Sometimes the art we see in galleries tells only half the story. Flip them over and there’s a whole world lurking underneath. A world of notes, sketches, scribbles and scribbles created by artists in the process of creating their masterpieces. And it’s these hidden gems that mixed media artist and photographer George Eksts has cataloged in a new book, Reverses.
Reverses, the first collaboration between independent publishing house CentreCentre and the Victoria and Albert Museum, is a “celebration of unintended creativity”. The pages have marks, damages, fragments of sketches and notes left on the back, or verso, of a finished piece.
Reverses contains 150 images of “the wrong side” of the paper. Each image and note is a fascinating insight into the history of the completed artwork, as they provide clues about the object’s history, ownership, and the artist’s creative process. Moreover, they are also fascinating pieces in their own right.
The book dates back to 2007, when George worked as a photographer at the V&A in South Kensington. His job was to digitize the museum’s collection of prints, drawings, paintings and photographs. In doing so, however, he came across an unexpected work of art.
“One day I turned over a landscape photo of Francis Frith (Verso 68) and discovered strange childish drawings on the back, and then I started noticing more spots on the backs of some of the objects I was shooting,” he tells WebMD. Creative Tree.
He adds that most of the objects in the museum have some information on the back. Still, these are usually numbers or similar identifiers to aid in archiving. Sketches and notes were something unique and caught his attention.
“I saw them as unintended works of art in their own right and, without any thought of a future project, but instinctively knowing they were worth something, I started photographing them and saving the images,” he adds.
According to George, these inverted images have their natural habitat. They are often found on undervalued objects and ephemera. Sketches appear on the back of finished works, and notes usually live on scraps of paper. However, he also notes that they prefer to be found on older objects, “a reflection of the changing value of paper itself.”
Speaking of value, George explains that reverse images are usually found on cheaper materials. “When it was more expensive and harder to come by, it was filled with as much as it could meaningfully hold, and reused many times,” he reveals. “With respect to the artwork, this happened both ways – drawings were made on the back of cards or advertisements; messages and to-do lists were written on the back of drawings.
“It is always a pleasure to watch everyday life invade the hermetic world of art. Verso 150 has a list of expenses, including bread, wine and firewood, which gives a beautiful visual and very recognizable glimpse into the life of a artist in the 16th century. Another favorite just says ‘RON’ in a heart (Verso 51).”
To see everything George found, pick up a copy of Reverses at centrecentre.co.uk.