RipOff Artists bring colour to Ansel Adams' Warehouses

As their name suggests, the RipOff Artists are a cheeky bunch. Not content to let famous artists rest, the group chooses lesser-known works by the great masters and reinterprets them — each in their own medium.  In previous years, this multimedia collective of local artists has tackled van Gogh, Klimt, the Group of Seven’s Lawren Harris, Georgia O’Keeffe , and others.

In 2012 the artists took on the challenge of  “ripping off” the famous American landscape photographer, Ansel Adams, by reimagining his black and white images as colour.  The group gathered for their annual Challenge Week August 6 – 11 at the Quail’s Nest Arts Centre.  Working in colourful yarn, paints, threads, cloth, and digital images,  the RipOff Artists brought new energy and life to one of his little-known photographs, “San Francisco Warehouses”.  Not simply adding colour,  many of the RipOff artists added humourous touches, changed the geographical location, or even included sociological and environmental messages in their adaptations.

Their week in studio is set as a “challenge” in which each artist must complete their interpretation within a set time, before the bell rings on Saturday afternoon.

The public was invited to watch them at work throughout the week. Besides chatting with each RipOff Artist about their work, they could view displays outlining Adam’s life, work, and theories of photography, as well as the RipOffs’ own background research on colour, materials used, and artistic styles.

Enid Baker, quilter, selected warm tones that contrasted with the Depression era black and white photograph, first painting on cloth, then sewing the pieces together (top photo). Baker decided the Depression definitely needed a facewlift!

Terry Irvine, fibre artists first dyed her fibres choosing symbolic colours representing the various zodiacal signs in her family. She then wet felted the wool fibres until they formed a bright and whimsical picture. Terry envisioned a post-apocalyptic version of the San Fransisco warehouses, when  flora and fauna have taken over the dingy neighbourhood. Sheep, birds, and even honeybees cavort among the abandoned, vine-covered buildings.

Russell Work, photographer, found new inspiration at the last minute. Originally he had planned to digitally add single colours to a series of black and white reproductions of Adams’  photo, creating a panel of repeating images, each in their own hue.  During the RipOff Artist challenge week, he was suddenly inspired by the sight of Oliver’s rooftops to hunt out buildings around town with similar  architectural designs to those in the original artwork, photograph them, and digitally cut and paste them together to form a modern-day collage  with the same geometric angles in Adam’s work.

Russell spent considerable time looking for a smokestack to incorporate into the photo, but trips to the industrial area proved fruitless. He even stopped the driver of a transport truck, asking him to belch some fumes from his exhaust. he was told, by the driver and others working in the industrial area, that current practices have eliminated harmful smoke and exhaust. Russell was happy to eliminate the smoke from his digital adaptation, saying the ecological message was a profound one.

Besides printing a finished photograph, he displayed the image on computer as a “transmogrification” from Ansel’s original black and white, to Russell’s “Oliver Warehouses”. A separate photograph labels each roof and piece of corrugated siding with building names and streets for easy Oliver reference.

JoAnn Turner, painting on wood, revelled in having four “canvases” to work on. Her choice of material was a plain pine firewood box. Each side of the box was painted in a different style: a faithful reproduction of the original black and white, a sepia-toned version, a colour reproduction (pictured), and a neon-bright, cubist interpretation. JoAnn elected to leave the top bare, so she could add a seat cushion later.

Leo Pedersen, also working in wood, added a three-dimensi0nal  element.

Kurt Hutterli, working with found objects in 3-D, added a very sentimental touch to his large reproduction. All the buildings were constructed from layer upon layer of corrugated cardboard. But not just any cardboard. Kurt used cardboard from boxes he had kept since his and his wife Marianne’s move from Switzerland many years ago. That must mean you intend to stay, Kurt!

Not pictured is Kurt’s reproduction of the electrial pole, a stand-alone piece some distance from the warehouses pictured. The wires are faintly visible.

Working as an artistic collective has its advantages, both Kurt and Leo used fibre artist Tery Irvine’s wool for the smoke.

Barb Levant, weaver, experimented with various wood fibres now used in textiles, such as bamboo thread.

Marion Trimble, mixed-media collage artist, took the opportunity to study Ansel Adams’ 11-tone theory of photographing black and white images. Trimble wanted colour to be used only as an “addition” to the original photograph, not a change to the photograph.

First, Marion set herself the challenge of finding the exact shades among her collection of magazine and newspaper clippings,  for each portion of the photograph. She kept files, numbered according to Adams’ tonal chart , to store her clippings, then painstakingly glued them into the correct position.

To add to the complexity of her work, Trimble incorporated famous quotes by Adams. These appeared  in the only colourful portion of her collage: graffiti on the warehouse walls!  Part of Marion’s background research was on graffiti art, in order to faithfully represent different styles of this colourful art form.

Photo Credit: Val Friesen, Penelope Johnson