A small selection of writings on David Hiscock's works                                                                                                    _____________________________________________________________________________ 

The emotional morphology of processing film  -  Chris Titterington

"We none of us enough appreciate the nobleness and sacredness of colour. Nothing is more common than to hear it spoken of as a subordinate beauty - nay, even as the mere source of sensual pleasure... But it is not so. Such expressions are used for the most part in thoughtlessness; and if the speakers would only take the pains to imagine what the world would become, if the blue were taken from the sky, and the gold from the sunshine, and the verdure from the leaves, and the crimson from the blood which is the life of man... if they could but see for an instant, white human creatures living in a white world, - they would soon feel what they owe to colour. The fact is, that, of all God's gifts to the sight of man, colour is the holiest, the most divine, the most solemn. We speak rashly of gay colour and sad colour... All good colour is in some degree pensive,[and) the loveliest is melancholy.”  JOHN RUSKIN THE STONES OF VENICE (1853) VOL II.CH.v.


     There is a certain solemnity in the beauty of these works by David Hiscock. Visually, they are gorgeous - perhaps even sumptuous, in their likeness to the light and surface of shot silk and taffeta sarsenet; but they appear also to be noble in that special sense meant by Ruskin in the text above. Such beauty is deeply affecting, deeply impressive. In this they share the visual qualities of the colour work by the contemporary painters Gerhard Richter, and even more so, the Irishman Nicholas May.

     Along with these sensual depths, however, there is also a solemn beauty in the method by which they are made - though the gravity that one assigns to their making may in fact be learnt by the reflected beauty of the final product. Once the images have been experi­enced it is impossible to tell. Hiscock uses a camera in which film moves past a slit aperture. Like a procession, moving at a stately speed, the film processes before the source of the image. The duration of time this takes may be up to three minutes and the artist can thus introduce or remove objects from the field of view at any time during the exposure. An object might record as a drawn out shape for some seconds or minutes before its 'life' is ended as it is removed from the composition. This is most obviously visible in the works in which rectangles of colour appear. This idea of the life of the forms is crucial, for it introduces a sense of the sacredness of the action of composition: one decides what one must do, effects it: the film moves on...whatever is done is done. Thus the choice of objects - almost of 'characters' - and the duration of their parts is rendered deliberate and filled with high import. The photograph becomes a stage which records events over time, an arena in which things from the world come into being, or, as it were, surface from their unrecorded state into vis­iblity, before submerging again into their former invisible state; perhaps, like souls, to be reincarnated in a later work. This, or most of this, is true about all acts of representation. Hiscock's achievement here is to have pro­duced work which in its beauty and gravity provokes such meditation on the symbolic or metaphoric activity that he has invested in the work.

     Once it is known that the subject of each of these works is the artist himself, that they are self portraits, and that the camera points at his face and torso, then the metaphors of an individual life begin to seem central to the work. It then appears certain that what is being alluded to here is an internal self portrait, and that Hiscock has resorted to abstraction in an effort to circumvent the problem of representing the mental, or immaterial interior, by the use of 'exterior' objects. It is indeed difficult for us today to 'read' the personifications of Renaissance art in that way that it was intended, and it takes an effort of mind to understand that William Blake's figures frequently represent psychological 'personalities' and qualities; that they are visual embodi­ments - vehicles - for a portrait of his own mind. These new works by David Hiscock thus take their place amongst the abstract paintings of Hilma Af Klint and Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater's 'Thought Forms'.

     Their internal organization thus comes to stand for patterns of feeling and contesting ideas; for the complexity of the meaning and emotion implicit in the subtle electrical structures that we contain - the tiniest voltages of memory and desire.The photographs become the material equivalents of the artist's internal architecture - his emotional morphology - his human silhouette.

     In a number of these works, two forms, roughly elleptical. stand upright in an indeterminate space.They seem to be anthropomorphic like two life-forms, their literal human shape shrouded by an aura. Could they indeed be seen as individuals or are they to be read as individual aspects of a single person­ality? The beauty of the work is such that the works seem to be visually magnetic, to radiate a presence - like an impressive personality which seems to project attraction. But the work is veiled and would seem to conceal the human - hint at its presence - but keep it well hidden, protected like the holy of holies in the First Temple. In other words, at a time when such views are theoretically unfashionable, is this a declaration in a belief in the numinous individuality of the self - a silent pointing akin to that of Hermeticism or the Cabala? The physiognomy is indeed hidden: his eyes and his whole face, both traditionally considered to be windows on the soul, are con­cealed - but could they be reconstructed? Might not one be able to pull the drawn out strands of the image together, and like Holbein's anamorphic skull in 'The Ambassadors' at the National Gallery view the images from the correct angle to put the image into the right perspective?

     In retrospect it appears that the subject of this new work has always been Hiscock's subject ­that he has always alluded to the growth and state of his own mental economy - his moral and intellectual fabric . The early references to alchemy should have been enough of a clue - being seen as a symbol for the refinement of the soul from baser states of being. The Olympic work seems also to have this theme at its core - Hiscock appears to have been alive to the mental qualities required of the competing individuals, the forces that drive them, their idealism. In this he shows similarity to artists such as Matthew Barney, who sees the develop­ment of mental power as similar to that of the development of muscle - that is as the action of the psyche against restraining forces.

