Written Element – Artist’s Statement
Exploring the space we occupy either side of the ubiquitous ‘screen’ within a narrative whose ambiguity may have us question our own outlook on life. My approach is led by an investigation into a sketchbook idea generated during part four.
“Conception cannot precede execution”
(Maurice Merleau-Ponty from the essay Cezanne’s Doubt)
I scribbled this quote somewhere along the way in a sketchbook, and I’ve come back to it now. Of everything I’ve learnt about my own approach to drawing, this is probably the advice I need to heed most. My tendency is to try to project a fully-formed idea on to a blank sheet of paper only to end up frustrated and with something so far from my intention. I need to mess about, play investigate, examine, and not just in my head but with marks on paper. My play needs to be physical as well as cerebral! I need to work towards a drawing rather than from it.
My developing voice appears to be forming around a narrative that questions whether we are safe or threatened, specifically with regard to where we are and the space we occupy. Are we safe inside or are we trapped? Are the shadows menacing or protecting?
While this stems from whatever triggered my own phobia (I am claustrophobic; hyper aware of windows and doors, where the light is and the exit; many of my drawings show openings, the dark and the light) I’m also interested in how and why individuals interpret a situation differently. Some will consider a derelict old house certain danger to be avoided, others a fascinating peek into a mysterious past life. And it’s too tempting not to widen this thought as today’s media and politicians spin webs of fear and create new phobias. Some believe these are dangerous and fearful times while others that the human race has never enjoyed such peace, such progress, such safety. Are we safe or are we in danger?
My tutor agrees that I should develop an idea from my part four sketchbook and this will push me to take Merleau-Ponty’s advice. For a while I’ve had another image in my head (the ‘complete drawing’) for Part Five, but picking up on this sketchbook idea instead will force me to investigate and see where it takes me. Conception cannot precede execution. Working towards a drawing rather than from it.
The original idea from my Part Four sketchbook (photocopy plus graphite):
In Part Four I had been thinking about touch – something that can be perceived as loving or threatening. From my notes in part four: “For some time after my mum died, I would wake up suddenly, convinced her hand had been on my face. Which is creepy, and scary, and wonderful, all at the same time.” Our hands can love and they can hurt. The reader will interpret the image according to his or her own history. Is the hand calming or threatening, real or imaginary, fantasy or nightmare?
However the impromptu use of the photocopier has added other strands of thought. Ugly sturdy office necessity, the photocopier has its own magical space beyond the glass screen. It suspends our faces, hands, and sometimes buttocks in a void, its lens picks out the target and places it in its own dimension. I’m interested in how to describe the process of crossing into another space, interacting with what lies the other side of the screen. There the ambiguity begins, even before we begin the think about the potential narrative presented by the two hands.
Interacting with the photocopier in this way draws attention to the medium and works on more than one level. This is not just drawing on a photocopy, this is an interaction between the two processes. A quick online search throws up ‘xerox art’ but while much of this makes use of the glass I can’t find any exploration of the connection through it – the meeting of real and copy, or representation of real and capture of real.
Along this path of investigation I spend an evening drawing my sons’ thumbs stabbing away at their phone screens. It seems we are all addicted to screens of one type or another. The photocopier does not offer a world of gaming, shopping, stalking but it does remind us of the two sides of a screen – and that perhaps we live more and more on the other side.
Where do we exist if most of our interaction happens on the other side of the screen?
Artists I’ve considered during this process:
I came across this artist in Drawing Now and find this work interesting on many levels. The work consists of a series of ‘pirouette drawings performed simultaneously by 52 dancers‘ (Downs, 2007). Each image is labelled accordingly, so for example, top left is: locationotation: Deborah Kay Ward, in front room, Islington, London N1, 1130 on Sat 9th June 2001 (Downs, 2007)
I’m interested in how we define this work. The artist herself may not even have touched the paper. This was a mark left by a group of dancers – ‘graphite power on watercolour paper’ (Downs, 2007) – this is about the process of making a mark. The artist has been the author of that process.
In her artist’s statement Julie Brixey-Williams describes her interest in how we exist in the space around us – “Collaborating with dancers was a way of expanding my own repertoire of movement whilst alerting me to the importance of linking gesture to emotion, intentional meaning and narrative. Traces and marks are not merely task-based but aim to speak of the space” (Julie Brixey-Williams, 2017).
