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The Moss Figure

By Paul Watson on .

Moss figure (detail)

The “Moss Figure” is an image that’s been haunting my mind since I was a child.

The original inspiration was a reproduction of a Cibachrome print by Veruschka Forest-piece at Schnaitsee, Performance I, 1972 which I saw in a newspaper’s Sunday supplement magazine as an 8-year-old boy. The magazine had a short article on Veruschka’s artwork of the early 70s, illustrated with a number of photographs.

Forest-piece at Schnaitsee, by Veruschka
Forest-piece at Schnaitsee, Performance I, 1972, by Veruschka.
Copyright Vera Lehndorff and Holger Trülzsch.

I remember the magazine article also included her 1970 Snow Animal piece and a few others, but it was the utterly surreal and spookily sinister Forest-piece at Schnaitsee that utterly fascinated me. At that age the name of the artist never registered with me—I doubt I even read the accompanying article—it was the image that fascinated me. I cut it out from the magazine and stuck it on my bedroom wall. In the nature of all things owned by an 8-year-old boy, it became torn and tattered and eventually must have been thrown out by my mother. The reproduction was gone, but the image was firmly lodged in the dark dank undergrowth of my mind.

When I left school and did my Art Foundation course in 1988 a fellow student at the other end of my studio floor was making work that involved projecting images on her body and photographing the results. I presume that a tutor recommended that she look into the work of a particular artist who had explored similar themes. She checked a book out from the college library and it sat on her table at her end of the studio. This is how I ended up coming across the book Veruschka: Trans-figurations (1986, Thames & Hudson) and was reunited with the image that had seared itself into my mind ten years earlier. I bought myself a copy of the book very shortly afterwards. In hindsight a wise and timely decision as it didn’t stay in print for long. I believe it’s still out of print and no other books of her artwork exist, as far as I’m aware. I have it on my desk next to me as I write - the book’s dust-jacket became torn and tattered many years ago and eventually I must have thrown it out, but the image is there in the book whenever I want to compare it to the version in my mind.

This potted history is provided above, not just to give the appropriate credit to the artist who inspired this piece of my artwork, but also to explain how long and how deeply I’ve been carrying the shadow of this image in my mind. The decision to produce a piece of artwork of my own so closely related to, influenced by, derivative of, another’s artwork was one that I’ve put off for many years. But the themes I’m working on at the moment, based around eerie/myth characters, mean that I needed to either tackle this image head-on to exorcise it, or forever have the potential for it haunting the edges of my artwork, unrealised.

The finished piece of mine can be seen here.