Wednesday, 22 January 2014

David Batchelor reveals his true colours at Spike Island

'David Batchelor..., David Batchelor....where have I heard that name before?' I racked my brain as I walked the docklands of Bristol, one particularly grey and rainy Wednesday afternoon. I was heading toward Spike Island because I'd read that morning that one, David Batchelor had an exhibition of his paintings and drawings there.  I was determined to find out who he was and why I'd heard of him someplace before that I couldn't quite recall...

Seeing a row of colourful, abstract paintings on the gallery wall upon arriving I soon figured it out. Colour! It meant that this was that David Batchelor, author of 'Chromophobia' a book examining the West's prejudice/fear of colour as a secondary or decorative element. It's a great read and now I had the opportunity to see some of his work made as an artist, I was intrigued to see just how colourful (and what would he do with it) Batchelor's work would be.

David Batchelor, 'Atomic Drawings' (1998-2013) various media

I have actually seen some of Batchelor's art work before, but in my ignorance hadn't made a note of the name in order for it to stick in my memory. He is better known for his sculptural works (using colourful plastic components) than 2D, making this exhibition something of an insight to even those who are familiar with his work. In 'Flatlands' the majority of work shown is in the form of paintings, sketches and preparatory experiments on paper/surfaces but there are also a few sculptural pieces (pictured below) which act as a way of connecting the themes of colour and abstraction in the paper works to the 3D ones. A row of such pages are presented as you first arrive in the exhibition, the 'Atomic Drawings' (pictured above and below) depict a series of playful, abstracted forms (that look slightly architectural) in glowing neon's and 'artificial' colours; made in inks, spray paints, gaffer tape, pen and household paints on various found surfaces. Deliberately, I've not shown any of the more colourful ones here because maybe, I'm exhibiting my own form of 'chromophobia' often preferring in my own work to use a more limited colour palette bordering on complete monochrome. I simply didn't like the more colourful pieces, thinking they were garish or there was an unlikeable easiness to them. What did interest me in these works wasn't so much the colour anyway, but the forms, surfaces and affects created with different materials. I wonder if Batchelor felt the same? 

Batchelor writes in 'Chromophobia' how throughout Western history of art, 'that drawing is the masculine side of art, colour the feminine side'. Taking the gender debate in that statement to one-side, surely it is very difficult to have or perceive colour without drawing or colour without form and that the two need each other? There are artists that have tried to present colour as a separate thing such as, Barnett Newman, James Turrell, Rothko and many more but whilst their works in some ways succeed in immersing you in colour so that it becomes an almost bodily experience, I think you still cannot detach colour completely from form. The Turrell light works are defined by the form of the space/the room they occupy as well as the occupant, Newman's paintings are limited to the edges of the canvas (no matter how big they can be) and in Rothko's paintings you can still see the trace of hand, the brushstroke and the bleeding of paint which also begin to create form. It's potentially a very loaded statement to make but I do not think that form and colour can exist independently of each other. You cannot have a colourless form? Even a black and white drawing can only be a drawing because there is a contrast between the black of the ink and the white of the paper. I digress completely, but I think in the case of Batchelor's work, neither colour nor form are his primary concern but a fusing of how the two come together. If anything it is more about how the abstract coloured blob of paint or mark can become representational, as the title of the exhibition contextualises. 'Flatlands' is taken from the novella by Edwin A Abbott, 'Flatland'  which is a tale of a square that lives in two dimensions and 'explores the realms of one and three dimensions in order to consider how hard it is to conceive dimensions outside of one's own experiences.' That book frames the work in this exhibition around questioning what makes two dimensional and three dimensional different

David Batchelor, 'Atomic Drawings' (1998-2013) various media
David Batchelor, 'Disco Mecsnique' (2008) plastic sunglasses

Moving on from the drawings, I went to investigate the sculptural works on display (only to end up, ultimately, linking the sculptural works back to the original drawings I'd seen)! I mentioned how the 'Atomic Drawings' were almost architectural, certainly the green blob in the top image looks almost sculptural being given its own plinth/scaffolding to rest on. This concept of creating pedestals or plinths for colour as well as the layering, fragmenting and repetition present in other drawings has been replicated in the 'Concretos' sculptures (pictured below). Here, broken coloured shards of glass are staggered and protruding from their contrasting, monochrome-grey concrete base. Their weighty-ness and sharpness makes them feel more masculine or edgy than the drawings but are also a little obvious and leave less to the imagination than the drawings. For reasons that are maybe down to personal preference, I think that the illusion of depth/three-dimensions and potentiality present in the drawings is more interesting than the physical realisation in sculpture*.

