Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Drawn Out

The drawing a day project continues and now at my half way point it’s time for the, now customary reflection on how it is progressing (and there’s a lot to say so make yourself comfortable!):

Some days I don’t feel like drawing (hard to believe, for someone that has set themselves a drawing a day challenge for the second year in a row but it’s true). I sit at my desk (ok so it’s actually my bed which I kneel at) and think, ‘What am I going to draw today?’ ‘How am I going to draw it? Should I even bother?’ I may go for a walk or if I don’t have the time I just start drawing, usually the first thing that comes into my head. These things are usually picked from conversations I have had with people or images I have seen during the day but the link is often so dependant on context or personal that I do not expect anyone to know the reference other than me. You see it’s not really what I draw that’s important to me but the need to draw the kind of drawing which involves an intense amount of concentration or thinking that is my concern.

Of course most of the time I first have to search for an image of the thing I’m drawing for reference or when possible draw from life or imagination (although in practice this seems to happen very little) and then after few minutes into starting and my earlier doubts or fatigue gradually disappear and I’m immersed in the focus of what I’m drawing. The intensity of looking, mark making, decision making and working out generated by drawing offers escapism to think and reflect. The conscientiousness comes back towards the end of the drawing and I start analysing whether it looks ‘finished’ or not. This often results in a few minutes spent polishing/or not what I've created.

Why be so representational in my drawing style then? I have always found this the hardest question to answer and have had an ongoing dichotomy between my need to make marks/surfaces, often more associated with the self expression of abstract art; and the symbolic, meaning imbued imagery of representation. I tend to hover between the two and as result am never sure if the representational image is there acting as ‘something to hang the paint on’, a ‘shape in which to draw in’ or whether it is something more subconscious and therefore more meaningful than I pay attention to. Perhaps by staying within the boundaries of creating a representational image I’m keeping a control on what I’m doing with the mark making/act of drawing implying that I want to ‘let go’, so to speak and become lost in the expressiveness of mark making but not loose myself completely, having to control the mark making so that it eventually ‘looks’ like something and remain somewhere within the familiar constraints of reality? Well, that’s a frighteningly honest assessment which goes some way into revealing more about my personality that I hadn't really expected. It makes it difficult to know where to go from here or whether I carry on as I have done and let this journey run its course. It’s certainly proving very useful and developing, albeit very slowly at its own pace so far...

05/05/14 - Inspired after seeing (a friend from my art degree) Lucy's drawing of a goldfish on Facebook.

In my usual search to find answers to these questions I refer to knowledge learnt from books and have recently read ‘Guston in time’ by Ross Feld. The book is an analysis and dialogue through the letters of American painter Philip Guston (an artist whose paintings and unique drawing style I have long admired) and writer Ross Feld revealing new insight into Guston’s working practice.  I found it interesting how Guston spoke of his ‘need’ to paint as though it were a compulsion, almost something non-voluntary and that he saw the act of creating as a ‘getting-rid of’ or purging, the resulting painting being seen to Guston as a sort-of aftermath of these intense thoughts/feelings he expressed through his art,

 ‘That the purpose of creating is to kill it or at least get rid of it -once and for all. Now I truly am fearful of creating -such a dread of it.’  (Guston 2003: 64)

This counterbalances the preconceived idea that creativity is this joyous, celebratory or almost divine experience and highlights that the ‘need to create’  and act of creativity as also being painful  or coming from difficulty, frustration and the more unpleasant sides to a person’s character/experiences. Now, I in no way (thankfully) have similar life experiences to that of Guston, who when very young found his father hung himself and since (Guston) went on to have an incredibly self-destructive relationship with excessive smoking and drinking; but and the reason I included that quote by him here, is because I can relate to the need to create as a kind-of compulsion or obsession –better out than in, sort-of mentality. The thought of not making any art or doing something creative for a considerable length of time is terrifying and actually unimaginable. Even if that creative outlook wasn’t drawing I would have to find something creative to do. Although, again, perhaps like Guston I often wonder if I would be better off without this urge to create/to express oneself as it is often more difficult to do than what it actually helps/solves. Hence the ongoing spiral  and denial of the artist: and need to have to create more and more until you reach an end or find an answer that all the while you’re conscious of not actually wanting to reach that end because you wouldn’t know what to do with yourself once you got there. And we voluntary put ourselves through this?!

