Christopher Bucklow (born 1957) is a British artist. He is best known for his photographs and paintings. His work can be found in many museums across the United States. In 2007 his book on Philip Guston was published in the UK. He currently works in Somerset, England.
Early life and education
Christopher Bucklow, also known as Chris Bucklow, was born Christopher Paul Bucklow on the first of June, 1957, in Flixton, Urmston, Lancashire, England. His parents were Roy and Doreen Bucklow. Roy Bucklow was an architect, but he died before Christopher's first birthday in 1958. Christopher was adopted by his stepfather Alfred Noel Titterington, a businessman in the printing industry, in 1967 and used the name Chris Titterington until the beginning of his life as an artist in 1989, when he was 32 years old.
Bucklow's childhood was spent in Flixton. In his early teens he became passionately interested in the paintings of the Impressionist painter Alfred Sisley and he made Sisley-influenced landscape paintings around his home. He also made hitch-hike visits to South Wales to visit sites that Sisley had painted. In 1975, he left home to study art history at Leicester Polytechnic. He continued his interest in Sisley and completed his undergraduate dissertation on the series Sisley made during the floods at Port Marly of 1875. Bucklow also became interested in British watercolours and in Romantic naturalism as a phenomenon in the history of ideas. Under the tuition of Robert Ayers, he also became interested in American painting since 1945 and contemporary art in general.
After Bucklow graduated in 1978 he accepted a post as a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He worked in the Prints and Drawings department. There he researched Romantic works of art on paper and early photography. He also continued his interest in contemporary art and he wrote reviews of contemporary exhibitions for Artscribe magazine, London. During this whole period as a museum curator, he did not make any art himself. He was completely absorbed in the study of the Romantic mind – in particular the developments that led to the rise of landscape in the genre hierarchy of the period. However, he was becoming interested in William Blake and would spend time after hours studying the many wonderful examples of Blake’s work that he was looking after as part of the V&A collection. During these years as a curator, he also continued his early interest in physics and astronomy. These subjects would offer him great consolation and stability- almost as a refuge from his studies of the world of the shifting human values found in the arts. (An analysis of the psychological processes going on during these years can be found in his essay "Rhetoric and Motive in the Writing of Art History; A shapeshifter’s Perspective" in Elizabeth Mansfield Ed., Remaking Art History, Routledge, New York, 2007). Occasionally Bucklow would write articles on art and the new physics for New Scientist magazine, London.
In 1986 Chris Bucklow visited Botswana to observe Halley's comet from the perfect viewing conditions of the Makgadikgadi salt pans. While there, he experienced a revelation about the latent mythological content of Romantic philosophy, and, "in retrospect," says Bucklow, "I see this as the beginning of my trajectory towards beginning to make art." Another element in that shift was the tragic road accident that one of his brothers was involved in that same year, the experience of the aftermath of which prompted him to begin the journal that he has kept to this day. This began as a journal of ideas and dreams and also a diary. It has now become his series of sketchbooks.
In 1988 Bucklow met Susan Percival, his future wife. The following year, together, they took an extended train tour of Italy, and it was there, in Assisi, on the 8th of August, that Chris Bucklow first knew that he would again make art. On their return to England, he began the projects that he would later exhibit in London and New York.
Life and Work as an Artist
Bucklow's first projects were conceptual and sculptural, sometimes taking the form of interventions into the natural environment, inserting his un-natural sculptural works into Nature. The works themselves were plant forms that he had either altered genetically or otherwise altered by grafting species together. (Hyacinthus Orientalis at Selborne, Dianthus chris eubank, Potato-tomato plant, Pear-hawthorn graft, variously shown in 1993 at the Lisson gallery, London and in 1996 at the Museum of Modern art in Oxford).
It seems to be a feature of Christopher Bucklow's work – particularly his earlier work - that he often has/had projects running concurrently in different media. So that while these plant works were being made, he also began a series of Noosphere paintings and a set of portraits of monkeys at the Zoo and the Natural History Museum in London. On the theme of concurrent activities, Bucklow also continued to work at the V&A during this period. He resigned in 1995. "Looking back," says Bucklow, "I feel that the museum was an ideal place to nurture one’s mind, a safe and stimulating environment. In some way it feels as if it was an incubator, an extended period in a kind of university. It was also ideally situated as Prince Albert had intended, in the South Kensington complex which included the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, Imperial College and the Royal College of Art. All of art and nature on one site" (taken from a personal interview with the artist).
The plant sculptures ran between 1989 and 1993. In 1991 he began the series of Noosphere paintings mentioned above. These mutated into the first photographic pieces – the solar clusters collectively entitled The Beauty of the World of 1991-1995 - which would in turn mutate into the Guest series by late 1993. The Guest series and its development, the Tetrarchs is ongoing.
While in Italy, Bucklow began to become involved in Blake again, and he became interested in the psychology of his own creative process, and further, in the development of his mind from childhood onwards. While in Italy he planned the video film he made in late 1996 called fju:zan (shown in NY in 1997). This re-enacted the making of his 1989 sculpture Hyacinthus Orientalis, but from the point of view or perspective of a psychological personification of the internal drives and energies that had motivated the making of the original work.