     The quality of mind revealed in these and Hiscock's earlier works is that of an artist who sees the movements of the spirit even in the mundane. The colour produced in the new works is that of the artist’s clothing and his face - both concieved of as clothes of another kind. Here I am put in mind of Thomas Carlyle:

"...The thing Visible, nay the thing Imagined, the thing in any way conceived as visible, what is it but a Garment, a clothing of the Invisible, 'unimaginable, formless, dark with excess of bright. [...] What is man himself and his whole terrestrial life, but an Emblem; a Clothing or visible Garment for that divine Me of his, cast hither, like a light-particle, down from Heaven?” SARTOR RESARTUS 11833} BKI,CH.XI




     In Baudelaire's prose poem, The Double Room there is a foreshadowing, as if in a tarnished mirror, of David Hiscock's perverse spaces. Baudelaire describes a "room that is like a reverie. A room that is truly soulful, where the stagnant atmosphere is lightly tinted with rose colour and blue" . The text gestures towards deep atmospherics and the mysterious indo­lence of flowers and muslin. This closeted idyll is then punctured by the arrival of the mundane in the shape of a bailiff, or someone from a publisher, wanting copy. Baudelaire calls this figure a Spectre. But with Hiscock the Spectre has always already entered into this narco­tised world of the frame's interior and has blighted the flowers and skins of humans and fruit. Besides, in Baudelaire's poem this interior world is already inhabited by a demon - two, perhaps - the ""benevolent demon"" who has granted him this enchanted interior, and “"the Idol", a woman, an object of terrified admiration and desire. This kind of metaphysical world filled with beings in profane ecstasies is related to the claustrophobic, daimon inhabited, set­tings of Hiscock's photographs of the eighties. for example, around HEAD WITH LAURELS 1985 there is an ambience of the ritual and ceremonial; the portrait might be that of a sac­rificial Temporary King, in the sense of Sir James Fraser's 'The Golden Bough': an incarnate god inspired, in a trance.  A peculiar, raked head, overwhelmed by its crown, suffocated by the laurels, an honour turned sinister. It might also be the head of the young prince and rival of Ivan, in Eisenstein's 'Ivan the Terrible', with its occluded signs of the epicene. Here the meanings which could attach to 'Head with Laurels’ drift towards the ramifications of camp taste structures. Here is Dante as a distressed mod: a crustacean, a snake or lizard; possessing the languid wasted look of the Charing Cross Road New Romantics of 1981.

     The place of ritualism and colour as an enrobing element in Hiscock resembles, in part, their situation in the art of Yves Klein. Like Klein, Hiscock disembodies his figures, dipping them in painterly suspen­sion. Yet it is the autumnal tonal (English Impressionist) element in Hiscock which sets him aside from Klein’s clarity of blue, his primal 'mediterraneanism'. Instead he is spectral. tonal - as if tracking Blake's 'The Ghost of a Flea'. His photographs are populated by spiritual trainees, ephebes, such as the shaven headed acolyte in  Untitled 1982, who might be involved in rites, in the kind of performative metaphors and acts around photography which the decadent Fred Holland Day accomplished in London around 1900.They are robed in a sepia suspension of milk and coffee. They are wrapped in soulful introspection, spiritual inwardness being here signified by postures of sleep, a disciple's rest, which is then scored across by griffes, scratches which double, in crude lines, the features of eyes and lips. Here a certain spiritualism of phantom cloud substances is mortified by ash as an element showing loss, in some beautiful petrifying aftermath, such as the world saw in the apocalyptic news photographs of the aftermath of the Mt. St. Helens eruption in 1980. The pale lunar illumination of tragedy was specific to Hiscock in the late ‘eighties. There is a Keifer-esque, almost solarised light arising from the rose stems in Untitled 1985, with their thorns muted against the snow or ash of the olive branches with which they are juxtaposed. This is a light from dusty clouds, or an enervated cocaine dust fall, which powders the formerly living with a new delicacy, the melancholy pleasures of bouquets destined for pompe funebres.

