Sometimes the art we see on display in galleries only tells half the story. Flip them over, and there's a whole world lurking underneath. A world of jottings, sketches, scribbles and doodles created by artists during the process of making their masterpieces. And it's these hidden gems which mixed-media artist and photographer George Eksts has catalogued in a new book, Reverses.
Representing the first collaboration between independent publisher CentreCentre and the Victoria and Albert Museum, Reverses is a "celebration of unintentional creativity". In its pages are marks, damage, fragments of sketches and notes left on the reverse, or verso, of a finished piece.
Reverses contains 150 images from "the wrong side" of the paper. Each image and note is a fascinating insight into the history of the completed artwork as they provide clues to the object's history, ownership and the artist's creative process. On top of that, they're also captivating pieces in their own right.
The book can trace its origins back to 2007, when George worked as a photographer at the V&A in South Kensington. His job was to digitise the museum's collection of prints, drawings, paintings and photographs. However, while doing so, he stumbled across an unexpected piece of art.
"One day I turned over a Francis Frith landscape photograph (Verso 68) and discovered strange childish drawings on the reverse, then started to notice more marks on the backs of some of the objects I was photographing," he tells Creative Boom.
He adds that most of the objects in the museum have some kind of information on the reverse. Still, these are usually numbers or similar identifying marks to assist with archiving. Sketches and notes were something unique and caught his eye.
"I saw them as unintentional artworks in their own right and, without any thought of a future project, but knowing instinctively that they were worth something, began to photograph them and store the images," he adds.
According to George, these reverse images have their natural habitats. They are often found on undervalued objects and ephemera. Sketches turn up on the backs of completed works, and notes tend to live on scraps of paper. However, he also notes that they prefer to be found on older objects, "a reflection of the changing value of paper itself."
Speaking of value, George explains that reverse images tend to be found on cheaper materials. "When it was more expensive and harder to come by, it was filled with as much as it could meaningfully hold, and often repurposed," he reveals. "Relative to the artwork, this happened in both directions - drawings were made on the backs of maps or advertisements; shopping and to-do lists were written on the backs of drawings.
"It's always a pleasure to see everyday life intruding into the hermetic world of art. Verso 150 has a list of expenses, including bread, wine and firewood, which gives a wonderfully visual and very relatable glimpse into the life of an artist in the 16th century. Another favourite just says 'RON' inside a heart (Verso 51)."
To look at everything George found, pick up a copy of Reverses at centrecentre.co.uk.
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