In, 'Disco Mecanique' (pictured above) a chance encounter with cheap plastic sunglasses for sale in Sao Paulo, proved to be the ideal building material Batchelor was looking for. The artist states, 'I was looking for cheap, brightly coloured plastic objects that I might be able to use somehow.' After playing with building structures out of sunglasses, Batchelor found 30 could be joined together to make spheres. Once again, the work is very colourful and I understand the connection one could make between glasses, eyes, spheres/orbs of glasses that look like eyes, and eyes being sensitive to colour etc. But I still think there is as much to be revealed in the structuring and way in which these components have been grouped, the way they move and sway as well as what the colour or sunglasses communicate. Perhaps ironically all those ideas come together to make a very optical piece of work that is in more ways than one about looking.

David Batchelor, 'Concretos' (2013) concrete and glass

David Batchelor, 'Twelve Greys' (2013) gloss and matt paint on aluminium

Some of the initial sketches also led to creating the larger series of work, 'Twelve Greys' and, honestly titled, 'Blob paintings'. Here I think we find Batchelor's treatment and use of colour at its best whereby gloss paint is directly poured onto either an aluminium or matt surface and left to spread/dry. Like liquid colour the paint creates its own form and each dries with its own unique wrinkly surface essentially also forming its own sculpture. The abstract is then made into the representational by giving the 'blob' a base/plinth on which to rest on. It does nicely link together his concerns of colour, sculpture and drawing. 

What is the most successful and rewarding element to this exhibition is the synchronicity between Batchelor the writer and Batchelor the artist. They both inform each other and so it would be pointless to attempt and try and critique the two separately. The art puts into practice and tests the ideas and theory in the writing and the writing acts as a way of processing and rationalising some of the more spontaneous-looking and random art works. Whilst I sometimes think his choice of colours is a bit bold and a bit kitsch for my taste, there is harmoniousness between his practice and theory that is also investigative and playful. It was still raining when I left, maybe not as much as before as I could have sworn things were no longer looking quite as grey.   

David Batchelor, 'Blob Paintings' (2011-2013) gloss and matt paint on aluminium

David Batchelor's 'Flatlands' is on at Spike Island until the 26th January 
* Why is this? What is more appealing about the imagined sculpture as to the physically, realised one? One has potential to change and is malleable; the other is more concrete, fixed or absolute? But some sculptures do change, thinking of Arte Povera and/or are kinetic, they move. Is it the same as saying do you prefer the painting of an apple or the actual apple? This could be the beginning of something a lot more complicated...

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Writer's Block

So it has come to this... Is the beginning of the year really that un-interesting?

'A parcel!'
'I wonder what it could be?'
Thinks: Maybe it's a belated Christmas present? A free DVD? A book? Or no, better yet, an early birthday present!?


'Uh, yay, it's a block of wood.'

Ok, so maybe I was a little disappointed but only because at the age of 27, I still have child-like, wildly over-the-top and romantic notions of what the post should be (it rarely lives up to this expectation). And whilst at first, it isn't exactly the most inspiring of things to receive in the mail it is indefinitely better than getting bills or bank statements. 

Anyway, it isn't just a block of wood, in actuality...

