Imagine having your own gallery.
Rembrandt’s pivotal portrait, the Night Watch (1642) can usually be found nestled grandly in Amsterdam; nestled because it sits comfortably below a tagged band in familiar company, grand because at several metres in size you could almost walk into the scene. The Night Watch Gallery is at the heart of the Rijksmuseum and the seminal piece central to the work of self-taught Russian fine art photographer, Andrey Kezzyn.
Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn. Night Watch. 1642. Oil on Canvas.
The Night Watch has survived several vandalism attempts in the 20th century alone, but there is a way of getting into the painting and avoiding damage. Through the modern lens, it morphs into The Night Squad. Kezzyn has been ambitious, with his largest shoot to date, and distilled the finest of art into explosive photography. Starring his favourite comic characters, it is clear that we have been afforded a departure from ‘light’ and ‘dark’ and entered the authentic but gradient realm of Mr. Global Anonymous (in red).
Quizzically, this is strongly reminiscent of the insidious words written by J. K. Rowling (and worthy of The Joker) in the Harry Potter series, previously dissected in Kezzyn’s work along with other elements of popular culture - “There is no good and evil, only power”. Despite the sour placement in the book, the pertinent placement of figures in the Guard challenges the viewer to question what is right, wrong, real or fantasy. It is imperative in life and as viewers that we keep questioning. It seems that there is an overriding power struggle in the piece.
Whereas there is an obvious task to be accomplished by the Night Watch, there is that gloriously unsettling sense of freedom in Kezzyn’s photograph that perhaps he felt were lacking in Rembrandt’s. During it’s early reception, the older portrait did eventually fall out of favour most likely due to new use of colour; what was once so popular and gritty was replaced in the public eye by pieces more graceful. The Night Guard seems to reinforce this still common habit of fantasising in order to escape from the everyday. Perhaps this is exactly what Rembrandt’s successors were doing. Though the viewer can see that something is unbalanced, ultimately we recognise how these depictions impact upon our everyday lives, however individual.
In Kezzyn’s web of faces, spun using Rembrandt’s pioneering lit strategy of character and narrative, there is irony, anger, and mystique. Mr. Global Anonymous seems to be distracted and armed with a very different tool, there is the distinct stench of corruption, and the golden girl of the past, almost an apparition, strikes straight through the heart of the present into the future. We, the present, are fish on a spit, world turned by the past and future.
In contrast to the jubilance of Rembrandt’s portrait, there seems to be a subtle mania worthy of Kezzyn’s characters underlying his reading that suggests that with the obvious appeal of the party, the viewer must also get sucked into the march. This is organised chaos with historical traits as a mascot, cheering it on to repeat.
In the words of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq of the Night Watch and Beyoncé, “Let's get in formation”.
Written by Manchester-based freelance writer, Imogen Phoebe Webb for The Public House of Art.