The Story

British photographic artist Mark Vessey is best-known for exploring and celebrating icons of pop culture. Lovingly curated, the subjects of his images include magazines, books and vinyl records that have had special significance within the popular cultural heritage of the 20th and 21st Centuries.

 

 

I love how each of the objects sit together; how the spines communicate with each other.  There is a dialogue between them that we respond to, which transcends the artwork itself.

 

 

These ordinary yet extraordinary objects have a particular quality or resonance that over time has garnered them cult status, such as the UK style bibles I.D and The Face magazines which have both featured in his work. Iconic and symbolic, these humble items have become touchstones in people’s lives, encapsulating an era or a moment in time. Vessey’s work aims to capture the beauty in these cherished ephemerae, paying tribute to them not only as physical artifacts but also to what they evoke and signify.

There is a clear affinity to Pop Art in his approach, like the original Pop artists Vessey’s photographs elevate manmade articles to artistic dignity. In a similar way to Pop Art Vessey uses scale, oversizing his subjects to transform them and draw attention to their details. Pop Art merged mass culture with fine art, infusing it to create artwork that was accessible. It is this approachability that is also important in Vessey’s art. As an artist he aims to create work that is both unpretentious and accessible, since pop culture is a shared culture, something that can bring us joy and devotion, that breaks down barriers and connects us all.

On the face of it creating studio-based photographs would seem to be a solitary occupation, but Vessey has found ways to make it a collaborative experience and engage with audiences in different ways. His photographic portraits of vinyl collections are a case in point. Having become known for his work in this area he was introduced to fellow Brightonian and legendary DJ Norman Cook. Finding much in common they decided to work together on a portrait of Norman Cook’s vinyl collection which became a creative conversation on the nature of DJing and collecting. The resulting piece, NORMAN, 2019 celebrates the most momentous tunes in the DJ’s repertoire painstakingly picked out to represent an essential snapshot of the DJ’s touring crate of records and career. For Cook the choice of records was a representation of the relationship a DJ has with their vinyl and the memories they evoke. It has become an alternative and definitive portrait of Norman.

While working together Vessey and Cook discovered they shared a love for the work of the artist Keith Haring. In 2012, Vessey created Haring, an image using a stack of his own book collection of the artist’s work which spookily was almost the same as a pile of Keith Haring books that Cook, who was also a fan, had collected. The DJ had discovered Haring’s art many years ago through the record covers of Malcolm Mclaren which the artist had illustrated. Since art school Vessey has long been inspired by the New York underground and Pop Art scenes and their associated artists Keith Haring and Andy Warhol, admiring the energy and unpretentious simplicity. Through his art Haring sought to create a language of icons and simple line drawings that could be understood by everyone to express universal concepts of birth, death, love and war. He was able to attract a global audience while remaining within reach, creating art on t-shirts and badges to allow people greater access to his work. Haring’s ideas of art incorporated into everyday objects, and the importance of accessibility in visual language, have influenced Vessey’s own creative approach to art. In similar way the inspiration of Andy Warhol’s philosophy of elevating the ordinary as a principle of Pop Art underlines Vessey’s methodology, which views in the commonplace a doorway to everyday escapism.

Vessey’s photographic art honours the past, reminding us of the things we cherish and what they mean to us. By shooting them using medium and large-format photography he draws our attention to the physicality of objects and magnifies their significance. As he describes, ‘Some of the collections span a long time in someone’s life; it’s not just something they’ve gone out and bought in one weekend. Building the collection may have been a part of their consciousness for years and, as it grows, it becomes more important. That’s the nice thing about photographing a collection and enlarging the image – it inflates the importance.’ In recent years he has taken this idea of magnification a step further by projecting his photographs in significant spaces to create temporary installations. For instance, in a recent work, Musicals, 2020, he created a piece celebrating musical theatre with a vinyl stack of musical soundtracks. The inspiration came from wanting to highlight the absence of live theatre that year due to Covid restrictions. The resulting Musicals image was then projected on to the stage of the Theatre Royal Brighton, documenting the empty space that would usually be bustling with activity. The installation was used to publicise the impact of the pandemic on the theatre industry, and Vessey donated a percentage of profits from sales of the edition to the charity ‘Acting for Others’ to support actors effected by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Vessey has firmly established himself on the artistic stage as an incisive celebrant and masterful documenter of popular culture. Always true to the origins, status and stories of his subjects in their own rights, rather than trying to influence their standing with his presentation, he has a natural affinity with his subjects and with that the ability to evoke similar in the viewer. When an artist works as ‘work’, the results may be visually pleasing, but the work can miss an important emotive dimension. When an artist works for love of his subject, as with Vessey, there is an energy within their work that creates excitement and warmth within the viewer, an emotional exchange. This is a rare artistic gift.

Words by Tristan Manco

Vessey’s artwork has been featured in The GuardianThe Telegraph and The Creative Review amongst other publications. Mark’s homage to Kate Moss, depicting the magazine spines of 20 years of British Vogue covers with Kate Moss on the cover, was chosen by St Pancras Editions as one of a series of limited edition artworks to be exhibited at St Pancras Hotel. His donated work has raised thousands of pounds for both the Stonewall and Albert Kennedy Trust charities.

Vessey has exhibited at: London Art Fair 2022, Affordable Art Fair Battersea 2021, SCOPE New York 2020, Affordable Art Fair New York 2019,   Affordable Art Fair Battersea 2019,   Affordable Art Fair Battersea 2018,    Affordable Art Fair Battersea 2017 with Olivia Connelly GalleryHang Up Gallery London(2017) and Unruly Home London (2017). Other exhibitions have included Art Below 10th Anniversary in Regents Park Underground Station, (2016), The Old Truman Brewery, (2016) Liberty London pop up show A Tale of Two Cities (June-July 2017), Mark’s work is on permanent display at 29 Power Station West and St Pancras Hotel London, No Walls Gallery in Brighton (Collections, 2012), O Contemporary, London 2008, The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (Attitude – When I’m Out, 2006).