It's a cheese board for serving stilton, brie, assorted cheddars and biscuits,
It's a potable chopping block for your mobile carrot dicing needs,
It's the infamous karate block of wood that ten-thousand, yes ten-thousand of the best martial artists couldn't chop in half,
It's a step for when you need to be 1cm taller,
It's a pantone test board for 11_0601,
It's a shelf,
An uninspiring book-end,
A unique garden feature,
A prospective home to a wood worm,
A toad's and other small creatures floating transportation device,
It's an imagination enhancer-inator -the essential, must-have toy for next Christmas,
It's a percussion instrument,
It's an ornate piece of firewood,
It's the last thing an ant will ever see,
It's a 'colour-of-milk' testing board,
It's a poem,
It's a weapon in the wrong hands,
It's a poor subsidiary visibility-board so motorists notice you in dark conditions,
It's a tiny seat,
A ready-meal for a beaver,
An ill-formed Frisbee, 
It's something to talk to that's a really good listener,
A Zen-garden for a doll's house,
It's a physical manifestation of silence,
It's a modesty concealer for nudists,
A slate for your minimalist wood cabin,
A sledge for small cats or squirrels,
It's an unsolved Mensa puzzle,
A washboard without ridges,
A squibble-board for the popular sport of Huffle-whack,
A portable roof,
It's a sophisticated counting aid for the representation of one,
It's a life-form from Mars,
It's delicious...(putt) or maybe it isn't,
It's a ramp for ducklings to escape busy roads,
It's an ancient artefact used for mapping snowy tundra,
It's a shadow-spotting reflective plain,
It's a writer's block un-blocker,

It's a canvas for creating a unique piece of artwork on that can be sold, with others, at auction raising money for Musgrove Park Hospital, 'Art for Life'.


    That's right! This superbly cut, sanded and  primed A5 block of MDF is a canvas ready for the painting, drawing, collaging or any other media. Once complete, the block is sent back to the 'Art for Life' team where it is photographed and posted online with other artist's blocks (there looks to be about 100-200 artists taking part!). The public can then start biding online in advance prior to the auction which, this year, is going to be held at the hospital on Tuesday 20th May. All proceeds raised go towards supporting, 'Art for Life' which facilitates and provides an access to art in the hospital making a more welcoming, stimulating and supportive environment for visitors, patients and staff. 

Pretty exciting after all. Whilst I still admit to having an initial lack of enthralment at getting what is essentially a block of wood through the door, in reality, the potential of a blank canvas is most interesting and to reiterate, it's the opportunity to create something, small, unique and special that will be both an original piece of artwork for someone to own as well as raising money for an excellent local charitable cause. 

It was my intention to have fun with creating alternative uses for the canvas and I hope I have succeeded in demonstrating some of the delights, absurdity and possibilities that can come from nothing. The challenge now is to turn said block of wood into 'art' (Ho Ho, is that all and you thought the other ideas were wacky). I'm fortunate to have been invited to take part in this for the second time and on a more serious note, the standard is always high and it is a challenge I look forward to embarking on and contributing towards. I have a few ideas already, stay posted as I'll be putting more details of both my block, other artists' blocks and how you can bid on them here on the blog in the near future.

I've until February 21st to complete it so I'd better get going. 

And, well, you know if all else fails the cheese board option would make a pretty good backup! 

Tuesday, 14 January 2014


We interrupt your usual 'Spanner in the Workz' posts for the following intermission...
(Some people say we take things too seriously!)
Normal rantings, observations, criticisms and digressions will resume shortly.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

A Drawing a Day

At the start of 2013 I embarked on the challenge of creating a drawing everyday for a year in a small A7 Moleskin diary.
The challenge was met with some trepidation at first but soon gathered its own momentum with some surprising, amusing and perhaps, at times, a little disturbing results.

You can read more of my progress and thoughts on the project by clicking the link below:

 It was never my intention to ‘show’ the drawings when creating them, as a result the work is possibly a lot more intimate, sincere and 'unpolished' than what it would have been had I ‘made it for public consumption’. In other words, I think my self-consciousness would have gotten the better of me had I known I was going to exhibit the work and may have altered 'what' I drew as well as 'how' I drew it. As it turns-out, not having the burden of expectation other than to myself, may have proved quite fortunate as I hope it means that there is something refreshing in seeing good drawings mixed with sublime ones, bad ones, ok ones and diabolical ones (I'll let you be the judge!) Hence what you are seeing is a series of unique, little drawings that meant a great deal at the time of their creating but are none-the-less merely drawings. Collectively they have gained their own impetus from becoming a set created over the duration of a year, through its periods of doubt, joy, elation, searching, frustration, exhaustion, monumental highs, crippling lows and all the mundane in-betweens. Above all I hope it may offer a revealing and honest insight from someone that just loves to sit and draw.