     At times Hiscock's  photographs  look  incommensurably archaic. Even before he made the Egyptian series of Transmutations in 1994, he had forged photographs which seem to have been taken in antiquity, perhaps in Thebes or in Pompeii. One such is Aaron 1987. On a wooden panel with a red ochre and grey surround, blistered and distressed like a miraculously surviving item of furniture from a desert antiquity, is a Nubian head, its neck formalised, extended. It looks out on faraway sands under an oddly clouded sky with a Pharaonic gaze. like the  Olympic Long Jumpers   1992, who resemble Kalahari bushmen stranded in a giant sandpit under a stained sky. Aaron was the patriarch of the Jewish priesthood, a colleague of Moses during the Exodus across dry sands and the Dead Sea, whose priestly rod, transformed into a serpent, was all powerful. And so his head is also transformed into a figure of phallic authority. (And are the palimpsests around his temples reminders of the mistranslated 'horns' of light which played around Moses' head when he returned with the Tablets of the Law? Or are his horns erased to deny some terrible apostasy, an image of a black devil who might elicit our sympathy?) Aaron joins a hideous Judas in Towards Aceldama  1989 in a range of sanctified or damnable Judea-Christian dramatis personae in Hiscock's larger narrative of lost powers, initiations, and endurances which diabolically whisper, with the perfumed wood of Sumatra, in Baude­laire's Invitation to the Voyage,"return to me”. Here are parchment exposures in the photo-studio of the remote past, one example being Sally 1984, who could be a servant of the Queen of Sheba, portrayed in a manner which suggests Irving Penn in the late 1940's, as a shrouded being out of time. These are pictures which have survived abrasions, grit and the toxic floods of the ancient world.

     Against the phallic power of Aaron's patriarchal head are the more 'fluid identities' of which Alphonso Lingis has written in Foreign Bodies, the development of liquid economies around the body. In Lingis' suggestion of "the coding of male fluid as a rare resource..." there is some approximation to those atmospheric fields of stained, wet, splashed grounds in Hiscock. As Baudelaire had described the stimmung per­vading The Double Room, it was as a place where fluid insinuated itself as a ghostly protagonist: “An infinitesi­mal odour most exquisitely chosen, which is mingled with a very slight dampness, floats in this atmosphere"5 .  It is this dampness which spreads across the film and the print in Untitled 1982 . In a more robust key, several of his Olympic Games photographs depict swimmers whose bodies are extended and travestied by water-borne lights, eddies, troughs and shadows. These bodies are simultaneously below and above the water surface, that treacherous plane of chaotic and catastrophic surfaces. Now the body, in Hiscock, has become deliquescent, an undrying film of special effects on the print surface. Once riven into chaotic pools and slivers. Hiscock was opening the way for his representations of the body that might be counted as abstract - with the Transmutation series. where a slow motion camera traces himself making minimal movements so precise it slices the body in jets of time into further ripples and propels it toward a phenomenology of shimmering water.

     Hiscock's fictional universe was fabricated as a precious and rarefied zone, however sinister. It was also the site of tricks and special effects, the trucage of wipes and smears and mannerist chiaroscuro. But in his sooty spider's way of handling he occasionally used dripped and haunted techniques related to those most favoured decorative techniques of 'eighties interiors, ragging and marbling. But his mid and late 'eighties pic­tures are decidedly not the sites of Thatcherite triumphalism in the realm of the visual. In The Death of Classicism 1991 he gave a summary lynching to a fluted classical column, that other returned fixture of ‘eighties postmodern Neo-Classicism. This is the nearest he came - very sardonically - to the enchanted constructed mythologies of Calum Colvin, his fellow RCA student and studio neighbour throughout the 'eighties until 1991. But where Colvin presented a re-enchanted world of consumer debris, memory and myth, Hiscock moved to a distinctly disenchanted view of contemporary culure. From the beginning, the immaculate sur­faces of consumption are absent in Hiscock, and the repellent and the abject and the vicious make an accusatory appearance to spoil and soil the pacified Thatcherite pastoral. Later still, shifting from a tenebrous horror -the eccentric English Gothick world-Hiscock became, by 1992,a belated Venetian with the liquefaction of all matter in his scanned photo-finish pictures. With these photographs he pursued that element of decoration and fabulous surface beyond the monochrome of his earlier works and onto the rich marbled revetments of St.Mark's, flickering and uncertain, or the pleated satins and velvets of Fortuny's"

     Delphus robe. The pleats in his photo-finish portraits are folds in time, chasms with passages to those dim auratic associations of the material textures of past histories - chain mail or the threading of tapestries. From the corrupt, muddied, smoky matter that comprised his pictures until1993, Hiscock passed to the incorruptible, the mineral worlds of his Transmutations series. In these he found true marble, and dragons' teeth like silken spooks among the erratic deposits of his own body, trying to stay still before the scanning camera, transmit­ting his states of health and being under minute scrutiny and translating them into vivid striations of ruby, amethyst and pearl."