This is a seductive area to explore and I’m particularly drawn to what we leave behind in the space we once occupied (when we leave a space), be it the dip worn away in a stone step, a finger print, or something that can’t be seen – a memory, a sense, a trace. While Brixey-Williams refers to intentional meaning and narrative, I’m interested in creating an ambiguity that demands the viewer create his or her own narrative.
Known for inherent political messages, Felix Gonzalez Terres also considers the space we occupy and the traces we leave behind: the dent in a pillow, an ever-reducing pile of sweets that represents his partner’s weight. The space his work occupies also becomes part of the work creating further potential layers of meaning, described by curator Eoin Dara: “…always allowing interpretation to oscillate and shift” (as cited in Massey, 2017). We can create our own narrative – our response to the space it’s in (and that we are simultaneously sharing) and the space it’s depicting.
A recent investment, I find myself flicking through Vitamin D again and again. This image is one of the most arresting. I’m fascinated by how these creatures pop up off the page, and how we have no idea what space they occupy, or how. They seem to be charging through the skies. With my penchant for the noir I am also seduced by the dark glossy coats – these feel like wood carvings we can reach out to touch, yet some are the simplest of line drawings with barely a nod to tone (esp. cheetah). “The subjects themselves, twinned with his extraordinary draughtsmanship, pull the viewer through a portal into a wonderfully heightened reality” critic and curator Jane Neal in Vitamin D.(Price, 2015)
Singaporean photographer Mintio created a body of work The Hall of Hyperdelic Youths, a series of portraits of gamers in which she extracts “imagery from both their psychological landscape and the landscapes of the games they play. The virtual world holds infinite possibilities for these gamers and its landscapes defies yet mimics the logics of space.” Of one of the gamers she says “He was him and someone else” (Thephilanthropicmuseum.org, 2017)
While watching my sons connect to this virtual world did inform my work on his project, I am more interesting in the physicality of the screen and the idea of crossing over from one side to the other, the fact that space exists on both side and we can occupy both.
Studying our hands’ interaction with the screen. Thumbs constantly jabbing at the glass. Another world on the other side.
Our hands are both sides, we jab the screen this side, we make things happen the other.
Thumbs become strangely disembodied as they click-clack across the screen. Odd double-jointed creatures. Crabs.
Above: charcoal and graphite. Thinking about how to create an image that is slightly removed – as if the other side of a screen, real but not real. Using a rubber to smudge and erase, using charcoal in thick slabs with smudging to create a distortion.
Above: charcoal and graphite. Creating a background of movement – covering my hands in charcoal and slapping the side of my hand and back of fingers on to paper – I wanted to avoid the more obvious fingerprints. A sense of the prints we leave all over our screens and the hands that could be either side.
Above: charcoal and graphite. Considering connections across the screen while experimenting with how different types of marks convey different emotion.
Above: graphite, charcal, ink pen, Payne’s Grey ink. Beginning to experiment with different media thinking all the while about how to convey the sense of being in different spaces – this side and another.
Above: experimenting with working over a background (charcoal covered in gesso then more charcoal). The sense of being in an unidentifiable space.
Above: pastels and felt tips (with added water). To right – printing on A4 paper with charcoal/gesso background. The sense of the hand coming forward works well but I have problems with using non-photocopier paper in machine, or paper that has been worked up too much already.
Above: felt tips with water, black watercolour. Thinking more about traces we leave. These feel almost like prints or smudges left behind.
Above left: photocopy plus ink and pastels. Much more a feel of graphic novel about it – something my tutor has pointed out in my work before. I do like the effect of ink with darker smudges, it does give a slightly sinister yet old-fashioned aspect. Above right: A4 photocopy and graphite. This goes back to the initial idea but developing the drawing doesn’t seem to work. The drawing looks rather lame next to the photocopied image, graphite isn’t strong enough to compete.
Above: crop of previous image
Above: watercolour (Payne’s Grey)
Photocopy with ink pen (A4)
Graphite on A4 print of Untitled (for Jeff) by Felix Gonzales Torres (1992) on photocopy paper.
