers behind his works are impressive too. For his piece Stratachrome he combines 400 hand painted transparent sheets measuring 14 x 5 feet each, for a grand total of over 28,000 square feet. That’s easily the largest painting we’ve ever covered on Visual News.
We caught up with David Spriggs and he generously took time out of his busy painting schedule to do an interview. What you will find below are the words of an artist who is both exceptionally skilled and dedicated to his work. We hope you find it as inspiring as we did.
To see something close to the “in person” experience, be sure to see the video below of Spriggs’ piece ‘Vision’:
AXIS OF POWER. 2009. 640 x 430 x 214 cm / 252 x 170 x 84 inches
White acrylic paint on layered sheets of transparent film, tee bars, springs, lighting. Architectural Installation at the Sharjah Biennial 9, Sharjah Art Musuem, United Emirates
Your technique is unique in the art world. What was the spark that initially inspired your method?
“My method uses both painting and sculpture. I found that painting had certain qualities that allowed me to represent certain concepts, and sculpture allowed others, yet each method had their own inherent limitations. I wanted to find a way that I could paint in the space between the two and three dimensions in order to bring new ideas and ways of seeing. It lead me to develop a new type of space in which I could represent what I find most fascinating: the notion of the immaterial form.”
“Almost all art throughout history has been an engagement with space. It is the same exploration of space that lead to my own process. Sculpture is inherently about space and form, while in painting there has been various developments regarding the representation and understanding of space; the invention of linear perspective being of major importance. The Cubist and Futurist notions of space are perhaps most interesting to me. Space for them was a system of viewpoints in time. They understood that we see objects in space from different viewpoints and together those viewpoints constitute our understanding of that object. Space therefore is pliable divisible concept. The artist Lucio Fontana also made some interesting work about space by breaking through two dimensions by cutting through the canvas to make us aware of the space behind. When I was in my teens I made some prints using the 4 colour printing process and it became clear to me that images are made of layers, various surfaces that function together to reveal content. Painting likewise is a system of layering. It made a lot of sense too that painting could exist through three dimensional space on multiple planes.”
A view of the installation process of Axis of Power
“In 1999 I developed an original system of painting onto layers of either transparent film or glass and hanging them specifically through space. I refer to these works as stratachromes, meaning layers of colour. For the last 13 years I have used transparency as an important conceptual device and as a material in my work to explore the relationship between perception, space, the immaterial form, colour, and the symbolism of power. My techniques of making my installation artworks emerged alongside my interest in these subjects and in my practice of painting and sculpture. At the time I developed the first stratchromes, nobody else I knew of had done anything that explored the potential of transparent layering to represent form in space. The closest thing to the layering system was found in science with the cross-sections of the human body project, and in design with the layering process of CNC machines. Robert Rauschenberg and John Cage had made some works with layers of printed glass but these focused on different concepts. The result of my experiments was interesting as I could create ‘immaterial’ forms in new hybrid space between 2 and 3 dimensions. I was excited by the possibilities of the medium and intended from the start to make work on a large scale. It took a lot of testing with materials to develop a system that gave any results, and almost 10 years to reach the large scale I wanted. Each artwork I produce requires very different techniques to achieve the results I want. The technique always follows the subject, the most important element of the work.”
Spriggs spray painting of a single sheet of Axis of Power
RED. 2012. 947 x 442 x 685 cm. / 373 x 174 x 270 inches
Red acrylic paint on layered sheets of transparent film, L bars, brackets, fishing line, lighting. Architectural Installation at Trafačka Hall. Prague, Czech Republic.
With pieces that range widely in subject matter, it is clear that much thought goes into each artwork. Do your pieces require careful planning beforehand or do they evolve as you paint?
“The choice of subject is very important to me and while different imagery appears to have a different subject the overarching subject is usually similar. For example the subject of Power has appeared in many of my works. The inverted forms of bulls in the artwork ‘Paradox of Power’ has the same subject as the cyclonic like form in the installation ‘Axis of Power.’ Both present the subject of power in very different ways.
I spend countless hours considering the meaning of each work and to ensure it functions conceptually and technically. After settling on a concept the process varies for each work. Most of my installations are spray painted with acrylic paint. Sometimes I work by sheet by sheet painting like an animator might work by subtlety changing the imagery on each sheet to achieve the result I want, whereas other times I plan the work completely in advance with a complex topographical mapping of the space and forms. The sheeting is often parallel to one another, one sheet behind another, but sometimes I play with the layering such as in the three storey high installation ‘Red’, where the sheets rise through the space at different angles and heights. Such large works I would design on the computer and realize by hand. These installations require enourmous amounts of time and work to plan, prepare the room, paint, and install. In the artwork ‘Stratachrome’ for example, there are 400 sheets of transparency each hand painted with different imagery. Each sheet is 14 x 5 ft. or 4.2 x 1.5 m, that’s a surface area of 28 000 square ft or 8 534 square metres. All of which had to be hung and lit specifically throughout the span of the gallery.”
BLUE. 2012. 262 x 650 x 326 CM / 103 x 225 x 128 inches
Full mirrored room installation with triangle shaped layered film section. Blue Acrylic on layered transparent film, mirrored foil, lighting, springs, tbars. Abrons Arts Center Gallery. NYC. U.S.
STRATACHROME. 2010. 1524 x 366 x 213 cm / 600 x 144 x 84 inches
Green acrylic paint on layered sheets of transparent film, tee bars, springs, lighting. Architectural Installation at Galerie de l’UQAM, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Your work is often chromatically intense and three dimensional, yet we are experiencing it over the Internet in 2D. What makes seeing one of your pieces in person important?
“The first impression of my seeing my work in person is one of questioning. What are we looking at? Our senses are bombarded as we are captivated by intense colour and the mystery of the apparent forms in space, it is as though we witness the ephemeral in stasis. The epic scale of some of the artworks encompass our vision hypnotising us with its surreal like nature. This is not a effect of lighting or projections, we see form and colour objectified in three-dimensions. Many people related the work to holography but this is something different. These Stratachrome (layered colour) installations are unlike anything else and must be experienced in person to appreciate and understand the spatial, sensorial, and phenomenological effect. Photography just doesn’t capture the work.”
VISION. 2010. 264 x 315 x 91 cm / 104 x 124 x 36 inches
Acrylic paint on layered sheets of transparent film, display case, springs, lighting. Vitrine Artwork displayed at the Grand Rapids Art Museum.
What is one tool that has helped you get to where you are today?
“I got an airbrush from my parents when I was about 12 years old. I picked it up again in 1999 to try it on transparencies.”
After more than a decade of creativity your work continues to impress. What’s the next step in this saga?
“I’m currently developing new work on the relationship between transparency and surveillance. I’d also like to make some large scale site specific installations that incorporate architecture into the work.”
David, we enthusiastically look forward to seeing that. Thank you very much for your insights and your time!
HOLOCENE. 2011. 170 x 289 x 335 cm / 67 x 289 x 132 inches
Acrylic on layered transparent film, metal bar, springs, lights. Installation premiere at the Prague Biennale 5, Prague, Czech Republic.
David Spriggs looking through the many layers of his piece HOLOCENE.