     There is a chimerical aspect to Hiscock's representations:they are multi-part fancies which descend upon concocted fetish objects, like  The Gates of Hell 1989-90. Now these monsters, these chimeras, are composites: in this case they are geographically, as well as figuratively, outlandish, since both the tailor's dummy and the legs of the stuffed bird were photographed by Hiscock in Saint Gengoux, near Macon in France.(The bird was found in a painter's chateau which was, according to Hiscock, “Ghormenghast-like “). The gates belong to some 19th century industrial vernacular - massive. spiked, iron-bolted, covered in pitch, which he found propped up and abandoned in the street close to Blackfriars Bridge near his studio in Southwark Street. They are bleak, Dickensian trophies that act as screens upon which mutilated bodies appear, headless and bodiless, carrying the scarifications and cuts of modernisation in front of a frieze of naked combatants fight­ing in an ashen battlefield of clay waste. This was, Hiscock says, “a personal version of hell”. It was not so much Dante-esque, as a vista of brutalisation through banality- the damnation of normalised domesticity entailing "wash..the car on Sundays”-transfrmed into an inner landscape of subjective horror.’ In, this he followed Robert Rauschenberg who populated his variant of Dante's Inferno with petrol spirit trans­fers of basketball players from newsprint photographs at the turn of the 'fifies. From Rauschenberg's Combine paintings, such as 'Trophy Ill (for Jean Tinguely)' (1961), certain formats and procedures may have been adapted by Hiscock, like the remnant of a ritual veil which is tied between the uprights of a nineteenth century window frame, or the totemic bird, athletes and splashed-out grey clouded scenarios of 'Manuscript' (1963). The latter technique, an expressive sombre erasure, characterised Rauschenberg's art in the early 'sixties. It reappeared in the ‘eighties, in the heyday of Neo-Expressionism, as a pictorial device in the work of Anselm Keifer, Ross Bleckner and Joel-Peter Witkin, where it carried a heavy weight of loss. Hiscock shared with them the prospect of funereal scenes with a filmy ground exposed,scratched and seriously fogged into a panorama of decay which became an illustrational hallmark of that decade. These were special effects which connoted a certain kind of anxiety, with promptings and intimations from a tattered past which possessed a threadbare authenticity that was now forfeit in the age of micro-electronic popular capitalism.

     Perhaps Hiscock is a gatekeeper, given the repetition of screens and portalled niches and doorways in his art, onto archaic domains of fantastic dramas, of underside visions through flyblown windows of the spirit in dingy weather. In 'The Gates of Hell' he illustrates a drastic version of those dim aching states of being that used to constitute the purgatories of English (and Welsh, especially Welsh) Sundays. He escapes this inferno into artificial paradises in the majority of his pictures, but these remain paradises that can abruptly col­lapse into flares of misery and pain; exotic places that have turned dark and are Anywhere out of the World, in the title of Baudelaire's prose poem, (itself a citation of Thomas Hood's evocation of visionary negative noc­turnes and his poem,'The Bridge of Sighs’). Later, say by 1993, with the Transmutation series. Hiscock turned from these scenes of staged agonies to less easily retrieved pictures that were not so much romantic scenes as 'abstract' records of endless lengths of interior states, distanced by an improvised photo-finish camera. But the imagery of passages was recovered in his piece  Transmutation:Rosetta Stone 1994 ), where the Rosetta Stone took on a monolithic architectural role as a frame: at the same time it rippled like a curtain and stood as unmoving as the basalt rock from which the Stone was carved.


That Unfathomable Thing. -  David  Hiscock's Transmutation : Rosetta Stone  -  DAVID ALAN MELLOR

     THESE WAVY CURTAIN walls - Hiscock's photo-finish camera's perturbed record of sections of the Rosetta Stone - will rise, symmetrical, at the entrance to the Egyptian Hall in the British Museum in November this year, effecting a framed spectacle around the notion of 'the Egyptian'. Rather than join the ranks as one more bit of symptomatic Egypt­omania, Hiscock's staging will raise the Rosetta Stone to the level of a meta-object, something strained and stained by the knowledges of the discourses around the cultural phenomena involved in the negotiation and appropriation of Egyptian artifacts and culture within the West. In their very placement the Transmutations will mimic the received role of sphinxes in European architecture, art and design:paired "flanking the entrances... their essential presence has been to embody welcome and protection, sometimes linked to the funerary cult, they were also used to decorate cenotaphs and tombs."1 In Hiscock's installation, ten such anamorphosed and enigmatised versions of the Rosetta Stone, cast in aluminium alloy, will, like a cliff, face ten identical symmetrical versions made over from black vinyl, creating in the gap between them a sublime abyss, a dropping off into a valley through which the cultural pilgrim to the Egyptian Hall will process.

     This photo-generated ornamental ingress, composed of multiple (but distorted, strained and stained) reiterations of the Rosetta Stone, that key object for the deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphics, functions as a metaphorical doorway. It opens onto the Orientalist fantasy of Egypt as being itself an entry onto the Orient.  “Egypt...", Antonia Lant has argued in her essay, 'The Curse of the Pharaohs', "served as the entry point to the East, the 'Gateway to India' for Europe and particularly for Britain... (Egypt) was not easily placed within Africa or Asia, or within the East or West.” 2  Undecidability, according to this argument, characterised Western perceptions of Egypt's cultural identity, always between and always a passageway to mystery. The undecidability in Hiscock's photographic render ing of the Rosetta Stone is centred upon the distorted, pleated, abbreviated, anamorphising of that object. Some Thing lies beyond the inscribed text on the surface, some Thing stretched and weird: perhaps a rising up of that "indelible blemish"3 which stigmatised Egypt projected from the eyes of a European culture grown increasingly racist in the course of the 19th century and increasingly anxious to disavow the possibility of the foundation of classical Greek culture in Afro-Asiatic origins. Perhaps the rising up and spectral dispersion  of the gaze of some implacable Caliban, whose look, disclosed in the bars of black and white, resonates in an electromagnetic curse.

