In this work, Hugh Scott-Douglas appropriates pages from maintenance manuals for Patek Philippe watches and combines them with sheets of ‘Screentone’ – an adhesive transparent sheet used to apply textures and shades to drawings without the labour intensive process of creating such a pattern by hand. The process dates from the 1930s, and was once widely used by illustrators and artists, especially for cartoons and advertising. The screentone process has been largely superseded with the advent of graphics software and desktop publishing, yet these technological advances still replicate its ben-day dot-like appearance. Where Roy Lichtenstein once painted his canvases to emulate mechanically reproduced ben-day dots, Scott-Douglas has used the screentone technique across a number of recent bodies of work to explore mutations between the hand-made, industrial production and digital technology.
Patek Phillipe’s brand strategy suggests a fetishisation of value through longevity and inheritance (“You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.”), which the artist counterposes with the obsolescence of the screentone process. He conflates various temporalities and brand names (Letraset was a company that produced screentone sheets) to highlight the conflicted status and currency of image at our historical moment – one that may be defined in terms of the gradual and indecisive shift from analogue to digital systems. Imbricated within the networks of production, consumption and distribution of images, the work emphasises the material reality of photography and transfer printing, and the tension between analogue and digital practice within contemporary discourse.
Rather than acting as a compensatory gesture for a forgotten process, Scott-Douglas further renders the screentone use-less. Referencing the process-oriented vocabulary of conceptual art, the adhesive sheets are pressed onto debris-covered surfaces in the artist’s studio before being applied to the watch manuals, trapping particles of dust and detritus between the layers of the image, polluting its graphic transferral. Investigating the migration of images and abstractions across a variety of mediums – painting, photography, and pure numerical data – the work is a continuation of Scott-Douglas’s interest in the meanings and metaphors of digitisation, economics and the aesthetic potential of mechanical production.