 Scanning and cropping all 365 drawings into the computer nearly made my eyes bleed! So please have a look at the album of images either on the slideshow* or on my Flickr page by clicking on the link below.

Created with flickr slideshow.
*Note slideshow may not work on mobile/tablet devices, so please view via the link above.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

New Year’s Resolution – Is this the end?

Happy New Year!
My 2013 New Year’s resolution was as follows, ‘One diary, one drawing, every day for one year.’
 See blog posts:
 I’m pleased to say that I succeeded in creating 365 drawings inside a small A7 Moleskin diary.
Hooray! The following is a list of the stuff I’ve drawn:
snowman, beer glass, newt, chameleon, bumble bee, frog on nut, Dali clock, dragonfly, portrait of weird looking man, ear, stork scissors, zombie, netsuke, seated Buddha from Gandhara, clay skull, coal tit, telegraph pole, netsuke nut, biro pen, dormouse, ladder, predator, dark bush cricket,  row boat, bowling pin, Mona Lisa on toast, paraffin lantern, wood pigeon, cross-section of chest, typewriter, seahorse, sheep, steak, old telephone, sailing boat hotel Dubai, lobster, ball of string, tawny owl, amber spyglass, platypus, trumpet, pig, converse trainer, silver articulated fish, Inca gold lama, flying bird, walrus, grenade, cross-section of pepper, crab, egg in frying pan, light bulb, Don McCullin’s Nikon camera, tree frog, sundae, strawberry, pumpkin, gas mask, petrol can, lion, guitar, chicken, film camera, hippo, Native American mask, raven, bucket, moose, peas, key, telephone, Maya Mare God statue, raspberry, revolver, prawn, peg, flame, radiator, pinwheel, hat, lettuce, accordion, fan, Sangrada Familia, Joan Miro sculpture 1, Joan Miro sculpture 2, Cat statue, La Pedera 1, La Pedera 2, anchor, pipe, dart, electric fan, tortoise, high heel shoe, poplar leaf beetle, kestrel, ray gun, vacuum cleaner, ear of wheat, shark, wood plane, hypodermic needle, seagull, unicycle, Roy Lichtenstein Desk Calendar, copper kettle, telephone box, red lipstick, snorkelling gear, pneumatic drill, fish, hour glass, knight chess piece, penny farthing, oil can, natterjack toad, roller skate, chainsaw, ice skate, fire hydrant, zeppelin, spray paint, Van Gogh Skeleton, jelly, tin robot, arrow, cuckoo catfish, iron, budgie, pickaxe, flintlock pistol, rubber duck, JCB, spinning top, lighthouse, puffin, scarecrow, lighthouse lamp, gargoyle, wooden bird, fire extinguisher, padlock, gramophone, fox skull, mushroom, flamingo, hydraulic clamp, sarcophagus, saw, hand whisk, acorn, Georges Melies’ moon,  cassette tape, kangaroo, diamond, T-Rex, squirrel, black spotted woodpecker, wren, penguin, closed umbrella, wooden chair, folded shirt, Somerfest beast, formula one car, pheasant, electric iron, rhino, hairdryer, fox, bowler hat, pelican, blue whale, leak, ostrich, scorpion, watering can, badger, roadrunner, suitcase, blender, meerkat, Dettol, old-fashioned can opener, Friesian cow, hamburger, palm tree, window/shutters, rose, circus tent, giraffe, sunglasses, merry-go-round horse, parrot, rabbit in top hat, killer whale, catcher’s mitt, camel, bicycle, jelly baby, bat, baseball bat, vulture, ocean liner, space shuttle, hot air balloon, crocodile, stag beetle, Texan boot, polar bear, sailing boat, cat, armchair, seal, axe, sausage dog, hot dog, tennis racquet, rat, bottle of poison, wolf, baboon, duck, fountain pen, sword, false teeth, toucan, snail, scales, captain’s ship wheel, double Decker bus, oil lamp, Big Ben, sleigh, panda, quill and ink, catapult, Japanese cuttlefish hoe, mini, ladybird, push lawnmower, tap, desk lamp, electric drill, steam train, toilet, medieval helmet, squid, kingfisher, elephant, hare, swordfish, mammoth, piranha, raccoon, biplane, Easter Island head, astronaut, Henry Moore’s ‘Reclining Figure’, ant, paint