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Tim Mara, from Imagery and Menagerie
Tim Mara Artist's Alphabet

Y and Z > Z: Zoomorphism back | start | next |

back to the alphabet grid One of Tim's earliest choices of subject matter was animals and between 1970 and 1974 he would continually use a complex zoomorphism to explore his fascination with patternisation and particularly the ways in which pattern can be used to describe shape in the natural world.,/p> The use of animals in art (and interestingly in the history of printed art works) can convincingly be traced back to medieval babooneries, illuminated manuscripts and even earlier narrative representations in Egyptian hieroglyphics and even cave painting. Tim was well aware of the history of art and paid homage to a whole range of Artists.

During the early 1970s he was involved primarily in complicated narrative works crammed with maximum information. It was in these prints that animals first began to appear, firstly Friesian cows, then Dalmatians and zebras (all animals with very distinct colouring and patternisation).

Tim first became fascinated by animals when he saw some black and white Friesian cows standing in a snow covered field whilst on a train ride travelling between London and Wolverhampton. His wife Belinda recalls that he would always watch out for cows whilst travelling by train and enjoyed the shock and starkness of their monochromatic designs contrasting against the lush green of the passing fields. Tim said the cows intrigued him as they "held just enough detail to be able to tell what sort of attitude they were standing in and what they actually were" and he enjoyed their monochromatic contrasting starkness.

In 'Souvenir' and 'Mirror Man', two prints produced in 1970, which can be assumed to be the Artist's first truly independent serious art works, we can see these cows translated by black and white photography and presented using silkscreen techniques. The cows are juxtaposed with other areas of optical pattern and design including figures in striped clothing and chequer-board tile flooring, creating a chaotic almost hallucinogenic composition. Cows appear again in a more naturalistic setting along with horses in several of the Picnic series most notably 'Child on Picnic' 1971-72 and 'The Second Room' from the same year, but on the whole Tim's representation of animals was predominantly concerned with their abstract properties and possibilities.

Dogs also began to appear in these prints as both active participants in the narrative and as optical triggers used to stimulate and confuse perception as in 'Scoop', 1973 where Dalmatians run amok in a confusing landscape interrupted by black and white newsprint images.

Later in the same year Tim approached Chris Plowman, a fellow student on The Royal College of Art Printmaking course, whose work was also investigating the potential of animals as imagery and subject matter and had himself explored various exotic animals in surreal combinations with bizarre additional colouring and camouflaging. Both Artists had studied together at Wolverhampton Art College but were not yet good friends. They became friends through curiosity about each other's work and their mutual concerns and interest. Together they began to collaborate on a book project that would be the first of several joint collaborations (see 'N' for New York projects) which would cement their extremely close friendship.

Together they visited Regents Park Zoo in London and photographed various animals that interested them and which related to their individual conceptual investigations. They then decided to transform the resulting images into a handmade Artists' book using the Royal College of Arts' much respected bookbinding facilities run by master bookbinder Ted Robbins. They spent over three months creating the images that resulted in 'The Imagery & Menagerie' book which was produced in a limited edition of 25 copies plus proofs, and additional loose images that were made to be presented as wall hung works. All the images used dot and line photography based silkscreen techniques.

The book was completed in 1974 and exhibited in the same year at the College's Gulbenkian Gallery alongside other related animal art works produced by the Artists both in collaboration and individually. In this exhibition both Artists showed a shared interest in visual analogies, animal patternisation and camouflage and the possibilities of representation and visual perception, but their work also displays evidence of noticeable differences both in interest and approach. For instance, whereas Chris seems to respond to the zoo photographs in a varied and spontaneous way showing obvious delight in their potential, Tim's responses are much simpler and considered and seem much more related to a set philosophical concept. Both approaches compliment each other well in the book, as do the contribution by both of them of unexpected (rogue?) pages which surprise the viewer by breaking up the pattern and rhythms of the presented images. Both Artists demonstrate in their use of the animal imagery a great skill in presenting serious visual ideas in a creative, playful, humorous and inventive way with each of them contributing in equal measure to the books, concept, production and design.

Alongside the book various other objects including animal imagery were produced and included in the exhibition, including twelve sets of tiles using a repeat pattern of animals over nine individual tiles produced by Tim (using images of zebras, dogs, cows and giraffes) as well as four machine knitted jumpers produced by Chris (featuring zebras, Dalmatians and birds).

Following the success of The Royal College of Art exhibition, the work toured throughout 1975 going first to the Wolverhampton Polytechnic Gallery, Doncaster College of Art, Crewe and Alsage College and finally to the Moreton Street Gallery.

After the mammoth production of this book, Tim once again began to produce a number of complex figurative narrative based works in which animals featured only occasionally, gradually being replaced with a new fascination for objects (click on 'O'). When animals do appear in Tim's later work it is often as a background feature such as the sheep which appear in the 1985 print 'Portrait of a Girl with Astrakhan Coat' (where the sheep's form and fleece echoes the clothing worn by the featured model), or they are represented in model or object form as in 'Helping Hands' 1989-90 or 'The Journal' 1987 where the fruit press is used to represent a screaming horses head relating to Picasso's Guernica.

Although Tim's use of zoomorphic imagery waned it is obvious that it was an important early fascination in his work and was influential in the development of both his thinking and approach, stimulating interests and explorations into perception, optical trickery and image analysis and visual representation which would prove to be of great importance throughout his artistic career.
© Text: Mark Hampson / Images: Belinda Mara
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