Dad's Stick (2012), John Smith

Dad’s Stick features three well-used objects that were shown to the artist by his father shortly before he died. Two of these were so steeped in history that their original forms and functions were almost completely obscured. The third object seemed to be instantly recognizable, but it turned out to be something else entirely. Focusing on these ambiguous artifacts and events relating to their history, 'Dad’s Stick' creates a dialogue between abstraction and literal meaning, exploring the contradictions of memory to hint at the character of “a perfectionist with a steady hand” (John Smith).


‘Dad’s Stick’ is a tribute to the artist’s father. It opens with what appears to be an abstract multicoloured image of colours layered like stratified rock. It is then superimposed by the text: ‘My dad did a lot of painting.’ In the background we can hear the sound of knocking; wood on wood, maybe. The film goes silent for a few seconds as see some more frames of the abstract multicoloured layers, superimposed with texts. Then we cut to a series of plain coloured frames (beige, green, brown, off-white, black) superimposed with further captions, starting with ‘Dad’s colour preferences changed over the years.’ Eventually, we cut to an image of a stick, superimposed with the text ‘Shortly before he died he showed me one of the sticks that he used for stirring paint.’ It’s at this point we realise that we are looking something completely different; the cross-section of his father’s painting stick. It’s a wonderful moment.

Smith’s ‘Dad’s Stick’ is a delightful film. It’s a playful game with images, words and meanings. What at first seems like an abstract painting is in fact the cross-section of a wooden stick his father used to mix household paint before applying it to the walls of his house. What appeared to be an abstract multicoloured image is in fact the layers of paint that became encrusted on the stick over decades of painting the house. Our expectations are completely overturned by the insertion of one image, the stick.

What I like about this film is its simplicity. There are only a handful of static shots, a few superimposed captions, a couple of sound effects of knocking on wood and stirring in a teacup, and the artist’s voice in the background, singing. Yet, it’s within so few images and sounds that our perceptions are challenged and, more importantly, we are drawn into the film space and asked to recall memories of our own parents.

As I was watching the film it got me thinking about my own father and an item that once belonged to him; his large, brown tape measure, that travelled all over Cheshire with him whenever he went on site as a Cheshire County Council architect.


‘Dad’s Stick’ (2012), Smith, J. At: (Accessed on: 6 April 2017)

Smith, J. ‘Dad’s Stick’ At: (Accessed on: 11 April 2017)

Video art by Lucy Purrington

I look at the work of Lucy Purrington, in particular at the way in which she uses humans within the landscape.

I began by looking at her video MVI 1893. The video opens with an outdoor shot of a grey, concrete surface. After a few seconds, a hand slowly crawls into shot from the right of the frame. The fingers move across the surface of the concrete, dipping momentarily behind a ridge in the ground, before slowly crawling back out of shot leaving an empty frame.

Fig. 1. Lucy Purrington (2017)

At first, I wasn’t sure what this video was trying to do. So I watched it again, looking for any distinctive patterns or ideas within the video. This time I saw what appears to be quite a clear ‘narrative’ in the way in which the hand moves across the surface of the ground. The hand crawls into shot, finger tips feeling the concrete surface; the hand rolls over on its back, again feeling the surface of the ground; the hand briefly claws at the ground, before forming a fist and thumping at the hard surface. It’s as though there is a change of emotion here. From benign and inquisitive to anger. The hand then spreads out its fingers, its palm slapping the concrete surface. Another change of emotion, perhaps frustration. The hand claws at the surface again, before dropping out of sight behind a ridge in the ground, leaving an empty frame.

I also noticed that the shot had been carefully framed so that the hand appeared in close-up, moving roughly in proportion to the rule of thirds. Which produced a satisfying composition. I was also more aware of the audio track, which is simply an ambient recording of the landscape in which the camera is set. We hear birdsong and the sound of the hand as it moves across and interacts with the landscape.

Fig. 2. Lucy Purrington (2017)

I then found another video, 29 03 17 1 overlay, in which she overlays several different ‘hand’ videos, including MVI 1893, over a shot of an empty area of ground. Interestingly, having just seen the previous video, this one made more sense on first viewing it.

What I find particularly interesting about her approach in these two videos is the way in which she has set up the camera to record a single, static shot, in much the same way a photographer would capture a still image. This is not something that would immediately occur to me as a videographer used to capturing a narrative through action and movement. It has certainly opened my eyes to the possibility of using the video camera in a different way than I have been used to so far.

What these videos have also shown me is that video art requires a different way of interacting with the moving image. Watching Lucy Purrington’s videos required me to find a way of observing her moving images that was different to that of watching a film in the cinema, for instance. It also required several viewings in order for me to appreciate the full picture. In some ways it was like watching a play by Samuel Beckett. This was quite an eye-opening experience.


MVI 1893, Lucy Purrington (2017). (Accessed on 10 April 2017)

29 03 17 1 overlay, Lucy Purrington (2017) (Accessed on 10 April 2017)


List of Illustrations

Figure 1. MV 1893 (2017) Lucy Purrington

Figure 2. 29 03 17 1 overlay (2017) Lucy Purrington