     For the Rosetta Stone, the museal object unsettled in its many contexts by Hiscock's photography, has suffered vicissitudes in its history from its uncovering in July 1799. Its physical history is a history of imperial shifts of power, language and knowledge. Initially Napoleon's troops in the act of fortifying el-Rashid, known to Europeans as Rosetta, against British and Turkish attacks, uncovered the Stone. Hoping to secure Egypt as a jumping-off place from which to seize India, the French imperial projection of power faltered. The Rosetta Stone, in 1801, passes to the triumphant British naval and land forces in Egypt. By 1802 the Stone is transferred to London, as cultural trophy, and, after being in the care of the Society of Antiquaries, it was finally installed in the British Museum.4 It was the focus of attention for competing English and French philologists who were components of the imperial project to catalogue and decipher the Orient - and the trilingual  inscription on the Stone appeared to offer the key to breaking the code of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. This 'key' circulated at the moment of high colonial expansion and confidence between the empires of France and Britain: that is, it was itself 'translated', moved by dominions and powers."

     Cradled in a steel girdle in the British Museum, the Rosetta Stone summons and instantiates its ideal spectator - the master cryptographer, translator supreme, the cracker of infinite depths in Hiscock's barred revelations. The initiate who could figure the sphinx that the  hieroglyph form repre­sented was, historically, the French philologist Champollion who, in 1822, announced the key to hieroglyphs from his prioritising of the phonetic rather than symbolic value of the pictographs in the Stone. A voice, a sound, was that key.

     And so it was written on the Rosetta Stone's demotic section, in a cursive version of the hieroglyphs, like nervous tracings: the authority for the scripts on the Stone was a supreme one - the announcement of the decree of Memphis formalised through the divine voice: “They shall write the decree on a stela of hard stone in the script of the words of God...'.5

     Perhaps the defining technology of our moment, Hiscock's moment, is digitised, visually displayed information (it is not for nothing that the streaks of black and white in his chasms that open up within the Stone resemble the ubiquitous bar codes of the consumer landscape). Certainly the defining technology of Egypt was writing. Scribes were, like the priests mentioned on the Rosetta Stone, exempt from paying taxes. Moreover, the scribes were felt to own a higher degree of personal freedom and agency than any other section of ancient Egyptian society; as one papyrus read, "... there is no calling which is free of any direction except that of the scribe; he it is who does the directing."6 (William Burroughs has embroidered this view with his manic mythologies of 'technicians' manufacturing social realities through coercive images in ancient and central America and the future.)

     The Rosetta Stone was inscribed with the words of God in favour of the pharaoh, Ptolemy V, and establishing a cult worshipping him, by a grateful priesthood whose taxes had been remitted in full. In terms of the long dynasties of ancient Egypt, the role of Ptolemy V comes late, with the Hellenistic decadence of the second century BC. The Stone probably came from Sais, a satellite town of the "world city”,7 Alexandria, before it became spoil for French military engineers. Ptolemy V, like his father before him, was Greek - Greek speaking - as was the rest of the court, and cut off from the native hieroglyphic writing and pharonic religion. In order to consolidate their power the Ptolemys retained the ancient writing, customs and forms of religious worship. The eulogies of Ptolemy V were nostalgic (partly to counter nationalistic revolts against Hellenistic imperialism) but they were also impossible since they simulated a piety towards rulers who could not even speak Egyptian. They were truly impossible objects of imperial ism even at the time of their original inscription, and then, ironically. at the time when they were unearthed, two thousand years later. Hiscock looked awry and tried to prise open this distant trophy of colonial conquest, to release as a pulse, a trace, a primordial voice prior to that borne by the ""script of the words of God”.

     Hiscock's Transmutations, in their double aspect of static monumentality and the blur of the streaked ‘wipe', have an ambiguous, undecidable temporality: they partake of the Egyptophilia of the deathly 'timeless' as well as the modernist (or better still, Futurist, since Marinelli came from Alexandria) displacement of rapid deployment. The Stone is mountainously craggy - if disconcerted - as well as being vaporised by some weird internal speed. By using a device (his improvised photo-finish camera) which assures mastery over the temporal dimension, a mastery over split second moments in time - and then perverting it - Hiscock revisits that 19th century colonial fantasy of the pharaonic ""conquest of death”.8 But he does so, as I have suggested, by looking awry, from a technocratic distance which makes the Orientalist fantasy problematic by volatising it - bringing it up to speed by 'wiping' it. Hiscock's Egyptomaniacal photographic cunning has definite precedents.As Antonia Lant has pointed out: “The alliance between optically novel and illusory forms of representation and ideas about Egypt precedes even the invention of the cinema. It is detectable at least since the French Revolution and persists throughout the 19th century - across lantern shows, panoramas, dioramas, photographs... - an imaginative association pulling together the ancient culture and modern spectacular invention."9 Extruding the scriptural and hieroglyphic and then 'bar coding' them across time, Hiscock's singularity partly lies in his non-analogical re-shapings and re-codings of these signifiers of Egyptian-ness. Definitely uncanny, the Transmutations don't resemble Christopher Lee's lumbering 'mummy' so much as a de-corporealised spook moving fast, level and purposefully, just above the floor in one of the spacious halls in the haunted house of Western history.

