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Michael Archer on History Paintings

The History Paintings
Powder coated aluminium



“History paintings have traditionally been painted from the perspective of either the victor or the defeated. These paintings however are of events with all the emotional and political investment removed”


There are 15 history paintings, three large-scale compositions (245 x 490 cm) and twelve smaller ones (94 x 187.5 cm). All fifteen comprise 49 vertical strips of aluminium, powder coated in black, red or, less usually, green. These are the three colours found on a roulette wheel, and it is through successive spins of a wheel that the order of the strips for each composition is determined. The dozen smaller works form a calendar, each being titled with a month of the year together with the name of a location in which roulette is played. Unlike these, whose arrangements are fixed, the three large compositions are arrived at anew by the same method each time they are shown. The possibility therefore exists that at some point in the future one of them will be exhibited as a black, red or maybe even a green monochrome. Once more, their titles – Baden Baden 1942, St Petersburg 1905, Paris 1796 – include the site of a casino, this time coupling it with a date on which something notable occurred in that same location. Tyson says that the number of strips was arbitrarily chosen, though he subsequently realised that it is the same as the number of balls used in the UK National Lottery. In their bringing together of time, geography and randomness, the History Paintings address the question of how the individual relates to, participates in and attempts to make sense of historical events.

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