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Boyd Webb: Horse and Dog


Review: Jack Foley

The Inaugural Event of the Visiting Artists Programme at the Estorick Collection.

Horse & Dog, a new film by the internationally acclaimed artist, Boyd Webb, together with an exhibition of his photographic work from the 1970s, will be featured at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art from Thursday, April 24, to Sunday, May 25, 2003 at 39a Canonbury Square, London N1.

Boyd Webb was invited to take part in the new Visiting Artists Programme at the Estorick and chose to make a short film, which is the latest in a series of films he has made periodically throughout his career.

Horse & Dog is one of Webb's most enigmatic pieces, depicting aspects of the human condition. The main characters are pantomime creatures, humans dressed as animals behaving like humans, and the action revolves around their ill-fated camping expedition in the Sussex countryside.

A cameo of man's two best friends struggling with problems presented by the great outdoors, the film gently satirises the eccentricities of human behaviour. It is off-beat and engaging, and revels in the elegantly observed absurdities that are a frequent feature of the artist's work.

Webb's first essay into the moving image was with Guard, a film made in 1973, while he was at the Royal College of Art, while, in 1996, his film, Love Story, was commissioned for 'Spellbound', an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, which celebrated the centenary of cinema in London.

As well as Horse & Dog, there will be 16 photographs exhibited at the Estorick Collection, which were executed by Webb between 1970 and 1980.

The artist wanted to show the new film in tandem with his early photographs, as his work from that decade had a comparable narrative character.

Explaining how photography became his preferred medium, Boyd Webb has said: "I started as a sculptor making life casts of people in fibreglass and arranging them in tableaux but it was an expensive and cumbersome practice. The need to record them led me to photography. With photography I could use actors, arranging them at will. I had complete control."

The two earliest photographs in the exhibition are Middle of the Road Sculpture and Eels, both executed in Christchurch, in 1971. For the first, Webb squeezed shaving cream to form the white marks in the centre of a quiet tarmac road.

Eels depicts a small child fishing, with frozen eels placed like a fence around the rose bed in the suburban garden behind the figure. Both images, at first apparently mundane, have a disturbing quality.

Herbert Groves was the first photographic work Webb made as a student at the Royal College of Art in 1973. It is a diptych which tells a bizarre story with one picture depicting a South London betting shop, the other a man with 'fungus' displayed in his open mouth. As with many of Webb's works, the caption is an important component of the work.

Born in New Zealand in 1947, Boyd Webb studied at Canterbury University, Christchurch, and the Royal College of Art, London, before graduating in 1975. He has had numerous solo exhibitions in the UK, Europe, North America, Australasia and Japan and his work can now be found in public and private collections around the world. He lives and works in England.

The purpose of the Visiting Arts Programme is to provide contemporary artists with an opportunity to work with and exhibit alongside the collection. It is hoped that the collection, the artists represented and their ideas will act as a springboard for a dialogue between the art of the past and that of the present.

Horse & Dog was commissioned by the Estorick Collection, Film and Video Umbrella and The Laboratory at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art at the University of Oxford, in association with the De La Warr Pavilion and Milton Keynes Gallery.

It is supported by the National Touring Programme of the Arts Council of England and Southern & South East Arts. The film and exhibition of photographs, most of which have not previously been seen in this country, come to the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art after showing at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, and the Milton Keynes Gallery.

ABOUT THE ESTORICK: Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, 39a Canonbury Square, London, N1 2AN. Tel: 020 7704 9522; Fax: 020 7704 9531. Opening hours: Wednesday to Saturday, from 11am - 6pm, Sunday 12 noon - 5pm. Shop: open gallery hours; Library: by appointment only.
Admission: £3.50, concessions £2.50. Free to under-16s and students on production of a valid NUS card. Library, by appointment only, £2.50 per visit.

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