     Basalt, because of its hardness, is difficult to carve, and the geological effect of the basalt Rosella Stone - the chipped outcrop,recontextualised  in the British Museum, recalls the great rocks of ages memorialised by European Romanticism. Basalt forms Fingal's Cave, the locus of Macpherson's epic poem of 1762, site too of Mendelsohn's and Turner's musical and pictorial topographising. Primarily a tourist site, Fingal's Cave has as much a fabricated cultural identity as the Rosetta Stone itself, while retaining, like Hiscock's Transmutations, the obdurate sublimity that follows the buttresses of solidified magma and the wave invaded black voids. Such a sublimity designates the seismic tremors of subjectivity (what Hiscock has called a "human agitation"10) which pervade his Transmutations. They function as some occult seismograph, literally, the writing of the earth. In the 'wipes' the streaked gaps and voids, some unfathomable Thing is voicing itself, masquerading as a technotronic trace, but still declaring a barred, originary, authenticity, that forever surges beyond the writing of the Law inscribed upon the Stone. This bar-coded chora lies in some body cavity beneath the inscribed surface, an ineffable sign of what Hiscock felt was, "the internal of me"11 in perpetual danger of flatlining, and leaving extimate stains on the walls of time."

1. J. M. Humbert  Egyptomania: A Current Concept from the- Renaissance to
Postmodernism”, Egyptomania 1994, MontreaI. pp.2·-26. p.21.
2. A. Lant "The Curse of the Pharoahs”, October No. XX 1992. pp.87.112, p.98.
3. A. Lant op. cit. p. 108. citing M. Bernal Black Athena: the Afro-Asiatic Roots of
Classical Civilisation, Vol  I, New Brunswick. 1987.p.XV."
4. cf. S.Quirke and C. Andrews, The Rosetta Stone. 1988, p.4.
5. ibid. p.22."
6. British Museum, lntroductory Guide to the Egyptian Collections. 1964, p.88."
7. 0.Spengler. The Decline of the West, Vol II, 19211, p.383 .
8. A. Lant, op.cit., p.107.   
9. ibid . p.89. 
10. David Hiscock in conversation with the author. 16 September 1994   
11. Ibid."




THE ALCHEMIST. -  Enrique Juncosa

     David Hiscock's work seems to insist upon the desire to uncover a personal language, based on photography, that might allow him to explore both aesthetic and symbolic questions. This concern has gradually become responsible for a process of conceptualization made manifest in his  application of  semantic  intentions to  the elaborative techniques themselves of each work or series of work.

     The apparently non-representational images that make up the major part of his current production, made with a camera that 'scans' an image on to a moving sheet of film for a three minute exposure, are in reality self ­ portraits, rather than homages to the abstract painting of Gerhard Richter that they curiously resemble. These self-portraits, given that they include a literal illustration of the passing of time, are in fact the documentation of an activity that we could call performance. For the artist photographs himself holding objects that he himself has created or, for  example, reading an esoteric text or another on the theory of photography (in this case extracted from the writings of Ansel Adams, whose interest in objectification is diametrically opposed to David Hiscock's intentions).

     Previously, Hiscock photographed objects of his own making, altering the negatives and presenting the results in three dimensions. Now in order to obtain auratic results (to use the terminology of Walter Benjamin), David Hiscock mines the processual possibilities of the photographic medium. His work in the studio is an echo of the secret practices of the alchemist. 
Enrique Juncosa




    The boundaries between abstraction and figuration are, of course, subjective; a cognitive rattle can displace perceptual conviction. It is just this cognitive rattle that certain artists set out to amplify.
Perspective, sense-of-scale, figure-ground relationships and focal acuity can all be disrupted or eroded through the dissolution, distressing or manipulation of the photographic image, whereby reality is transposed into fantasy, documentary is transmuted into spectacle, the formal into the chaotic, but all this through the agency of the human touch. This last qualification brings ineffable qualities to the photograph, where the invisible presence of the haptic eclipses that intrinsic, inanimate iciness of the digital, so, perpetuating the presence of the artist in a decisive riposte to the increasing hegemony of the digitally generated  image.

