If you’ve been banging Biggie, Tribe Called Quest and Queen Latifah since back in the day, this new piece from Mark Vessey’s lauded Collections series is the one for you.
In Hip Hop, Vessey brings together classic records from some of the biggest hitters in the game, from the artists who birthed the genre to those who have become its most infamous stars.
On Thursday 16th November, we're celebrating the launch of Mark Vessey’s Hip Hop at Enter Gallery. Join us from 6-8pm to meet Vessey, see the new piece on display, and to enjoy hip hop tracks spun by Burnt Toast.
In today’s blog, we’re chatting to Mark Vessey to discover more about his process, what draws him to music collections, and how he approached creating his new Hip Hop piece.
Vessey is a Brighton-based photographic artist with a stylish oeuvre defined by his passion for personal collections. While we’ve seen him photograph everything from perfume bottles to books, it’s Vessey’s images of beautifully-stacked vinyl that have attracted international collectors and led to high-profile collaborations with the likes of Norman Cook and Simon Dunmore of Defected Records. Speaking about what draws him to music, Vessey reveals:
“Music is so emotional. It goes into the tissues and fabric of who we are. We dance, we feel emotions, we create memories – it’s so much more than just something you hear, it’s a significant part of our human experience.
There are so many things happening in the world right now that are dividing us, but music remains something that brings people together. Regardless of race, sexuality or walk of life and whether it’s house, reggae, punk or hip hop, music brings us into connection with ourselves and with each other.”
Each of Vessey’s music artworks are born from immersing himself in the world he has chosen to capture. His most recent journey involved speaking to musicians, DJs, and hip hop heads, while reading, watching and listening to everything he could get his hands on to educate himself on the genre and all it means to those who love it.
With some diehard fans almost tyrannical about the artists and albums they perceive as the best, bringing together his Collections seems like a lot of pressure. We were interested to discover how Vessey went about choosing which records made the cut. He reveals:
“I spoke to a lot of hip hop experts and quite a few DJs and when you start looking at people’s collections you soon realise that many of the same artists, tracks and albums come through. For example, Straight Out of The Jungle by the Jungle Brothers was in every collection, as were others like Illmatic, Enter the Wu-Tang, and The Chronic. These records become gems that I pull out, and the rest I select through my research.
The more collections I work on, the more I see the threads that run through everyone’s collections, how they cross genres, and how things are all tied together. It feels big going in, but you soon realise it’s actually quite a small world.”
In Search Of…
Once Vessey has chosen the records, it’s time to find versions of them that work for a visual medium. Often the same album will have numerous versions, presses or editions, so the selection process becomes about choosing the option with the best looking spine. Vessey explains:
“I have to look at the spines and which work best within the arrangement I’m putting together. In Hip Hop, Missy Elliott is an example of this. Some might say Supa Dupa Fly is a superior album, but So Addictive worked better within the piece. That’s a decision I have to make – whether to go for their seminal album or to choose something that works better visually.”
The Love Below
When you consider valuable collections, you often picture them protected, packed away somewhere safe, too treasured to be touched, let alone used. But of all the prized items, it seems that record collections are a rarity in that they are allowed to live and age alongside the collector and their tastes.
In Vessey’s works, it’s the records’ worn corners that enchant. They evoke the sense of a music lover plucking that particular record from their collection time and again to provide the soundtrack to their lives. He tells us:
“When you’re photographing things up close, you see all the detail and all the textures, the tangibility of it. I like that these objects aren’t all pristine. They are treasured, but they have been used, enjoyed.
Older records have a certain transmission from them. It feels like a time capsule to something. I like records that have been played, handled, loved. It gives them a real faded grandeur that translates well in the photographs.”
History in the Making
Inspired by the likes of Haring and Warhol, each Mark Vessey artwork captures a cultural moment, with the chosen records combining with unique design to create a visual narrative about that particular time frame or genre. Vessey explains:
“Depending what type of genre or year the records are from, you’ll find that a particular aesthetic will permeate the whole collection. For example, in Opera, many of the albums had white sleeves, or in my Eighties or Nineties pieces, the album sleeves were very of that time. The same applies with Hip Hop. Alongside the music, the fashion and culture of that time can be seen in the record design, and it comes through nicely in the photographs.”
Stacks on Stacks
So, once all the records with the best spines have been selected, how does Vessey approach creating the perfect aesthetically-pleasing stack? He reveals:
"My work is about trying to establish a sense of order. There is comfort in collecting things, studying things that people take for granted, grouping everyday objects in such a way that they become something special, seeing how they fit together to become a thing of great beauty.
I never know how things are going to look when I first bring the records together. You can’t really plan for how the colours, print or design will all photograph, and these are important elements that inform the piece.
Rather than me trying to dominate what I’m seeing, I let how the records look dictate how I put the artwork together. I’m not making these records something they’re not. My job is to allow these items to do what they need to do. Hopefully I’m allowing the objects to have their moment.”
As fate would have it, Jungle Brothers are playing at The Arch in Brighton on the same night and we have lined up a fantastic after party for you...
Attend Mark Vessey's Hip Hop launch and your name will automatically be added to The Arch guest list where you will be able to purchase tickets on the door for just £10!
Hip Hop by Mark Vessey launches at 6-8pm at Enter Gallery on Thursday 16th November - RSVP here to secure your spot.