Nick Cave’s Melancholic Photographs of Lost Gloves

The brooding rockstar’s self-published polaroids track the new normal, as knitted mitts are superseded by rubber gloves

What was Nick Cave (the musician) doing during the successive lockdowns? On the basis of this small, self-published photobook he was photographing lost gloves. The series of images, Cave explains in a short introductory text, began in 2018 when the brooding rockstar was struck by the melancholic vision of a lost glove hanging on a street sign in his hometown of Brighton, before taking on a newfound resonance during the pandemic, when solitary walks became one of the few leisure activities left. Taken with the Polaroid app on his phone (and thus offering the distinctly nostalgic tint of a vintage camera), the 100 pictures capture, in closeup, solitary gloves the artist chanced upon in the city streets and parks. Each is captioned, on the facing page, with the location and date at which it was taken, which serves the additional benefit of offering a trace on Cave’s whereabouts to his fans: if up to 2019 the various mitt-pics were taken across Europe and the US, from 2020 onwards they remain mostly bound to Brighton and London. They also track a new reality, as knitted mitts and leather gloves are increasingly superseded by a new kind: the now-ubiquitous rubber glove, turned inside out and discarded, a new signifier for these germaphobe times. 

Some of the images are interesting in their own right – veering towards abstraction or reminiscent of cyanotypes – while others register as rather banal, documentary phone pics; yet as a typology of sorts, and in the context of this past year, they collectively read as a melancholic meditation on loss and solitude, as well as a celebration of chance and randomness when opportunities to encounter either were limited by lockdowns. The book was published by Cave Things, the artist’s own brand that sells merchandising with varying degrees of authorship, but could just as well have been an Instagram series (a more affordable format, too, for what seems like a rather overpriced book), of the archive-of-the-everyday type that has emerged on so many artists’ accounts of late. But then again melancholia doesn’t lend itself well to social media. ‘I write of melancholy by being busy to avoid melancholy,’ Robert Burton wrote in his satirical preface to The Anatomy of Melancholia (1621); a poetic and therapeutic enterprise that might better qualify this project.

Melancholy: The Little Book of Lost Gloves, by Nick Cave, published by Cave Things

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