The world of Suzanne Moxhay is one of decrepit interiors where plants seem to grow out of the floorboards, where ceilings have collapsed, fireplaces cracked, walls broken and where the wallpaper dissolves into fading images of old romantic landscapes.
Her scenes seem convincing yet they are almost entirely artificial. For Moxhay’s works are actually cleverly and painstakingly constructed photo collages consisting of staged sets overlaid with photographs of diverse source material such as self-made models or cut-outs from old magazines. Mostly, she uses her own photographs which she digitally manipulates and stitches together. The effect is of a kind of unsettling magic realism with a dash of nostalgia.
In the top shot, Palms, the wall, the wallpaper and even the leaves have been added later. The design on the fireplace tiles has been taken from elsewhere, and some of the grass has been painted on.
The same goes for Hybrid in which nature once again seems to be taking over. The foliage in the landscape forming the wallpaper has come from sections of paintings digitally layered on top of each other. Even the picture hanging on the wall is an amalgam of six different paintings. The plants are sourced from as far apart as Singapore and the Barbican and the trailing electric wires that accentuate the dilapidation gel with the vegetation.
So where did this concept of mixing the real with the constructed originate? The answer lies in old methods of film-making she discovered while studying painting at Chelsea College of Art (she later earned a Postgraduate Diploma in Fine Art from the Royal Academy Schools). In particular she discovered the old process of matte painting in which scenes that couldn’t be shot were painted on glass panels and then composited with the live action. It’s like an early version of CGI. “When I was watching old films,” she explains, “I was always interested in how you could get really absorbed in a world that is artificial looking.”
For a long time, Moxhay emulated this process by using glass panels to create this artifice. The exhibition features some highly-processed monochrome photopolymer etchings in which glass panels were used for sections of the finished product. More recently, she has dispensed with glass and, instead, taken to using more of her own photographs to create more complex, elaborate work.
Photographs don’t always work however. Trees, for example, are hard to isolate from their background, so the ones you see in Double, above, are actually models. Here, the artist is creating an exterior scene within an interior space, playing with scale.
Among Suzanne Moxhay’s other influences for her invented world is the study of Renaissance landscapes so often populated by crumbling edifices. She is fascinated by Victorian terrariums where plant worlds grow inside glass vessels. Another inspiration was a short story by Thomas Pynchon called Entropy in which a character creates a micro-climate in his apartment believing the outside world is decaying.
In her world though, it is the interiors that are decaying. This helps add more anomalies to the image in terms of depth, space, scale and architecture, all helping to build an atmosphere. “If you put things together that are already falling apart, they work better together. I prefer the textures you get of floors and walls. So it’s a way of making me feel freer, to be able to build something up from when it’s already falling apart.”
Moxhay recently took part in an EU funded programme run by London Creative Network to make a piece of work that is not part of an artist’s usual practice. The result was Florid, a book the artist describes as “a bit like a Victorian peep-show” in which the book opens out to contain various miniature tableaux with the same digitally altered photos plus three-dimensional elements such as plants and shadows. She had to learn book-binding techniques to make it. The locations she used include one of Mussolini’s abandoned villas in Rome, an abandoned hotel in Bayswater and the semi-ruined Tudor mansion Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire.
Moxhay’s work are highly original and painstakingly constructed, blurring the line between reality and invention. Subconsciously perhaps, it seems to fit with the current world turbulence in which it has become increasingly difficult to differentiate between truth and fiction.
Conservatory is showing at the James Freeman Gallery, 354 Upper St, The Angel, London N1 0PD until 21 September 2019.
All images are courtesy of the artist and gallery.