Keith Arnatt was a conceptual artist and photographer, born in Oxford in 1930.
He studied at the Oxford School of Art and the Royal College of Art, London and later taught in the Fine Art Department at Liverpool College of Art, Manchester College of Art and Gwent College of Higher Education.
In the 1960s and 70s Arnatt exhibited widely as a conceptual artist, documenting performances in film and photography. In 1967 Arnatt began to make what he called “situations”— involving objects and people situated in landscape and indoor settings which were recorded photographically and in which the artist and his behaviour were increasingly important as subject matter. In Self Burial (Television Interference Project) (1969), Arnatt presented still images of himself gradually being buried further into the ground so that when the images are run in sequence it is as if the earth has swallowed him. He said “It was originally made as a comment upon the notion of ‘the disappearance of the art object’ ”. The project was aired on German television network WDR Television, Cologne in 1969 when, for one week, programming was interrupted without explanation for two seconds every night and the image of Arnatt was broadcast.
Inspired by the photography of Walker Evans, August Sander and Diane Arbus, Arnatt began to explore the documentary photographic form at a time when it was an unfashionable medium. He worked initially in black and white before moving into colour and looking to details in his immediate surroundings for his subjects; these ranged from items unearthed in rubbish dumps to tourists visiting Tintern Abbey. One of his best known series is titled Notes from Jo for which Arnatt photographed and enlarged domestic reminders written by his late wife. Arnatt reveals the beauty, intimacy and humour in these seemingly mundane missives.
His later works, like Brick (1990), were printed on glossy paper with the object to the fore and the background thrown into deep black. The photographs are a series of close-up, large scale images of banal objects including paint tins and garden ornaments. The artist was well aware of the analogy to advertising in this seductive rendition of the subject, but in Arnatt’s work they are “the last rites of consumer goods”.
Arnatt had no formal gallery representation but his photographs were toured extensively overseas by the British Council and a major retrospective exhibition entitled I’m a Real Photographer was shown at The Photographers’ Gallery, London in 2007.
Arnatt died in 2008, aged 78.