I briefly alluded to this same conundrum in my Masters dissertation which touched upon the idea of ‘drawing is a drawing out’ where head, heart and hand come together in the embodied act of drawing based on not just what a person is seeing but their lived experiences, thoughts and feelings that influences how they draw. It’s worth a read, as of course I would say, and if you’re interested there’s a link to read it online at the top of this page titled ‘MA Project Report’. I refer to it as well as it seems that I am still on that thread of enquiry and am interested in returning to it again, with more focus, in the future.

12/04/14 -The post-Rembrandt inspired drawings. Image of ceiling fan seen in a Rauschenberg collage/combine painting that I decided I wanted to draw.

16/01/14 -First drawing painted by mixing tones of green. Had a stigma of using green in paintings since using pre-mixed green on Foundation Diploma. I'm over it now! Honest.

There were quite a few significant changes to the project this year, namely; use of colour, larger sketchbooks, more open-mindedness in what I choose draw/more imaginative. The results so far have been a much more diverse, richer, challenging and interesting set of drawings than those of last year. I think the drawing has ‘improved’ in the sense that they are now more varied in mark-making, shading, tone and in observational detail but in this way they, at the start of the year became much more illustrational and lacking perhaps in personality or trace of hand, by which I mean the sort-of imperfections and handwriting evident of the person who has made the drawing. In ‘Drawing Water’ artist Tania Kovats whose practice uses drawing as a means of exploration, notes ‘Awkwardness in drawing is as interesting as fluency.’ (2014: 11). You heard it here first, I have license to become more awkward than perhaps I already am!

Around March time, after having seen the Rembrandt etchings in Amsterdam the drawings took on a whole new quality where the intensity and variety of mark-making was key in defining form and tone. These drawings had more substance to them and were an improvement in coming out of the flatness of representation I had fallen into. Currently the drawings are in a limbo between the two as I am trying to combine the colour painting  of the flatter illustrational drawings with the mark making learnt from the ‘Rembrandt inspired’ drawings. We’ll see how it pays off!

17/02/14 -As result of conversation with friend regarding the Yellow Long Horned Beetle (Seriously! This is the kind of thing we talk about in the pub.)

With that in mind points to consider now moving forward into the second half of the year:

-          Backgrounds: Why do I tend to always draw objects/animals/plants in space? Left as a drawing on the page. I have begun already exploring on using the whole page instead of just focusing on the subject.

-           Combine colour with mark making: As mentioned above, experiment in combining the more painterly and tonal attributes of using coloured inks with the tighter more intense mark making learnt from the Rembrandt black and white pen drawings.

-          Try some purely painterly, loose drawings with no pen. Or use pencil instead of pen for softer more subtle line quality.

-          Leave some drawings unfinished? Abstract. Continuous line/blind drawing.

How much or little I choose to push myself to fulfil these is up to me. Already the project continues to improve and develop naturally at its own pace and how keen I am or not to push it on more quickly will depend on how daring I feel on a day to day basis. By at least being aware of what needs improving and what is working I can make those decisions more informed.  Tricky stuff this drawing business, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’ll leave you with this quote from John Vernon Lord, he’s an illustrator but I think the following quote encapsulates what drawing is pretty succinctly,

