Make@GoMA – Timespan

October is Black History Month and, to celebrate it, we are highlighting some key artists in our collection. This weekend, we’re getting inspiration from Tam Joseph and his work “Timespan”.

“Timespan” work was donated to Glasgow Museums in 1992 by the Contemporary Art Society. You can see an image of it above: a long black cat leaping across the canvas, with three portraits hanging by string from the top of the canvas.

As all Tam Josephs work, this is a personal piece. You can hear him discuss why he made the artwork in this talk at GoMA recorded:

Tam Joseph was born on the island of Dominica and moved to London when he was 8 years old. He was the only black child at his local school. Tam went on to study art at two different art schools. He studied painting, typography and printmaking. He worked on the animation of the Beatles film “Yellow Submarine”.

Cover for Yellow Submarine (also known as The Beatles: Yellow Submarine)

“Timespan” was inspired by a ‘botch job’ which the artist saw on a wall in Nîmes, France. In the way the wall had been fixed, he saw a leaping cat. He used this remembered image for the work and also the material nature of the wall, which he recreated in children’s play sand mixed with PVA and then painted. He applied this to the canvas using a builders trowel. The black cat was was painted with acrylic mixed with PVA and then sifted black powder paint over the wet painted area of the cat. One black and white photograph and two postcards were then added with different lengths of string in front of the canvas. The black cat is stretched over the three images presenting a positive and powerful leap forward. The image nearer the tail is of Rameses the Great, the Egyptian Pharaoh, the centre image is of Malcolm X, and the image over the cat’s front paws is of Joseph’s daughter then aged 4. Joseph is interested in how experiences and representation of Black people are defined and do not necessarily change over time. How activists like Malcolm X achieved so much, but then are perceived too powerful and murdered. Timespan is a positive work about a hopeful leap forward in terms of racial equality and human rights, especially for his daughter. But equally Joseph is acknowledging through the inclusion of the three photographic images that time hasn’t necessarily changed everything for the better and some struggles are still the same. The photograph and the postcards are also bound by string, which partially obscures, erases, the image and potentially sees them struggle to be free. The length of the string relates to the length of Joseph’s body and in the proportions and placing of the lengths of string he references the ‘Golden Ratio’ and the drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci. He is therefore placing himself in this work questioning a chronological reading of time and political change.

However, Tam Joseph does not want his work to be purely pigeonholed as being only about his race. When discussing his exhibition ‘This is History’ he stated that:

‘I wasn’t trying to develop a distinctly black art. I was trying to develop myself as a person, through my art..”

Tam Joseph

Tam describes himself as a collector of images and thoughts, which he collects mainly by looking and connecting. He records everything that impacts him visually by doing a quick sketch or taking a photo on his phone. These help jog his memory. His approach is similar to the materials he uses. He is a multi dimensional artist. He is always looking about outside environments and in skips for odd bits of wood. He has his own particular way of seeing arts’ potential and artworks almost come to life in his everyday world. His sculptures and paintings can widely vary in the particular material he is attracted to, plaster, clay, paper-mache, iron filings, wood, linen, metal, oil and acrylic paint.

Joseph has had many exhibitions throughout the uk and in America. His paintings have been exhibited widely particularly ‘The Spirit of the Carnival’ (1982), ‘ School Report’ (1980) and ‘The Flying Doctor’ (1984)

Tam Joseph describes how he feels about his art process by stating that,

 “Art can anchor a troubled mind.”

Tam Joseph

There is no defined practical activity for this month except to try and immerse yourself in Tam Joseph’s work and then make something personal about how it makes you feel. A sketch, a tiny mural. A piece of moulded clay, a sewn textile, a collage, a piece of writing, a poem. Any kind of creative response that you can think of.

We hope the work by this amazing artist can inspire your creativity. Please share your results with us on social media #make@goma

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