    The emphasis up to this point has been on the subsequent manipulation of an initially orthodox photographic image, as source, either in the darkroom or on the computer screen. David Hiscock, in his latest work, 'Recital No.64, 1998', from the series called 'Recital', follows a different course; he creates abstract images at the point of exposure. He has designed a system, whereby the camera is modified by inserting a plate with a slit in it between the lens and the film. The camera drives the film past this slit, using different power sources, but generally moving the film relatively slowly, so that both horizontal and vertical distortions are registered on the resulting image. His Recital No.64, shown recently at the Purdy Hicks Gallery as an inkjet print on vinyl, was 10 metres long (you can order this image by the metre: like fitted carpet, you can now have fitted photographs!), a swirling, striated image in greens and blues, where intriguing traces of reality evade and elude recognition. The viewer's gaze travels, like the formative slit behind the lens, along the length of the image, losing one moment as it gains another. Filled with rhythms, glissandos and staccato dashes and patches of colour, in a watery progression, there is no denying the musicality present in this image which, if not visually, then conceptually, alludes to those synaesthetic abstract paintings created earlier this century by Wassily Kandinsky. Rather than that classical 'photographic moment', Hiscock's photographs bring us a seamless sequence of moments, partly orchestrated and partly spontaneous, completely painterly."

Roy Exley



"A new fall, an infinite fall ,
underlines the usual - indeed
traditional - presentiments of decline"
MARTIN AMIS, Einstein's Monsters"
     Photography's claim to be acknowledged as one of the major arts has been unfortunate in finding among its enemies theoreticians so justifiably respected as Roland Barthes. The French scholar thought photography was not an art form because it lacked an inherent way of signifying. This critique can be applied to the three main currents within this media, photography made in the tradition of painting, photography as a means of record and description, or photography made as art derived from its unique qualities and possibilities, and therefore, the continuation of the debate about its status. In any case, and perhaps starting with Otto Steinert's articulation of the theory of ''subjective photography'' in the 1960s, photography seems to be finding its place as one of the fine arts, mainly because of its position in relation to the avant-garde. And photographers such as Christian Boltansky, Cyndy Sherman or Boyd Webb are among the most respected mainstream artists of our time.
     There is, of  course,  a metaphorical line in photography which goes as far back as its origins. The work of people like Man Ray, Raoul Ubac, Minor White or Bernard Faucon illustrates this. Contemporary photographers such as Boltansky and Webb, however, are expanding the boundaries of photography in different ways, and benefit from the fact that the notion of separate arts has gone out of favour, at least in several circles.
     David Hiscock belongs to this tradition. He studied sculpture and painting, as well as photography, and has no prejudices in mixing elements of the three conventions. Hiscock creates his work from photographic images which undergo a serious metamorphosis. They can be altered at their negative print stage; blown up out of life size proportion; cut to be juxtaposed with or superimposed on to other images, as in a collage; painted on; etc. . . . to the point of becoming more an object rather than a photograph . They are not framed, but boxed or applied to solid pieces of wood, such as fragments of grand pianos or garden gates. The result is the presentation of a personal world beyond objectivity and not ashamed of its content . Hiscock's earlier pieces had a touch of decadence, perhaps manifested in references to Gustav Klimt and primitive Renaissance masters. But his new work embodies a tragic conception of life.
     Hiscock 's recent portfolio of photogravures, entitled Seven Ages , is a reflection of the physical and psychological evolution of man from childhood to old age. Hiscock is not religious and the series naturally ends with two skulls as symbols of death. The seven images, although remarkably sensuous, are imbued with stoicism. The artist at thirty-three is an uneasy witness of the possibility of a nuclear ending of our race.                                     
     This last subject seems to be explored in one of his most powerful works to date: the diptych Gates of Hell. Multiple references underline its meaning.To start with, the title is taken from the unfinished first major public commission of Auguste Rodin, a huge bronze doorway for a proposed new Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris illustrating Dante's Divine Comedy. Rodin attempted to grasp the essence rather than the surface of things, and this is an objective of Hiscock himself, in spite of the differences in their media. Both artists share an interest in heavily worked surfaces and the portrayal of distorted or fragmented bodies and their work also sometimes shares an erotic dreamlike character. The two old garden gates which serve as a frame to the piece we are talking about, constitute in their tridimensionality a further reference to sculpture in general."
     The fighting figures in the background of Gates of Hell are derived from Muybridge's examinations of movement, and thus refer to the origins of photography. More interestingly though, they refer to the massacre drawings and lesbian orgies of the Surrealist Andre Masson, the French painter who was intensely influenced by Rodin."
     Masson's subjects (he was a friend of George Bataille and a reader of Lautreamont and the Marquis de Sade), as Douglas Cooper put it, are the drama of nature, the cruelty of life, the ferocity of sexual instinct. David Hiscock lives in another period of history, but Surrealism - this dreaded term in Britain - is an important factor in his work and explains to some extent the two dominant figures in Gates of Hell, a dressed human body without a head (or a head made of branches) and a bird-insect made of wire. The treated surface of this work is also a descendant of the Dyonisian automatism of Masson, which so much influenced American Abstract Expressionism."
     And finally, the grey overall tone of this piece refers to the postnuclear landscape of Anselm Kiefer, although the melodramatic, and consequently irritating, characteristics of the large-scale canvases of the German artist are absent in the work of Hiscock due to his use of humour.
     Other major work in this exhibition deals with the difficulties of communication. In Towards Alcedama, a head bent backwards in an uncomfortable position seems to be shouting. The resulting scream is like a knife arching its way to the forehead. At the same time a hand makes vision impossible. This disturbing image has been superimposed on a large construction of wood resembling a door. Whether it is open or closed, is left for the viewer.
     Colour is also present in this show in an impressive triptych, Ombra man Fu. In this work, Hiscock explores the metaphorical possibilities of still life in images constructed electronically. These three cibachromes prints framed under painted glass to highlight subjective expression, deal with the subject of death and the brevity of life in the tradition of the Vanitas paintings of the Baroque. This piece is also important because it supposes a new starting point in Hiscock 's career.
     David Hiscock's new work - from assemblage to print - is definitely more ambitious than before He has said he started using photographs as a base to work on to combat the whiteness of the not-yet-touched canvas, and developed his style as a way of avoiding the clinical and objective labour of the camera. Nowadays, confident of his skills, Hiscock is producing a more mature and interesting work where memory, dream and reality coexist and interact, thus challenging the experience of perception. And in spite of what can somehow be  an  uncomfortable  content, Hiscock's pieces possess an astonishing beauty.
Revelation - catalogue extract - Paul Kilsby