Reflection on Part Five
Exploring the space we occupy either side of the ubiquitous ‘screen’ within a narrative whose ambiguity may have us question our own outlook on life. My approach is led by an investigation into an idea in my sketchbook generated during part four.
To put this more explicitly:
- the space we occupy today – this side of the screen or the other – where do we exist (for example for our friends and family) if our contact is all conducted on the other side?
- the idea of touch and its interpretation as threat or comfort (danger of safety)
- one of my weaknesses is to form the final image in my head which nearly always leads to disappointment when I try to put it, fully formed, on to paper. My Part Five challenge is to change the way I’ve worked on past assignments.
I worked in an A3 sketchbook for the entire project, wanting to avoid the trap of ‘the drawing’ while pushing the idea of an investigation all the way. Despite this I was still expecting the investigation to lead me naturally towards a final drawing, and yet that never happened. I’m not overly frustrated at the lack of a grand finale. There are some happy discoveries and the last three drawings I did are the ones that interest me most and I cannot ask for more – proof that I have learned something along the way:
My rather scrappy addition to Felix Gonzales-Torres’s image throws up so many thoughts for me. The roots of this project are in the sense of my mother’s touch in the days after her death. Here is the hand of Gonzales-Torres’s friend (who had recently died) in a work that explores the space we occupy and the traces we leave. I leave my own trace, reaching out to touch. My own marks invade that space, cross the screen and enter the narrative.
Pen turned out to be the only thing that could hold its own against the photocopy. I think the contrast gives it strength.
Here more than one hand gives the sensation of a bit of a scrap to connect with the ‘other side’. There is a certain movement which chimes with how our fingers scrabble across a screen. When I drew this my own hand was wrapped up in bandage (burnt in a burger-flipping incident) but I am OK with the awkwardness of the ink sketch set against the ethereal copy.
Heavy-handed but I am happy that it has a sense of hands coming through from another dimension. I am relatively new to watercolour but enjoy its unpredictability which I think works here.
On a practical note – Ironically one of the main frustrations of this project was the irregularity of the photocopier. It is unhappy with anything other than A4 photocopier paper and undetectable changes in the position of my hand/the light are magnified – it is very hard to control the results. It would be interesting having a high quality large format copier to hand.
Durden, M. (2014). Photography today. London ; New York: Phaidon.
Thephilanthropicmuseum.org. (2017). T.H.O.H.Y (The Hall of Hyperdelic Youths) – The Philanthropic Museum. [online] Available at: http://www.thephilanthropicmuseum.org/?portfolio=t-h-o-h-y-the-hall-of-hyperdelic-youths [Accessed 7 Aug. 2017].
Julie Brixey-Williams. (2017). Statement & Writings. [online] Available at: http://www.juliebrixey-williams.co.uk/statement–writings.html [Accessed 28 Jul. 2017].
Downs, S. (2007). Tracey – Drawing now. London [u.a.]: Tauris.
Massey, I. (2017). Felix Gonzalez-Torres: This Place. [online] thisistomorrow. Available at: http://thisistomorrow.info/articles/felix-gonzalez-torres-this-place [Accessed 30 Jul. 2017].
Price, M. (2015). Vitamin D2. London: Phaidon Press.
My last monochrome exercise in my weekly art class. Next week I get to use colour!
This done from a photograph with the added challenge of adjusting the light values of the original photo – rather like with the previous cow exercise – I’m learning to add something, to make the subject my own.
I’ve learnt a great deal in these strict art classes and if I look back at my first exercises eight months ago I can see how much confidence I’ve gained. Initially my marks were tentative, regular, they weren’t saying much. I’m more free now (though still have some way to go!) and able to put more emotion in to those marks. Even within this one drawing I can see the difference between the tentative first marks and the ones made in the past 30 minutes of drawing.
Specifically I learnt:
- don’t be tempted to assume that leaving areas black will give more atmosphere – when I added the gentlest of marks in to the black it created more interest – there IS something going on in that dense shadow.
- don’t be tempted to do a perfect drawing before getting going with the tonal work – this is more about ‘sculpting’ an image out of the black – and that’s where the joy comes too. I was surprised at how much easier this was that I was expecting – and how little I used a rubber – I think just once to get rid of an early line of placement.
My main reflection at the end of part four is that I am freaked out to be at part five.
