[December 13 2017]
I meet Miles Aldridge at Lyndsey Ingram Gallery where his new show (after) – Projects with Harland Miller, Maurizio Cattelan, Gilbert & George hangs around us. Just the day before I’d done a reconnaissance style trip to check out the exhibition, which mixes Aldridge’s slickly nostalgic photographic style with artworks and guest appearances from three contemporary art icons. It turns out Aldridge also likes a recce, which sets us off on a good foot, and he is sprightly and engaging as we bounce around the rooms checking out the pictures:
Jethro Turner – What did you want to do with this show?
Miles Aldridge – I was invited by Maurizio Cattelan who I knew a little bit through a mutual friend, to create a series of pictures at his exhibition last December at the Monnaie de Paris. He said to me that he had an exhibition and that it would make a really great backdrop for my photographs. To which I thought “wow, that’s a cool invitation”. So like you I did a ‘recce’ and scouted out the place, which is a very big classical baroque building, which was originally the French royal mint.
Jethro Turner – Yes, I saw the Paul McCarthy show there, where he was ‘minting’ his chocolate Santa buttplugs inside. So what was interesting about what Maurizio Cattelan had done there?
Miles Aldridge – The space where Maurizio had positioned his sculptures made me want to bring a classical nude, from the period of Ingres, David and Delacroix back into the space and to confront the sculptures and kind of say ‘what the fuck?’. In the spirit of some of the classical heroines like the Furies or the Valkyries. So from the idea, I started with some simple drawings, which I sent to Maurizio and he loved the idea. We agreed that we’d meet at the museum at 7pm and go in together and spend the night there, with my team, the model and this fake security guard I brought along.
Jethro Turner – Were you there all night?
Miles Aldridge – Yes we were there from 7pm to 7am, and we did six pictures. It was a strange experience, because I’ve obviously worked a lot in Paris, but it was the first time that got the train over and then gone back without sleeping there. It was a weird feeling, but we came back with these great polaroids. I go into projects with drawings, so you have a kind of plan, but it’s not til you’re there that you have the scenario that’s set up and you know if it makes sense or not.
Jethro Turner – How was Maurizio involved?
Miles Aldridge – Maurizio’s role was first to give me permission to do it, but then he was there to add a bit of humour and playfulness to the evening. He’s kind of like a child that’s never grown up.
Jethro Turner – Is he off camera in these shots larking around?
Miles Aldridge – He is. And he was asking things like ‘why doesn’t the girl pee on the puppet’s head?’. But I didn’t really want to go there! My work is about the female body, but I always want it to be beautiful, never trashy. Maurizio’s kind of fun and disruptive. The museum director was there too, and I think he was happy that these multi-million works of art weren’t being drenched in model urine.
Jethro Turner – The model might not have been keen either.
Miles Aldridge – Yes, she was probably like ‘hey, I didn’t sign up for this’.
Jethro Turner – Was is a model that you’d worked with before?
Miles Aldridge – It wasn’t, but she was recommended to me for the casting. She struck exactly the note that I was after which was to do with pride, and fury and strength. The idea of these slightly malicious gods coming back to confront this work. I wanted her to be really otherworldly and have a real power in the picture.
Jethro Turner – There’s something a bit ‘Berlin 1930s Cabaret’ about her look, especially the Marlene Dietrich eyebrows.
Miles Aldridge – We went back and forth with references, so while it started with the classical paintings, it then moved on to Marlene Dietrich and Allen Jones and A Clockwork Orange, especially with the hair. It’s never just about one thing. I like it when my work stands with one foot in the history of photography and painting, and with the other in the present.
Jethro Turner – How did the Gilbert and George pieces come about?
Miles Aldridge – I had done a portrait of them, and they were extremely funny, witty and camp, and really up for it. So we’d had a great time and I suggested doing another series where a beautiful stranger arrives at their home, spends the weekend cycling and drinking tea, and then on Sunday there would be bath night. So like Maurizio, they were extraordinarily generous with their energy and the devotion they gave to the project. And they gave me complete freedom, as we shot it all at their house. And also like with Maurizio, I presented a series of drawings to them and we went from there.
Jethro Turner – Had you seen their house first?
Miles Aldridge – Yes, I’d shot them at home. And when I do a portrait session, I ask to see every space, so they showed me all around the house. When I showed them the picture with the bikes Gilbert was a bit hesitant, but George piped up and said, “Gilbert this is Miles’ idea! You must let him do what he wants to do!”. And that summarizes the generosity of all three of the artists I worked with. I don’t mean that like some speech at the Oscars, but genuinely, these people with great talent and confidence have no anxiety about looking foolish, so they gave me enough rope to hang myself with. The thing I was worried about was whether my photography would stand up against their work, but I think I’ve pulled it off.
