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.