'Human Scale 1', digital print on archival paper, 30"x4"

John Ferri is a Toronto-based digital artist. His art combines elements of photography, collage and graphic design to create a unique visual perspective that balances precision, whimsy and a fascination with human movement. John's work can embody both simple, minimalist compositions as well as multi-layered imagery suffused with bright, bold colours. However, each work is infused with a single, consistent vision: the interplay of people in constructed spaces, real or imagined. The intent is to capture the forces that shape, direct and sometimes overwhelm the human form. Themes of solitude, dignity and the search for significance are central.


Representation:

2Gallery  Prince Edward County, ON

Akasha Art Editions Toronto, ON


Email:

jfjohnferri@gmail.com


Artist  statement:

A fair question for any artist is what are you trying to say. Often the answer is what do you see?  That's fair too, although it can be a bit of a cop-out. It can certainly start great conversations. More than once people have said they see musical ideas in my work. I’m not a musician but I think pattern and repetition play a role in what I’m trying to say. When you're repeating something, it becomes an activity. It presents itself in a way that you can’t see it all at once. It engages the viewer and creates multiple potential narratives.

I‘ve been developing this approach for more than a decade. It started as straight-up street photography. I would photograph street scenes trying to capture patterns of behaviour. But, living in a big city, I felt I wasn’t doing justice to that reality because I found it hard to capture the juxtaposition between our tiny human forms and the towering mountains of glass around us.

So eventually I flipped this. I started shooting photographs from above rather than at ground level. I think the challenge when you study human nature – or anything for that matter – from a distance is that it can be a cold exercise. I obviously didn’t want that to be my perspective or the result of the work.

But I found that the amazing thing is that when you photograph people from above the buildings kind of disappeared. The concrete and glass became secondary. My focus became very solidly the human form and the activity and interaction of people. I started to see distinct patterns in the way people congregated or isolated. In the way men sitting on a bench would be talking to each other but staring straight ahead, while women would cluster in a semi-circle. I began to see that the way people walk and carry themselves can be as distinctive as a fingerprint. Or the way a couple strolling would nudge into each other without a hint of self-consciousness, or how a family moved in tandem as if connected by an invisible thread.


I began to see that the way people walk and carry themselves

can be as distinctive as a fingerprint.

_____________

I think the big realization was that it’s humans that give dimension to our surroundings and not the other way around. It wasn’t a big leap at this point to dispense with the urban context more or less entirely and start to create my own. So I began to introduce patterns and colour. I started to experiment with the rhythm and repetition of geometric shapes. I’d read somewhere that the notion of combining and matching colours is the practice of unifying differences. That's really inspiring to me. And it struck me that this was what I was trying to do with my work. My backgrounds aren’t auto-generated. Photoshop helps with the precision but each shape, each colour is a deliberate choice. I use a digital colour wheel all the time and I started thinking of it as not just a tool but a statement in and of itself. It’s such a thing of beauty, and a well-spring of visual expression. I’ve become totally obsessed with gradation and with layers of colour. And I have to say, I love working at the pixel level. It’s fascinating and I think a real key to that balance between verisimilitude and fantasy in my work.

The goal is blending images of real people into imagined backgrounds so that they look and feel like they belong together. I studied with a wonderful artist named John Bingham, who sadly passed away earlier this year. John taught me that photography is not just what you see through the viewfinder. My background is journalism and I’ve worked with photographers for years and I know that’s sacrilege to some but, for me, it was absolutely liberating.


In stripping away these everyday environments and creating new,

imagined spaces, I seek to sharpen the focus on the human narrative,

not the institutional ones.

_____________

The circle patterns that I introduced in my work were, in retrospect, a logical outcome of that thinking. To me, circles represent connection and movement. There’s a visual rhythm that just feels right. And blending these imaginary spaces with photography raises questions, I hope, about conventional ways of seeing -- how we look, what we see and what is real and what isn't.

I shoot my subjects from a distance and from overhead. Their vulnerability in the circumstance is undeniable but to me is a thing of real beauty. I think it also works as a counterpoint to the fact that, increasingly, most images taken of us in public spaces are the result of the darker motivations of the surveillance culture – which promises protection but implies a threat. In stripping away these everyday environments and creating new, imagined spaces, I seek to sharpen the focus on the human narrative, not the institutional ones. So I hope that, even as I photograph these figures in my work from a distance, I’m capturing something singular and human. That the result is a celebration of their dignity and their individuality even if tinged by sadness and a sense of distance and isolation. I hope it has a sweetness to it but with an edge.

That’s never been more apparent to me than in the last year and a half. I've had a number of people, who hadn’t seen my work before, ask if I was representing the social isolation that we’ve all been experiencing -- our life in our separate bubbles. Much of this work precedes the pandemic but it’s most certainly coloured what I do. If there’s a theme it's the unbearable remoteness of being. Even outdoors, people seemed further apart and more alone than ever. Long before the virus and talk of bubbles and social distance, the figures in my pieces alternated between occupying separate spaces and coming together into something greater than the sum of the parts -- “a crowd out of many solitudes” according to one observer. I’m not claiming a gift of prescience, but my work has resonated for some in this way. I was lucky enough to have my  piece 'Morning' featured in an article in the Toronto Star as symbolic of  a sign of hope as we emerge out of this plague. I hope they're right.


-- November, 2021

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