Home Magazine Nostalgia of Distance


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John Atherton is a Scottish artist who attended Glasgow School of Art & Design and the Royal College of Art, London. Atherton is a screen-print artist whose current artist practice focuses on abstract portraiture.  Each layered paper collage begins with a screen-printed black and white portrait. Atherton discovered a series of discarded high school yearbooks from the 1970’s filled with rows of anonymous images of graduating students. These small portraits document a pivotal moment in these school graduates’ lives and Atherton selects from the images as the foundation behind his abstract portraiture.

John Atherton, Portrait of H.B, 2023. Courtesy of Nordic Art Agency.

” The yearbook symbolises a rite of passage, a point of departure, it captures a moment of infinite possibility, the imminent journey to an unknown destination. My work is screen printed onto different papers and collaged together but I think of myself as a painter, the piles of paper, my colour palette. These layers of materials and imagery embody a vast hinterland of narratives and creative ideas that echo back to the yearbook. The creative journey and the personal narratives are encoded in the stratification of materials with only the most recent layer fully visible.” – John Atherton

At first sight, the series of new portraits from Nostalgia of Distance are to be appreciated entirely in the realm of pure visual abstraction and the pleasures of viewing carefully composed colour and form.  

However, counter-intuitively to this tradition, Atherton’s work emerges not from the lineage of abstract art but from that of portraiture through the commemorative representations found in the yearbook. 

John Atherton, Portrait of M.J, 2023. Courtesy of Nordic Art Agency.

Historically a distant landscape depicted in a portrait painting informs the viewer of a sense of nostalgic contemplation in the sitter. It is with this in mind that Atherton suggests a perceptual shift, that his abstract works could be interpreted by the viewer as a scene through a picture frame window. The nostalgic contemplations of the sitter are inventions conceived by the viewer, which can be seen as the abstract ambiguity of the work unravels.

You can listen to John Atherton in conversation with the gallery founder on the Nordic Art Agency Podcast available on all podcast platforms.

Cover Image: John Atherton, Portrait of A.S, 2023. Courtesy of Nordic Art Agency.

Written by Nordic Art Gallery


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