50% sky, 50% city: Royal College of Art graduate Alexander Mourant explains why he sees a Japanese wood block print in his saturated blue photograph
At the recent MA ‘New Grads’ show at London’s Saatchi Gallery, despite a dutiful one-way file through the rooms, I momentarily stopped in my tracks, holding up the flow. On the wall was Dissipate II, a photo of a Japanese landscape rendered in the deepest, most vibrant blue, its single colour modulating as the eye passed across it. It is one of a series of landscapes taken on a two-month study tour of Japan by Alexander Mourant, a Royal College of Art MA student. Even though he had passed north via Aomori prefecture to Hokkaido, it was only when he got back that a Japanese friend inspired the show’s eventual name. ‘Aomori’ in Japanese means ‘blue forest.’
Mourant’s area of study is making photography about photography, his own work done using a Mamiya 7 analogue camera, with the negatives he takes developed by hand. He is fascinated not only by the process, but by the concept that bits of you and your history come with you and inform what you see and record. A Jersey lad, he had met an artist there working on the stained glass of an 18th century church, who’d given him a broken window fragment. He had it cut circular and made into a filter, taking it with him to another island, 9,000km away.
The result, in redolent Yves Klein blue, should, he feels, not be read as representations of objects but as objects in themselves; it was never about landscape as subject – merely image construction. Yet despite days spent wandering Tokyo, Mourant exhibited only two city views and this is one of them: ‘It was 50% sky and 50% city. I loved that balance – it reminded me of a Japanese wood block print.’
For me, it was a print too. I was taken back to my teens, the summer work I did at an architect firm in my home town and the rounds of teamaking and dyeline printing. Stood in the gallery, staring into diazo blue, it seemed for a second that the room reeked of ammonia.
I told Mourant of a show I’d seen a long time ago of unearthed Frank Lloyd Wright 1:1 dyelines and how impressive I’d found them. ‘I love those associations with architectural history you brought to the work,’ he enthused, ‘and the baggage that you brought from your past.’