‘The challenge of drawing involves fathoming shapes; probing measuring and adjusting; working out comparative proportions; highlighting and shading; emphasising and diminishing; composing; combining intuition and thoughtfulness; fumbling and stumbling; the sorting of marks; the cursing; the rubbing out; the hesitations; the adjustments; the decisions; the hopes and anticipation; the heartache; the overcoming of weakness; the hoping for control; the taking of risks; reacting to unexpected developments that may arise; getting the desired expression and mood; establishing the content; getting to grips with the subject; inventing – and the whole process reaching towards a visual conclusion.’ (2014: 8)

FELD, R. Guston in time: Remembering Philip Guston. (2003) Counterpoint Press: USA.
KOVATS, T. Drawing Water. (2014) Fruitmarket GalleryPublications: Edinburgh.
LORD, J V. Drawn to drawing. (2014) Nobrow: London.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

FAB 14

If there was a Fringe Arts Taunton then I guess it’d be called FAT?  Probably just as well that we have FAB instead, Fringe Arts Bath festival of free visual arts, performance and film ran in the city from 24th May until 8th June 2014. This was my first visit.

Art everywhere! Just not maybe where you would expect.

A lingering thought in my attitude towards ‘art’ is beginning to take root; I’m becoming less interested in the art on the walls, in the windows and on plinths and pedestals, instead  I’m noticing the places, the stains of human remnants and decay in which all this stuff is being exhibited. To this extent some of the best things I saw in FAB were the empty, unused buildings and spaces that housed the work. Open to the public for the first time it may seem harsh but walking in a former empty shop on New Bond Street where portraits, drawings, photos and canvases were on display as part of the Fab Open felt all too safe and familiar. There was nothing particularly different or challenging, the work was ok but incredibly dull. The winner of which is bizarrely hidden around the corner instead of being on prominent display. Such was the beginning of what seemed some weird curatorial decisions (or lack of) in Bath Fringe.  

The glimmer of hope came when I headed reluctantly at first, downstairs into the basement, away from the ‘acceptability’ of the Fab Open into the ‘Cellar of Curiosity’ where all those deemed ‘unworthy’ of being shown in the prominence of a Bath shop window front are given creative freedom to be exposed in all their, uh, glory. This space could have been curated but instead it looked as if it was left to whatever a group of the artists felt-like which is a shame because it could have been something more thought provoking than the slightly disturbed mess that it was. Still, I enjoyed exploring this dank, dark, dripping, naturally aged, rotting pit of a space infinitely more than any of the art upstairs. The contrast between Bath’s historic yellow stone buildings, the spa and tourist facade compared to the grungy, unseen reality of urban detritus I was facing was nothing short of brilliant. Whilst most of the art, in my opinion, was only slightly better than what you may see at a weak student exhibition, I was glad to see it there none-the-less. If artists hadn’t decided to exhibit and take the ingenuity to use these spaces then people like me would never get to see them and I still see the value in making art and need for expression even if sometimes the results are pretty morose or lacking in quality (I include my own successes and failures in this sentiment).

In the Cellar of Curiosities on New Bond Street where the cellar itself was the curiosity.

The Octagon. Stunning venue as part of Fringe Arts Bath.  
FAB8 at Octagon had some interesting work in it but felt loosely connected in the way of any theme. It is a fantastic space and I have seen it used for some great exhibitions, namely 'Wunderkammer' from the Bo Lee Gallery in 2011

On the whole Bath Fringe wasn’t good or bad, some of the work was interesting but let-down, I feel by a lack of continuity in how the work was presented within venues and between venues. 'Research Matters', an exhibition of performance writing in FAB1 and 'Building Volumes' at Bath Artists Studios being more organised in having the same labels and context for everyone’s work. In a festival of many small exhibitions, 'Photo< >Paint' explored the links between the practices of painting and photography working well as an overall show. However, there were more opportunities that I noticed where it felt work was ‘plonked’ in any available space instead of being placed with reason/intention that left me drawn-to and feeling more pernickety about the quality of work and its presentation than normal. I am critical because I think it matters and am conscious that it remains difficult for a lot of art to be taken seriously and, in turn valued.  I do not think we do ourselves any favours by being complacent in how we present it be it at student level or professional.