Jethro Turner – So these shots of Gilbert and George are shot in black and white and then the color is added over the top?
Miles Aldridge – Yes, it’s been a really interesting process. I worked with photogravure, which is an old process, but I love it. Then the blocks of colour are added à la poupée with each colour separately run through the press. Each image took a full day to print. I then decided to paint the skin in as watercolour because it was less disturbing.
Jethro Turner – It gives it a lighter touch.
Miles Aldridge – Yes, it doesn’t disturb the black ink at all. With these pictures, I was thinking about Victorian postcards and Hans Bellmer and his series called The Doll. The bright blue colour of the bathwater sums up my style quite neatly – it’s that idea that there’s reality but I always want it to be a bit more colourful or bit more exciting. There’s this great anecdote of Antonioni, when he was making Blow Up. Apparently he painted the grass green in some of those scenes because they were filming in November and it looked really shitty.
Jethro Turner – And then finally there’s the Harland Miller. Is he somebody you knew already?
Miles Aldridge – I’ve known him for ages actually. When I met him we were in our twenties, and he was trying to be a writer and I was trying to be a filmmaker. Now Harland’s ended up being a painter who paints the books he never wrote, and he uses language so beautifully in his paintings. And then as for myself, having wanted to be Francis Ford Coppola or Scorcese, I’ve ended up doing photographs that feel possibly quite like film stills. All that attention to detail that I would put into film I put into each of these scenes.
Jethro Turner – They’re all like different shots from a film of a woman’s life, with the same model and different Harland Miller books.
Miles Aldridge – Yes, I found myself at his show at White Cube, and I saw these ten foot tall paintings of his book covers, and I thought “well what could I do with these as another kind of collaboration?”, and it seemed obvious to reduce them back down to books and make them into props. I then slightly nervously called him because I was worried he might think it was slightly demeaning for his art, but he was like “yeah man, go ahead and do it!”. He’s since told me that he was convinced that it would never work, but actually he really likes them. It’s kind of like the book is the seed that has germinated into the images.
Jethro Turner – What are the inspirations behind these?
Miles Aldridge – Harland and I both grew up with a lot of the same bad interior designs, all this tawdry, chintzy stuff. So a lot of it references my childhood and my mum and my sister, but I was also thinking about girls in Morrissey’s lyrics. There’s a sort of Kitchen Sink quality to it. And then there are French movies, like Jean-Luc Godard and this image of Anna Karina crying at a window reading a book that I started to break open. The drawings I started with are a combination of watercolour and pastel and were basically me trying to work out what colours would work, to use them as storyboards to see what would work in a gallery.
Jethro Turner – What are you looking for in the figure of the woman in these images? She’s a very idealised form.
Miles Aldridge – Very true. It’s all influenced by the advertising, pin ups, pornographic magazines that I saw as a kid, which is very different to the stuff on the internet now. I remember finding a copy of my dad’s Mayfair magazine which he’d left lying around, and it was like seeing the gods. There’s a kind of reverence for those kind of beauties from that era in these images. There’s undoubtedly an element of nostalgia – but I didn’t want these images to be pornographic. It works in the same way that Tom Wesselmann might interpret the nude or big advertising billboards. These are kind of the women I fell in love with as a child. There’s always an element of my mum in these images. When a mother dies there’s this huge significance, so there’s the Yardley talcum powder and the trinkets, and they’re kind of like Proustian madeleines that remind me of her. But I have no desire to fuck my dead mother, they’re not sexual images.
Jethro Turner – There’s only one in which the model looks directly at the camera.
Miles Aldridge – It’s very much about the pause – these moments where women are pausing in their day. There’s one where it’s like a Manet pose, if I’m not being too pretentious, where she’s staring back at the camera to confront you, the viewer. But Godard and Bergman did that trick too, like in the end scene of Summer With Monika, where the lead character final stares at you as the camera zooms in.
Jethro Turner – What’s the difference between how you approach your fashion work and this kind of gallery work?
Miles Aldridge – In all my work I’m working with the idea of reconciling all these elements from movies and my memories, but trying to make something new out of it. Pure photocopying of the past isn’t interesting at all. You’ve got to create something new from these references and notes that we carry around with us. There’s that great line: ‘You may be finished with the past, but the past isn’t finished with you’. It just haunts us.
“(After) – Projects with Harland Miller, Maurizio Cattelan, Gilbert & George” is on view until January 5th, 2018 at Lyndsey Ingram Gallery, 20 Bourdon Street, W1K 3PL London.
Text and photo Jethro Turner