This work proved to be a one-off. In 1998 the Bucklows moved to Frome, in Somerset, and Christopher began a series of pencil drawings (shown under the collective title The Mancunian Heresy in London in 1999, some illustrated in his book If This Be Not I). That same year, he also built the building called the "Canopic Fusion Reactor", near St Ives in Cornwall (destroyed by arson December 31, 1999).
In 2002, Bucklow began the paintings and pastel drawings of the series he called I Will Save Your Life. These were exhibited at Riflemaker gallery in London in 2004, along with his dream rota or diary All I have left of You is Me.
The year 2005 was spent in Sewanee, Tennessee, at The University of the South, teaching art history and studio art. Out of the experience of creating the series of lectures for his course Symbolising the Self came Bucklow's book on Philip Guston: 'What is in the Dwat – the Universe of Guston’s Final Decade (Grasmere, 2007). "Also, in some way," reflects Bucklow, "came the confidence to let go of my conceptual ambitions and surrender control of my work to unconscious forces." The resulting works, paintings, perhaps to be titled as a group To Reach Inside a Vault will be shown by Riflemaker winter 2009/10.
The Bucklows currently reside in Somerset, England with their two children. Their daughter Beatrix was born in 2001, and their son Edward was born in 2005.
Bodies of work
If This Be Not I: This is a collection, in book form, of drawings and paintings done by Christopher Bucklow between 1999 and 2004. It contains works from the series The Mancunian Heresy as well. It also contains writings, essays by Bucklow and others, as well as interviews. The drawings and paintings themselves have been made with a variety of media including graphite on paper, wax crayon on paper, oil, carbon, silicon, cast IUDs. The book is an excellent source[says who?] for understanding the mental processes behind the making of Bucklow's work. The images can be seen on his website which is referenced below.
Guest: Bucklow is best known for his Guest series. It establishes a cast of characters drawn from his circle of acquaintances. Unlike conventional photography, each image is unique and unrepeatable. The process Bucklow uses creates an unusually intense quality of light, and the images are formed using sunlight with a technique similar to the pinhole photography developed in the late nineteenth century. He begins by making a life-sized silhouette drawing from the sitter's shadow on a sheet of aluminium foil, which is then penetrated with thousands of pinholes within the outline of the shape. These pinholes act as the camera's lenses. Using a large homemade camera, he then places the foil on top and loads colour photographic paper at the back. Sunlight is then allowed to shine through, recording many images of the sun and sky simultaneously, thus forming the shape of the figure on the paper behind. Bucklow achieves variation in the different works depending on the intensity of the sunlight, the time of day, and the duration the pinholes are exposed to the light. This work was begun in the 1990s, beginning with the series The Beauty of the World, which is made up of images using the same technique, but including different patterns and designs instead of silhouettes of people. These works are ongoing, along with the series Tetrarchs made using the same photographic process. These works can be seen on Bucklow's website- link below.
To Reach Inside a Vault: Bucklow's most recent body of work is a series of paintings which he is thinking of presenting under the title To Reach Inside a Vault. These are oil paintings on canvas, mostly very large in size. (The image shown here, for example is 64×200 inches.) They are filled with symbols which Bucklow describes as being produced by his mind as authentic symbols for itself. The paintings seem to flow out of him, to be thought about and analyzed only after they are finished. Bucklow says, in talking about his motives in making these works, "I question the role and place of my consciousness within the totality of my unconscious mental systems" (taken from an interview with the artist in eyeful magazine, 2009). These works seem[says who?] to be the next step in the thinking that Bucklow has been doing all along in his study of and making of art. The works will be shown at Riflemaker Gallery in 2009/2010.
Books and publications
- If This Be Not I, British Museum and The Wordsworth Trust, 2004 (book). Essays by Marina Warner, Adam Phillips, Roger Malbert, Introduction by James Putnam
- Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Riflemaker 2004 (catalogue)
- Christopher Bucklow: Guest, Blindspot Publications, New York, October 2004 (book). Essays by David Alan Mellor and Maria Morris Hambourg. 50 colour plates.
- Seven Beginnings to Guest, (catalogue) Artereal, Sydney
- I Will Save Your Life:
- What is in the Dwat, The Universe of Philip Guston’s Final Decade, Wordsworth Trust (June 1, 2007), ISBN 1905256213, (Introduction available as PDF on artist's website)
- Sea of Time and Space, by Christopher Bucklow (PDF available on artist's website for this and the following essay)
- This is Personal: Blake and Mental Fight, by Christopher Bucklow
Interviews and Articles
- Christopher Bucklow talking with Akihito Nakanishi (see artist's website for PDF versions of this and each of the following)
- Interview by Addie Elliott: "In Anticipation of The Final Three Minutes"
- In conversation with Adam Phillips, 20 February 2003
- In conversation with Adam Phillips, 13 March 2003
- Interview in fall 2009 issue of "eyeful", a fine arts publication in its second year
- Bucklow, Christopher, Guest, New York, PowerHouse Books, 2004.
- Wood, John (ed.), Flesh and Spirit, Brewster, Mass., An art publication of Leo and Wolfe Photography, Inc., 2004.
- Bucklow, Christopher, If This Be Not I, The Wordsworth Trust, 2004.
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