 I was left unsure of the identity of the FAB. On one hand it seems to be in favour of being a bit grungy, anti-establishment and celebration of amateur or emerging art whereas on the other it seems like its trying to be an alternative showcase of contemporary art/artists in Bath and the South West? Either way it could be 'sharper', if I was an emerging curator or artist I would want to raise the bar higher and FAB had too many unfilled holes (conceptually as well as literally) or filled holes left unpainted, foam board cut sloppily and work hung/placed seemingly chaotically at times or in need of editing. The design and publicity is good, but the branding and identity of FAB venues is at times wooly and not helped by what, in my view was a really confusing website and street map. Regardless of the quality of the work itself it deserves to be presented properly and can sometimes make all the difference to how that work is seen.  Liverpool Biennial achieves this balance well, between having exciting abandoned spaces met with careful presentation and use of these spaces. Every piece seems it is placed intentionally in that space whether it’s in a white walled gallery or an old sorting-office shoot. Arguably they probably get more money than FAB do in employing help to make this possible, but equally have seen many volunteer led local exhibitions consistently deliver top-quality.

Installed piece by Helen Grant as part of 'Shaping Space' in FAB4 New Bond Street
Work which was installed or hung in relation to/in response to its context. Reminded me of Anna Barriball's work (just a thought).

Highlights from FAB 2014: Artist unknown found board upstairs in the FAB1 on Stall Street.  

What did work for me was alldaybreakfast’s ‘Holy Souls’ (pictured below) in the basement of what, I assume was a former shoe shop on Stall Street. This installation was site-specific and worked with the space using it to create an eerie filmic-like stage set in which the participant could explore and create their own narrative. Sound familiar? It felt very reminiscent of Mike Nelson’s ‘Coral Reef’ (which is the second time I’ve mentioned it on this blog in the last two weeks) where the viewer is disorientated and left to explore a labyrinth of uninhabited rooms. The narrative implied by the objects and lighting left in each of the spaces. In the case of ‘Holy Souls’ we move from a plastic lined waiting room, ala David Lynch into a sort of film noir office complete with lamp and typewriter. The mystery thickens....we follow clues, fragments room to room in what was an immersive and atmospheric experience.

Similarly, Resonance in FAB1 on Stall Street saw artists respond to the underground space of Bath, it's subterranean sounds and darkness to interesting affect. I am not implying that everything which is site-specific is more successful or interesting but it is dangerous to ignore the environment you're exhibiting in all together. Amongst these there were plenty of great ideas too, 'The Charity Shop Appreciation Society' by Rosemary Ashton and Peter Lloyd is sort of fun, sad and kitsch at the same time doing what it says on the tin, rehoming unwanted charity shop art, each piece for under a fiver With more humour and a sense of innovative thinking in  Lee Neil's 'The Beards of Bath' a celebration of beards in the form of photographic portraits displayed in shop windows on Walcot street (it does make you spend more time looking in the shop windows there, which is a clever idea for increasing trade).

alldaybreakfast's 'Holy Souls' site specific installation as part of FAB2.

 Perhaps my expectations were too high, I have been harsh in my opinion of Bath Fringe baring in mind this is only covering the Visual arts side of what is also a music/performance based festival. It remains a festival full of good ideas, it's fun and has great potential to grow better. There are a few brilliant things I saw here art wise as I hope I mentioned, photography in 'Nocturne', a drawing machine, some excellent installations and printmaking (particularly at Bath Artists Studios). It is a shame that my overall impression was blighted by the overall feeling of it being a bit bitty, disorganised and lacking polish that drew me to being more excited at my day spent as an urban explorer rather than viewer of art (assuming there's a difference of course!), but I don't think that was what was intended. 

I continue to learn much from seeing art and no doubt will be back for more next year. Of course!