In the past three decades, the postmodern artist James Welling has "made abstract photographs, more normative pictures and experimented with different processes," he says. "But for the last 10 years, I've been very interested in thinking about color." He captured Philip Johnson's Glass House in the late aughts through a set of colored filters and he digitally altered his 2009 pictures of Paris's Maison de Verre. However, with "Choreograph," on display starting tomorrow at David Zwirner, Welling has developed a more physical way of deconstructing color: feeding three black-and-white images into Photoshop's red, green and blue color channels, and dragging the "adjustment" sliders until he creates one serendipitous, psychedelic composition.
As the name "Choreograph" indicates, each piece centers on dance–and represents a reunion of sorts for Welling. Before finding photography, Welling bounced from painting to sculpture to an intense year of dance (and then moved onto performance art and video), and he says, unequivocally, that seeing the Merce Cunningham Dance Company perform "blew my mind."
He speaks with similar ardor about "0521" (2015), which debuts exclusively on T; he also shared a GIF, above, that shows the piece in its various states leading up to the final result. "0521" consists of of four layers: first, a photograph of David Hallberg kneeling alongside another dancer at his and Francesco Vezzoli's "Fortuna Desperata," part of the recent performance-art biennial Performa 15. That's the red channel. The blue and green channels are images of the architect Marcel Breuer's Brutalist buildings (the Murray D. Lincoln Campus Center at UMass and the Annunciation Priory in Bismarck, N.D., respectively) to lend some spatial organization. The fourth layer is a picture of an oak tree. "Then, there’s about 15 color transformations," Welling notes, emphasizing his trial and error method, which means a finished image can take months to complete. "It's messy, but when a picture works, it's extremely exciting."
Welling volunteers a new thought that’s been percolating during the conversation: "A friend of mine said, 'The great thing about Beethoven was he used all of the keys on the piano,' and I want to use all of the colors in Photoshop." He pauses. "I actually want to have even more colors."