Basement Camera Shop circa 1937 (2011) is part of a series of photographic self-portraits in which Rodney Graham plays a host of characters. In the series as a whole, Graham makes the case that identity is performed. Here, we see the artist behind a shop desk lined with early cameras and boxes of Kodak film. As the buttoned-up clerk scrawls a note, the ragged upper edge of the stage set is clearly visible above him.
Good Hand Bad Hand was created especially for the 2010 show Rodney Graham: Painter, Poet, Lighthouse Keeper at the Lisson Gallery in London. In this pair of light boxes, Graham appears as one of his many alter egos—a gambler sitting at a poker table, cards in hand. The two images are almost identical except for slight differences in gesture: in the left panel Graham is arranging his hand of cards while in the right his hand is placed on the table.
Ponderosa Pine IV belongs to a series of large-scale photographs of trees taken by Graham and depicts a particular species that live in Northern California. The photograph is framed upside down; these “inverted trees” follow Graham’s early experiments with the camera lucida, a room-sized pinhole camera that dates back to ancient times and which he has used to photograph trees from various regions. Through these works Graham looks back at the history of photography while making the viewers aware of their own retinal experience.
Dance!!!!! continues Graham’s long-standing fascination with the myth of the American West, an idea he investigates through its prevalence in movies, music, and legends. Here, the artist recreates the familiar, hackneyed saloon scene from Hollywood Westerns in which a man—played by Graham himself—is forced to “dance” because bullets are being shot at his feet.
Conceptual artist Rodney Graham’s oeuvre is highly versatile and intellectual. By incorporating fictional narratives and alternative interpretations into an existing context, Graham creates visual puns that layer historical reference to examine social and philosophical systems. Not only is Graham the behind-the-scenes sculptor, photographer, filmmaker, inventor, scholar, writer and singer in his projects, he also literally appears in the finished works, impersonating various fictional characters.