For many of us, photographs function as a kind of mnemonic trigger; a way of remembering people we’ve known and places we’ve been. We come to almost fetishize them as relics, especially old black and white photos that you can actually hold in your hand. We start to believe that somehow they truly contain the past. But Maria Kontis, an artist who for many years has used photos as the starting point for her meticulous drawings, knows better. “The memories aren’t in the photographs,” she says. “They aren’t fixed or safe. Memory is temporal: it’s always being made and remade.”
And Kontis actively engages in this process. Although she works with photographs (traditionally associated with documentation and truth) Kontis is not interested in verisimilitude. “The drawings are small fictions,” she explains. Drawn to photos that are less than perfect to start with, “snapshots that are faded, blurry, grainy, creased, overexposed or underexposed,” Kontis then edits and manipulates the images. She may remove the background so a figure seems suspended in an impossible void, as in Gigantic Youth, 2014, or change the expression on a face, forever altering a captured moment.
In this way, Kontis uses drawing to change the past, to tell her own stories. “The drawing always becomes something other than the photograph,” she says. “I’m interested in narrative, or to be precise, a troubled narrative.”
Through the lengthy, deliberate action of drawing, Kontis reinvigorates static images. “I like the idea of working with pencil on paper over time to build an image that eventually has a life of its own. I like the slowness and the waiting in an image,” she says. “I take the reified image, the frozen image, and return it to time and movement. For me, this is both a destructive and a creative gesture.”
Darren Knight Gallery
23 July – 27 August