Like many I have plenty of reasons for not having the time I had hoped to spend on the course, but what bothers me more is the guilt I feel when I do skulk off to ‘do my art’. Once I get going of course I’m lost, but the getting going is too often held back by the guilt.
Aside from the guilt trips and the freaking out, there have been moments of joy in part four. Mostly from feet and finally understanding the surprising mass of them, the height of the arch and the width of the ankle. Also the sense of a growing connection between hand, body and eye. The hand I am drawing with feels as if it is on the body as I draw, as if the body itself is imprinting the graphite on the paper. That all sounds rather fluid and instinctive. I hope one day it is, but for now it is less smooth of a ride and more a continuous state of manically checking and re-checking angles, measurements, proportions.
I’ve begun to get a sense of the freedom that can come from being able to quickly capture a form with accuracy – I’m nowhere near this of course, but I can see how important it is to have the basics in place. Artists may abstract the body, distort it or simply suggest it, but it is seems to be always underpinned with a sureness of anatomical line.
Looking specifically at the criteria:
Demonstration of technical and visual skills
I’ve gone from drawing bodies with uncertain calves, dislocated shoulders and no feet to bodies that actually look as if they could carry out most of the basic physical functions so yes, I’m happy with my observational skills in this part.
Still I question my use of materials and technical skills. In this part I used conte crayons, inks, water-soluble pencils, chalk, graphite, charcoal and different colour paper. But there is more than this – I see other students investigating collage and bleach and using found paper – and I know I am lacking in this. It just never seems to fit with what I am doing, or aiming for, at the time. Note to self: maybe don’t be so earnest? try to play more…
Still battling with composition. In this part I had less control – having to take what space is available in the life classes. Where I did have control (Assignment: Line Drawing) I did struggle with composition. I messed around a lot with it but in the end found that it was to a large part dictated by my original sketches.
Note to self: In part three I noted my stubbornness to not change composition (I often get fixated on an idea before I pick up the pencil) – and I didn’t really address this in part four. I realise I need to begin working and let it lead me, rather than trying to lead the work.
I think this is quite critical for me – on the odd occasion I have let the work lead me I’ve gone to quite interesting places (in this part for instance the exercises on movement)
Quality of outcome
As with part three I found it trickier to work my way steadily through the challenges set by each exercise – primarily because I used a model in life class rather than finding my own – but I think the resulting sketches do get across what I need them to.
Aside from the Assignment- Line Drawing however, I haven’t worked on any of the sketches beyond the life class, and I wonder now if this is something that would have been worthwhile. Well I know it would have been worthwhile, but in the race to submission deadlines, I didn’t make time to do this – to mess around, investigate, find out where I could take the drawings. (I have had one particular idea swirling around my head, and maybe in the last couple of months left to me I should look in to it)
Demonstration of Creativity
This is a weird one. My tutor pointed out a developing voice : “embrace the atmospheric / dystopian graphic novel style imagery as this appears to be your voice or style coming through” which I have to agree does seem to be my thing, but I have no idea where it comes from. I have not so much as opened a graphic novel and I’m not keen on a dystopian/apocolyptic narrative in films or fiction.
I thought this tendency may be restricted to architecture (as in past assignments). I admit to a long-held fascination with abandoned structures, heavy industrial equipment (tugs, fishing boats, cargo ships) and pretty much anything rusty, but this ‘dystopian graphic novel style’ has even gone stomping across the self-portrait of Assignment 4 and if I’m honest was also trying to get a look in on the line drawing of Assignment 4 too. My tutor has encouraged me to ’embrace it’. I would like to say that I’ve heeded her advice but honestly, I sense that I push away from it rather than embrace it. My hope is always to create something light and beautiful but each time some inner goth takes over and I seem to go back to the darkness.
PS. an after thought – ‘atmospheric’ certainly does not have to be dark – in either sense of the word.
At the start of this course I found my sketchbook a bit of an awkward friend. I wasn’t really sure how to engage with it and my attempts felt a bit forced. That has begun to change in part four – it became a more natural thing to turn to and I found myself referring back to it more frequently. It has more ideas in it now, ideas with loose ends ready to be picked up.
My online learning log too has become a place where I come to think. I’ll write notes in here as I work through something and I find that if I get stuck, that process of writing down what’s going well and what isn’t, will often help unstick me.