pot and brushes, chimpanzee, binoculars, apple tree, beaver, peanut, wheelbarrow, kite, jade bear, apple core, shopping trolley, crane, anteater, microscope, stegosaurus, box camera, sushi, open umbrella, bison, corn, kiwi bird, prickly pear cactus, cactus, talon, poppy seed head, stingray, antelope, pomegranate, secretary bird, plug, Terry Adkins ‘Omohundro’, violin, armadillo, dice, skunk, butternut squash, staircase, hand of bananas, bears, broom, rooster, spinning wheel, wash bucket, snowy, wooden musical frog, candelabra, car tyre, bagpipes, tiger, egg and egg cup, plastic soldier, scissors, deer, tank, cockroach, strange tool, Saint Bernard, peacock, swan, Venetian mask,  pinecone, gondola, French horn, Scala Del Bovolo, sea shell, alarm clock, radio, electric guitar, poodle, praying mantis, bra, vine of tomatoes, blue jay, traffic cone, sperm whale, watermelon, picnic table, propeller, stag, chipmunk, tape measure, goggles, horseshoe crab, goat, life raft, old boot, jellyfish, singer sewing machine, dove, potato, barn owl, cheese grater, ballet shoes, dustbin, reindeer, partridge, Scottish terrier, drum, ammonite fossil, golf ball, king chess piece, wooden mouse
Apologies, at the risk of coming across a bit smug, I have to honestly say at the start of January 2013 I didn’t think I was going to realistically find the time or willpower to draw everyday for a whole year, and what started off as a ‘task for the sake of task’ became something I look forwarded to if not a bit of an obsession. Minus a few exceptions (due to illness and holidays for example, I was too scared to take it to Venice; there’s water everywhere for crying out loud!) I sometimes had to catch up with doing two or three drawings in one day to compensate, however most of the time I would dedicate around thirty minutes/an hour to draw and found it became an almost meditative discipline of stopping, sitting down, most of the time at my bed (it’s also a desk), attempting to put to one-side the thoughts/frustrations/delights of the day (ha ha, most of the time frustrations!), intensely looking at something to draw and all the challenges and difficulties it sometimes created. There were times when it wasn’t possible to concentrate, I wasn’t in the mood, I was tired (finding the time some days was a challenge in itself meaning I’d often be drawing late at night or early morning) or the thing I was attempting to draw was perhaps too difficult often sparking questions of, ‘Why am I doing this to myself?’ ‘What sort of person comes home after a stressful day at work to cook dinner, wash and draw a picnic table?!’ In a year that has been depressingly lack-lustre in the way of my own art experiences, this tiny little Moleskin was the only thing that kept me focused, hopeful and somehow retaining my ‘involvement’ in art even if I wasn’t ‘exhibiting’ or showing it anywhere. Of course I’d seen loads, heaps of art in 2013 but still yearn to create things myself. Admittedly there was some slight motivation from the thought of being able to ‘share’ some of this experience with people here on the blog (more on that at the end). I had never previously questioned how astonishingly important ‘art’ is in my life until I tried to live with its absence in the latter of 2012. I think I find it truly impossible to exist without having something creative on-the-go or at the forefront of my thoughts in the way of a blog, a drawing, a project.

I’d recommend it as a form of self-help or therapy! Ha ha, although appreciate I may not be entirely the most convincing person there! Aside from my own personal thoughts on how incredibly joyous it has been as a whole experience there’s also plenty to learn from it too, both personally and technically. Such as, how I draw, what I draw and how/or not my drawing has evolved over the course of the year.

