B-Side Ellen Gallery is a series of photographs of the back sides of artworks drawn from the collection of the Leonard & Bina Ellen Gallery, Concordia University. The images are printed actual size, and are glued or stapled around commercial painting stretchers. The initial selection of the artworks was somewhat arbitrary: two were taken from the works photographed on a single storage rack; the ten others fulfilled the criteria of being 20 to 24 inches tall.
This series was created for the 2014 group show Speculations: Risquer l’interprétation, but the idea goes back eight years, when the artist was photographing a 17th century Rembrandt painting, which he was documenting for the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. The markings he found there from distant conservators and framers told the story of the provenance of the work, but also there was something intriguing about the privilege of seeing the side of the painting that is normally hidden from the public.
Litherland’s B-Side uses a lesser-known but recurring subject in historical and contemporary art. He shares in an overarching interest in the gesture of elevating the mundane material support of an artwork to the status of art, and thus flipping the normal status of the front and the back. He also engages with the trompe-l’oeil tradition, which confronts viewers with the pleasures and questions that come from mixing up the “real” and the “representation” of the real. However, what it brings to both of these axes is also very personal.
The choice of the subject not only comes out of his work as an art photographer, it also is a visual metaphor for the artist’s ongoing reluctance to embrace his identity as an artist (the front of the painting) at the expense of an ideal of being a “productive” member of society (the support).
As for the trompe-l’oeil, the artist does want to fool us, but only at first. He leaves enough clues to reveal the artifice. The underlying question for the artist is “How can I find a balance between being an authentic person while maintaining the act that allows me to get along with others?” In having us realize our mistake in perception, the artist gives us an experience in which we can delight in the pleasures of the representation, but also feel what is missing in it—reality is something more—thus reminding us that there are ways to navigate this distinction.
During the production of the work, the artist had the privilege of an email conversation with media theorist John Hunting. You can view the conversation here.
Also presented with the exhibition is an artwork information document that is modeled on the accession database that the gallery uses to manage the information about the collection. You can consult it here.