     Throughout the ‘nineties we have become familiar with the idea that in one way or another the widespread advent of digital imaging technologies has created a crisis for photography today just as, in its moment, photography itself did for painting.

     This crisis is generally perceived to centre upon the imperilled authenticity of the photograph as a document, its cherished, timeless and essential grip on the real capitulating to the provisional, negotiable, and protean superabundance of pixels. For some artists, including those gathered together in this exhibition , this has only highlighted what they already suspected: that the ambitious claim that photography has an intrinsic privileged access to the real which faithfully duplicates our vision is, at best, a simplification and, at worst, a fundamental distortion of the relationship between ourselves, our sight, and the world our there

     Each of the artists in this exhibition, in their different ways, seeks to recoup for photography a potential to image the world in ways which acknowledge the flow of time, the co-extensive nature of the viewer and the viewed, the profound mystery of the interior within the exterior, the process of attention -which implies and involves an awareness of the passage of rime which photography so often denies or ignores. The modernist model of the photographer as someone who perceives a moment of truth which he seizes with the camera is abandoned here for a sus­tained, gentle but profound interrogation of the condition of photographic seeing itself

     In David Hiscock's photographs the static monocular eye of the camera with its impeccable Renaissance pedigree is crucially traded for a vertical slit as thin as a razor whose gaze shifts slowly, splicing the world into a condensed matrix of moments recorded as traces, at once dissolving and cohering. He uses a specially adapted camera in which it is the film itself which scrolls across the static viewing aperture. That instantaneous grab of the greedy camera eye with its claims to omniscience yields to a slow and steady gaze that accepts the shifts, blurs and entropies of visual experience. These images are built up in and through time: they ask us to imagine the image of time passing and speak of events rather than objects, of seeing rather than seen or scene.

     Paul Kilsby 1999



OLYMPICS 1992 - Francis Hodgson

     David Hiscock has used his commission as Visa Olympic Artist for Britain 1992 to produce a new series of studies of the human figure in motion. He has refused the traditional Olympic pursuit of victory to make images which refer beyond athletic excellence to the human condition itself . Working at the intersection of photography and painting, David Hiscock has managed to take his viewers from the immediate physical reality of athletes at full stretch to the more emotional reality of what such effort can be made to mean. In an Olympic year, sport moves millions of people, but it takes a great artist to go far beyond the immediacy of the battle won and lost.

     David Hiscock has produced images that will last well after the high fevers of these games have subsided.

     Francis Hodgson




DAVID HISCOCK. -  Francis Hodgson 2008

     David Hiscock is one of the most rounded British photographic artists working today. With a consistently unified approach to his work, encompassing a personal fine art practice, along side a leading position as a star of advertising photography.

  David brings his own signature approach to all aspects of his broad range of subjects from the intimacy of studio still life and fashion+beauty work and extensive experience in both commercial and domestic interiors and lifestyle.

      His output has been phenomenal. Again and again, David Hiscock led the way in finding new styles with his astonishing inventive spiralling around a photographic core. Time-lapse works, abstractions, multiple portraits, distortions… always ahead, always able to make fully convincing art-works where others could often only find interesting ideas, he has been responsible for a string of outstanding exhibition pieces of many kinds. To name merely a few, his bravura meditation on the Rosetta Stone, the first of a new line of contemporary commissions by the British Museum, made big waves in its time. His seminal work for the Barcelona Olympics was no less remarkable for it’s primary reflection on losers rather than winners, as well as its bold treatments of athletes and competition in general.

     There has always been a basis of top-level craft skill in what he has done. What makes him different is the marriage of that to intellectual and emotional ranges of the very highest order. Whether it be making a football player into a God for Nike or constructing a vast temporary structure out at sea for Beck’s beer, the imagination and execution have always been faultless. His roster of clients is one of those amazing cross-sections of international commerce. There are more famous artists in the UK, but none has a higher standard over such a wide range, and none is more admired and emulated by their peers.

Edited from the original biography by Francis Hodgson [Head of Photography, Sotheby’s] London, March 2008