At first encounter Thomas Harpin’s digital still-life images can leave you with a sense of unease: there’s something not really right about these photos, but you can’t figure out what.
When looking more closely, one might discover that these are reproductions of modernist painters like Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and Matisse. The images are built up from stock photos Thomas found online and photoshopped together to represent the painters’ originals.
By combining these digital objects Thomas, who has just finished his BA in photography at the Manchester School of Art, wants to pay homage artists he admires. “Back then, there wasn’t the pressure of realism; painters were free to use expression in their works.”
However, with stock photography dominating Google Image Search, this style seems long gone. “The objects that you find online, these stock photos, are completely expressionless,” Thomas says. However, by putting them together, they are repurposed.
His first attempt was just a test to see if it would even be possible to find the same objects displayed in the paintings. Soon this became kind of an obsession: “I found paintings with really obscure objects, objects that challenged me to try and find them online.”
Although he first focused on various painters, soon his main subject of study became Matisse, because there is something in his work that was different: “I’m very impressed by the way he was able to apply such beauty into objects. I guess his eyes changed the world in some sense,” Thomas explains.
The contrast between the craftsmanship of the impressionists and the ease of simply copying and pasting these objects online intrigues him: “Obviously the originals are so heavily crafted and painted in layers and layers of beautiful material, whereas we are just connecting with objects through light emerging from the screen.”