Although... you know... all of that would only be relevant and worth reflecting on if, I don’t know... if say, that I enjoyed the last year so much and found it so useful that I was going to repeat the project for 2014 but with a bigger sketch book, different materials and more weird and wonderfulness than ever before...
Challenge accepted!
Woo-hoo! So what are the changes for 2014 as part of the ‘sketch a day’ challenge?
1) Bigger sketchbook
What did you get for Christmas? I received bigger sketchbooks (amongst other things)! I think it was hint to work bigger... I’m also going to do one sketch per page instead of double-siding my drawings as done previously.
2) New Drawing Materials
The very same sketchbook instigators also gave me inks, pens and brushes! No more excuses to work only in monochrome, it’s not going to be easy! Time to start experimenting using a bit more colour methinks and being a lot looser in my painting/drawing style. This will be a personal challenge but one worth doing as I kept my drawing style in 2013 incredibly tight as there wasn’t a lot of space per page for anything too expressive.

3) Altered mind-set on ‘what to draw’ and review on ‘how to draw it’
This will probably be the most difficult of all the new changes. Much debate and many questions were raised from the things I decided to draw in 2013, to which my rationale and answer is still the same in that, I would choose to draw things which I ‘felt’ like drawing or had never drawn before and felt somewhat, perhaps inexplicably compelled to capturing on paper because of the shape, form, texture of ‘said thing’ I was drawing. There’s a whole world of infinitely wonderful things out there to draw and at last I was liberated to draw whatever I chose without having to justify or explain myself. I think I was searching for what visually or aesthetically appeals to me personally. Sometimes one drawing would lead to an associative link to another thing to draw, i.e. pen drawing followed by sword drawing. Other times it may appear completely random and I am all-too-aware of what it all could unconsciously signify and have best avoided interpretation at the peril of my sanity. I’m pretty adamant that the things I enjoy drawing the most are things with a very distinct form, things with a very clear or solid line/edge to them such as inanimate man-made objects, buildings and occasionally, natural forms that are very structural such as pinecones. Softer, less defined more ephemeral things such as egg yolks, transparent fabric, delicate, fury or hairy things remain something of a bother to draw, in the sense I don’t particularly enjoy it and they often don’t look ‘as well drawn’ in my opinion. Intent, here is important, as one could say, what am I trying to achieve in my drawing? Am I trying for realism? Self expression? What exactly is it I am trying to do and if it isn’t realism then does it matter if the egg doesn’t ‘look’ like an egg? There are some examples within my drawings of animals such as birds and rodents (which fit into the feathered, soft and hairy category of not being enjoyable to draw) which have turned out to be quite well observed and sensitive. Does this mean they are good drawings? And, is this more important than drawing to fulfil or communicate my own personal need to draw for the sake of self expression. Ahhhhh!

I offer, what is hopefully an elegant solution. This year, I aim to draw more freely, more sketchily and loosely so that my drawings become more expressive and are therefore more representative of how I feel in response to what I am drawing than a mere illustration of it. When possible I aim to draw more from ‘life’ or from my imagination (woah, could be disturbing!) taking inspiration from events, places, things and or books. Whilst in Venice I saw the sketchbook drawings of artist, Jose Antonio Suarez Londono who drew a page-a-day based on the written diary of Franz Kafka. The resulting drawings were imaginative, elegant, in some cases surreal but above-all incredibly poignant and with a meaning and relevance that my drawings were some-what lacking. I’m hoping that by referring to text, quotes from the surplus of books I read I can use them as a source of inspiration for creating drawings/images. Occasionally I may retreat back to familiar, comforting ways of working but even in that familiarity I believe there is still room for me to improve.

  Anyway, I appreciate this may all be beginning to become incredibly self-reflective and boring for any of you reading this so I’ll end it there.  I needed to have this conversation with the internal monologue inside my head so as to reflect and prepare myself for the exciting new challenge I’ve set myself for 2014. Thanks for following its progress with me.

You will be able to pass your own critique, take delight or perhaps be thoroughly disturbed by my drawings as I will be creating a sort-of PowerPoint animation of them all to post here on the blog in the imminent future.