N.B. This article contains extracts from a research post for the module Documentary 2. Further text has been added to reflect on its relevance to my practice in SYP.
The Independent refers to him as “The artist vandalising advertising with poetry” (Battersby, 2012). Robert Montgomery is considered to be anything, from vandal to academic street artist. Either by design or guerrilla tactics he installs poetry in the physical space of the public. He is most recognised for his work on billboards, initially in London in protest to the Iraq war. I find him to be a fusion of Beat poets and Junichiro Tanizaki. Montgomery’s work meanders from a melancholic Romanticism of England, almost like a lyrical Turner, before leaping into protestations of Capitalism and contemporary social issues. All within approximately 100 words (see fig. 1.).
Montgomery of course, like any other protester did not change policy on the Iraq war. The biggest causality of his urban poetry however is in the interactiveness of his work with the public itself. “By putting poetry in our faces, Montgomery hopes to bring it into the public discourse.” (Bausells, 2016). His work is encountered as if people would visit a national landmark. His words recited in videos on social media, the text inscribed on bodies by tattoo artists. All of which is a form of photographic dialogue between public and artist. It could be that the temporality of his work acts as a catalyst for the public to react. You need to acknowledge it before it is gone rather than preserve it in an atmospherically controlled environment for eternity.
Photography for Montgomery is important as a documentary tool in the process and archiving of his work (see fig. 2.). His representational image to an ephemeral work of art is a familiar noose around the neck of photography in its dual potential to create art and document, it can be traced back to earlier inspirations of mine such as A Line Made by Walking (Long, 1967). In my portfolio for BoW, I also enter the public space, but with the photograph being the art subject, and the method of documentation. This gives both roles a sense of equality.
Montgomery creates other ephemeral installations in collaboration with festivals and galleries. He states “I’ve never sold a billboard. They just cost me money.” However he does sell prints and exhibits in the white cube. Commerce of some sort is a fact of life for any contemporary artist. Though he maintains the billboards are his most important work. Declaring his ambition is “to be able to pay the rent and make the billboards.” Prints therefore are a means to an end. Perhaps there is something to learn from Montgomery here; to financially find a way to support what you want to do. It may be that by being flexible to reformat or reissue work to a more standardised form, it can be more easily sold and collected. The profits of which can be reinvested in what makes you stand out as an artist. In Montgomery’s case, the billboards may come at a financial loss, but are essential to his artistic identity.
Montgomery’s approach to public and private is one that inspires me to consider the balance in my own practice. For instance interventions are by my own invitation and have no commercial potential. However I could be commissioned to initiate site-specific formations in an interior space. Or more simply, continue to sell prints such as my non-OCA work, which has participated and sold in art fairs and commercial exhibitions. It is in this spirit I want to create a synergy in my practice giving each area of interest an equally valid utility in an overall approach to work and life.
Battersby, M (2012) ‘The artist vandalising advertising with poetry’ In: Independent [online] At: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/the-artist-vandalising-advertising-with-poetry-6353303.html (Accessed on: 04.09.19)
Bausells, M (2016) ‘The medium is the message – the power of public poetry.’ In: The Guardian [online] At: https://www.theguardian.com/books/shortcuts/2016/mar/20/medium-message-power-public-poetry-robert-montgomery (Accessed on: 04.09.19)
Montgomery, R (no date) Available at: http://www.robertmontgomery.org (Accessed on: 04.09.19)
Who’s Afraid of Conceptual Art?, Episode 1 [television programme online] Pres. Fox. BBC UK (2016) 60 mins At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxayVv2sLDw Accessed on: 04.09.19)
List of illustrations
Figure 1. Montgomery, R (no date) Breda Poem [Billboard] At: http://www.robertmontgomery.org/new-gallery/vk04hssx0th3luhwfvfor726vclgza (Accessed on 04.09.19)
Figure 2. Montgomery, R (no date) Mature Phase Spectacle [Billboard] At: http://www.robertmontgomery.org/new-gallery/vkbpgqckj7nhcv9gii5eowciha5cup (Accessed on 04.09.19)