GRAHAM DAY: Selected Works on Paper from the 1980s

11 - 28 September 2013

dalla Rosa is pleased to present Graham Day’s second solo exhibition at the gallery. Following on from his 1970s show held this time last year, Selected Works on Paper from the 1980s focuses on Day’s interest in the traditional technique of marbling combining ancient and contemporary imagery. 

From intellectual suicide to the fetishism of technique (Graham Day, Summer 2013) 

One of the major art events of the decade for me occurred by chance. Wandering aimlessly through the Victoria and Albert Museum one afternoon I was struck by a little picture of a rider on an elephant that was made up from little pieces of marbled paper with the joins over-painted with gold. It was Indian, from the Deccan 17th century, and it hovered between abstraction and representation in a dynamic unresolved way. This was the start of a ten year creative study of the history and making of paper marbling.

I began the practical craft aspect by simply getting the diverse materials to perform in a predictable way which was difficult as marbling is alchemy in action. Alongside the craft I researched the history and development of marbling. Originating in China, it spread west through Central Asia and along the silk route through India, Persia, Turkey and the Levant, each area using it in a distinct fascinating way. Crossing to Venice and along the Maghreb and up through Spain reaching its apogee a thousand years later in Victorian London.

Next I studied the small number of Indian examples of combined or ‘integral’ marbling, mostly through illustration. The different areas were not individually collaged on to the support paper but made by successively masking areas out and progressively building the image up. I made pieces that had numerous facets that would demonstrate the Indian technique and to judge the effectiveness of my progress I made marbled versions from illustrations of drawings from 17th century India. 

Now that I had mastered the process to my own satisfaction and absorbed the limited history of the technique I set about using it creatively. I had seen and photographed in a rundown haberdasher’s shop in Tunis a group of diminutive mannequins draped with lengths of colourful pattern materials. This lead to my making a series of images (Photo Domino, 1988) combining marbling with photographs of dummies printed down using the gum bichromate technique. 

And so the decade closed. The ten years had seen me completely change my attitude and approach to making art, previously my artwork had been concept-driven with the most appropriate medium chosen to visualize it. This had begun to seem unsatisfactory, not because it was uninteresting but because I had not been able to function as an artist, there was insufficient interaction between me and any public. I think looking back this was why marbling had seemed so appealing, it had a history which one could inhabit, it had craft mysteries that were endlessly absorbing and challenging, it is essentially about combing gorgeous bright pigments in fluid patterns. 

About the artist

Born in London in 1946, Graham Day studied at Hornsey School of Art, Bath Academy of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art (UCL). He has been exhibiting in the UK and abroad since the early Seventies, and his work is part of prominent collections such as the British Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, British Library, and the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.

dalla Rosa would like to thank Rose Issa for lending works from her private collection.