As part of subject futures week we were treated to a lively talk by Michael Landy, Artist in Residence for two years at the National Gallery, where he created Saints Alive, 2013: a kinetic sculpture of martyred saints. Scrapheap Services was another lengthy project he worked on during the mid nineties which was spawned as a response to Thatcherism and the “greed is good” consumerist society that she advocated. He is also known for his work Breakdown, 2001, commissioned by the organisation Artangel, where he famously disposed of all his possessions, after making a detailed inventory, in the former C&A shop on Oxford Street. He even destroyed his birth certificate.
It is seemingly incongruous that Michael Landy, who is an artist predominantly known for his conceptual work, produces very detailed and meticulous drawings as part of his creative process including complex cartoonish schemas and intimate portraits of friends and family. However, he did explain how drawing was at the root of his early interest in art. It was also his way of bringing himself back to financial health following Breakdown.
Often trodden underfoot, uprooted, sprayed with poison and unloved, weeds are the underdog of the plant world. Landy’s etchings of weeds, which are part of a series called Nourishment, 2002, almost bring to mind the botanical prints of Albrecht Dürer thus elevating the humble weed to a new higher level of interest and status. Intricate and delicately rendered, the etchings are life-sized and positioned centrally on the white page with their roots, tendrils and seed-pods hanging down, almost as if they are portraits themselves. These characterful, eccentrically named “street flowers” such as Shepherd’s Purse, Creeping Buttercup, Thale Cress etc., grow in the cracks of the pavement, in wasteland and in amongst the rubbish. They don’t need much looking after to thrive. They serve to illustrate how everything exists only for a finite amount of time. The drawings are also viewed, by Landy, as a continuation of his work with street furniture such as shopping trolleys and baker’s trays, and his interest in the everyday.
Creeping Buttercup, 2002 by Michael Landy