Imitation and Reality in Daniel Gordon’s ‘Still Life with Tennis Balls and Racket’

Throughout lockdown, Daniel Gordon’s practice has focussed on blending different media within a single picture plane. During this period, the artist created a unique body of work that is simultaneously sculptural, photographic, and painterly, coming together in his first UK solo exhibition Green Apples and Boots. Gordon’s process typically involves downloading and assembling found imagery from the internet and magazines, constructing a colourful and intricate tableau, and photographing the scene. However, during the period of isolation that came alongside Covid-19, the artist found himself drawn towards the personal objects littered throughout his house.

The works within Green Apples and Boots include many of Gordon’s household items. A pair of Doc Martens, some Nike trainers, a tennis racket, cutlery, pliers, and a pair of batteries populate the photographs within the exhibition, alongside more traditional still life ephemera such as fruit, flowers, and ceramicware. This move towards recognisably personal objects marks an invitation into Gordon’s life. Within these photographs, fantastically coloured and surrealist as they are, the artist reveals snippets of his everyday activities. We are offered a peek at the shoes he puts on for a walk and the cutlery he uses to eat his food, objects that quite literally sustain his life. So too, these items correlate with the long hours of retrospection and time spent indoors during lockdown, sometimes with only objects to accompany us. Gordon’s work responds to the forced domesticity many have fallen into within the lockdown. No longer are still lifes associated with painting exercises, rather Gordon transforms the genre to reflect the frustrating boredom and simplistic paring back of our encounters with lockdown. Indeed, many have experienced a re-evaluation and appreciation of the material pleasures we once took for granted, and Gordon’s photographs can be understood as a celebration of the items we choose to fill our lives with.

Still Life with Tennis Balls and Racket (2020) features Gordon’s well-worn Nike Air Max trainers, alongside a collection of fruit, tennis balls, and a racket. Arranged upon a neon geometric pattern, the objects have been carefully covered with cutout images of themselves, simultaneously imitative and genuine. Playing with the idea of Plato’s mimesis, Gordon’s still life is at once an authentic image, yet also pastiche of itself. The tennis racket is a functional racket, but within the still life it only poses as a racket, printed images pasted over and obscuring its original form. This dichotomy is a curious one, presenting a comical clumsiness that Gordon actively embraces. Experimenting with the very physicality of his still lifes, Gordon explains that he chooses to make his objects look ‘more like a cartoon, like a version of the thing [rather than] the actual thing’. As such, Still Life with Tennis Balls and Racket operates within a juxtaposition, its utilitarian objects appearing harmonious alongside the traditional fruit, wrapped up in reproduced versions of themselves.

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