/24 Road

John MacLean


Photographing the hometowns of my art heroes.
Artists’ biographies frequently concur on one point: their subjects first awaken to the idea that they may be able to make art when they encounter the work of an established artist. That is, most artists are converted to art by art itself. This first creative affiliation encourages the fledgling artist’s latent ambition and bolsters their self-belief; it may then be supplemented with others, forming a network of mentors-by-proxy within which the burgeoning artist begins to articulate their voice.

Peruse the book collection of anyone with a serious interest in art and you will find a similar network here too — an inner circle of ‘desert island artists’ represented by the most-thumbed books on the shelf. Whilst a prevailing aesthetic may be evident, any suggestion that the relationship between the viewer, the image and the artist is just a mutual appreciation of formal values is to deny that artists are able to tap into something that runs much deeper.

Hometowns takes a reflexive look at this process of encoding. It began life as a line in my notebook: ‘Photograph the hometowns of your heroes’ — an idea for a layered investigation into the places which influenced those artists whose work has coloured my own. Two years later, that line has become a sixty-five-image, photo-homage to a unique group of artists who have been my own mentors-by-proxy, and an endeavour to untangle the strands which connect me to their work.

In total, I have travelled to twenty-five towns and cities — the environments where ‘my’ artists each spent their formative years. Every trip was preceded by a period of biographical research, which inevitably refreshed my memory of the photographs, paintings and sculptures that emerged (at least partially) from these neighbourhoods. Important artworks had persuaded me to travel to these locations so, unavoidably perhaps, I photographed each hometown through their afterimage. But each place provoked an individual response, and I found myself swimming with and against those currents.