Idris Khan: blurred lines. By Justin Cartwright.
Idris Khan takes photographs of photographs and sandblasts hundreds of minute lines of text on to marble and steel. Novelist Justin Cartwright meets the artist.
Idris Khan’s studios are full of light, cluttered in an enviable and rather chic fashion, everything the successful young artist could aspire to, with assistants working away, a lovely kitchen, a palpable feeling of success and energy – and C-types up on the wall.
I must confess I did not know what a C-type was until I went to his studios in north London. I learned that it is essentially a photographic print that has been exposed using digital rather than darkroom methods. Khan starts most of his work by manipulating photographs, sometimes using computers. Some of these he has taken himself with his own camera; some he has borrowed from other sources. Essentially, his work is about exploring the deeper meaning buried in lines of writing, which he distils until they reveal some new truth. His work, be it a picture or an inscription on steel or board, speaks of a fascination with scripture.
How did this way of making images start? “I would trawl through my boring photographs of holidays, or shots from Time-Life, and re-photo them,” says the artist, who is now nearing his 40s. “I would have 350 pictures of photographs and I would see what would happen, all those memories – and something did emerge. I don’t think I was aware of a theme, more of forcing a meaning from the images.” The result is distinctive, instantly identifiable, and invariably dark and controlled, with thousands of lines in Arabic or English almost readable, always elegant.
He found himself in the spotlight in 2004 after he scanned in every page of the Qur’an, then condensed and digitally layered the images. The work took two months to make, his copy of the Qur’an having to be correctly handled for every one of its 1,953 page-scans. “It got a lot of notice,” he says. “It’s always tricky.” The response, however, was not hostile: the Islamic press wrote about the work as something quite beautiful...