Lastly in terms of research – I was so delighted that the Alice Neel exhibition came to my neck of the woods and I felt reinvigorated by it though I do still become a green-eyed monster when I read of the exhibitions (and workshops) available in the UK.
I am getting more confident at the research that comes as part of the course, and get a peculiar satisfaction when I instinctively see connections across artworks or artists.
Recently I’ve been obsessing over Richard Diebenkorn, though only just now come across his ‘Notes to myself on beginning a painting’ which he could have written for me – for these are exactly the things I struggle with (excepting number 9 – chaos is a very natural state of affairs for me).
“Notes to myself on beginning a painting” by Richard Diebenkorn
1. Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.
2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued – except as a stimulus for further moves.
3. DO search.
4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.
5. Don’t “discover” a subject – of any kind.
6. Somehow don’t be bored but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.
7. Mistakes can’t be erased but they move you from your present position.
8. Keep thinking about Pollyanna.
9. Tolerate chaos.
10. Be careful only in a perverse way.
Taken from: Royal Academy
exercise one: the single moving figure
This exercise began on a weekend trip to the beach. I spent a couple of hours each day trying to capture those unique positions that you only really see at the beach. The solid, wide-legged stance at the water’s edge in contemplation, perched on the end of a sun lounger chatting, prone on the sand. I had hoped for more movement, but people are surprisingly static at the beach. The only excitement came from a scrappy game of football – extraordinarily hard to capture – I ended up getting most down when the players stopped and stooped to pick up the ball or throw it in.
The following were a more simplified attempt to catch movement and energy.
The sketches above led me to the charcoal sketch (first image in this post), which I’m pleased with (except for the feet – I’m cross that I wasn’t really able to catch them in movement and using my own static foot as a stand-in model isn’t really working).
These sketches began with the pink-red swirls to capture movement, I then added in the forms. I’ve struggled with the upper bodies – with the position of the heads and arms – the movement through the shoulders is not believable. However the lower half of the body works better, I particularly like the lower legs in the left image though I’m not convinced simply cropping the sketch works.
My regular life class is very static but I was lucky to find a one-off class where the model changed positioned every minute or 30 seconds for the last 10 minutes. It was exhilarating. Unfortunately I used quite a hard pencil and the results are very faint. I went over them after the class with charcoal and red pen but this seems to have lost some of the dynamism rather than brought it out.
What I learnt:
- Heads on a moving body seem to be the hardest thing to capture. Sometimes they all but disappear, often they’re seen as a strange distorted shape rising up behind a shoulder or arm.
- Hands and ends of arms are most often in a blur – this makes sense, they will often be the part of the body covering most distance, with the torso the most static. I remember looking at one of Degas’s dancer pastels and noticing that he just made the hands a blur.
- It seems that men power their body more through the upper part, and women through the pelvis. (I’ve never forgotten a self-defence tip for women which is to get on the ground and kick upwards – women have most strength in their legs).
- As with heads, arms can be hard to capture – especially if they are extended towards to viewer.
exercise two: groups of moving figures
I’ve spent less time on this, though the resulting sketch is different to anything else I’ve done and I’m happy about that. I’ve been struggling to spot groups of moving figures – there is no rush hour here!
I did pack my sketch book when we went to a recent music festival but in the excitement I plain forgot it was in my bag. So when I got home I dug out a video I took at a festival last September, in Berlin. It was the last night (Radiohead), late, very hot and very dusty. Hordes of people swarmed away from the stage. I took three very short snippets of a girl who had stopped in the crowd to check her phone – while people parted around her like fish. In the second clip she turned to try and go against the crowd. In the third she thought better of it and headed off with everyone else.
(video clip shot on iPhone using hyperlapse app. If there is not play button just clicking the centre of the image seems to work!)
I don’t like to work from photos – it always feels like something is missing to me – but this sketch was challenging in a new way because only parts of the crowd were visible – patches of lit faces, arms, sometimes a thigh or a light-coloured t-shirt.
With more time to experiment I would like to have filled the page with my ‘transparent’ figures, but short on time I didn’t want to mess up what I already had. Another project to revisit!
The area to the left is more successful in terms of a sense of a crowd moving forward – some bodies to the right are rather static and the mix of directions stops that sense of flow.