Sunday, 2 August 2015

Tales From The Tool Shed

Is Facebook supposed to be educational? 'Bored Panda' anything other than amusing procrastination?! Imagine my delight logging on to my Facebook account to find amidst the usual shower of cat photos, political garbage and relentless invitations to play candy crush saga (NOTE: I’m still not interested!) something that was actually, amazingly, inspiringly and, somewhat vainly, relevant posted on my wall! THANK YOU!!

 I was so excited to learn about the work of artist, Lee John Phillips and his ‘Tool Shed Project' that I felt compelled to spread-the-word further here on the blog.     

 “Talented artist Lee John Phillips has undertaken a project of epic proportions to celebrate the memory of his late grandfather. Phillips estimates that it will take him about 4-5 years to draw all 100,000+ items left behind in the shed by his grandfather, who passed away roughly 20 years ago. Everything from large tools to jars full of nails, nuts and bolts will be covered!”
Lee John Phillips 'Tool Shed Project' *

Lee John Phillips 'Tool Shed Project' *

Meanwhile, elsewhere, “Not so talented but passionately curious” artist, Natalie Parsley (that’s me) has also been drawing her late Grandfather’s tools estimating it may take between four and five hours to draw the chosen few, picked seemingly at random, but actually via a highly discerning process of aesthetic elimination (in other words I draw what I like the look of)! Saws, hammers, clamps, bill hooks, pliers , keys, spanners and even the occasional nail or bolt. I jest, but on a serious note there is something uncannily brilliant about the discovery of another artist working with drawing tools in a similarly obsessive manner to myself as I have previously done and most recently on the ‘Drawing a Day’ projects from 2013 and 2014.

It is also interesting to analyse what motivates other people to take on these sorts of projects and how there is a reoccurring theme of cataloguing tools of which the aesthetic is of huge appeal to me. I speculate my love/appreciation for order, systems and archiving comes largely influenced from working in a bookshop, but I think that psychologically there is something bordering on compulsive versus the meditative and reflectively endearing about painstakingly ordering, sifting through the items left in Phillip’s Grandfather’s tool shed that is both cathartic and a touching tribute.

“Phillips has been numbering each object in his meticulous project, and has drawn nearly 4,000 at this point. He has spent so much time drawing recently that it has taken a toll on him; “I already have to have physio for the toll it’s taking on my body. About 5% done so far!” he writes on his Instagram."

Experiments with Tool catalogues, labels etc. during my MA.  
Detail from 'Kaye's Tool Kaleidoscope' (2011) Natalie Parsley 

I’m in pretty good health, or at least can honestly say that my art has never physically damaged me (mentally, more likely!) in some way other than fatigue, the odd paper-cut  and I  wouldn’t yet speculate the untold damage years of graphite, turps and varnish inhalation may have caused on my system. Ahem, none-the-less this doesn’t pay dividend to my commitment to drawing and particularly my history of drawing tools. In recent years the tools in my own practice have taken more of a backseat but their influence has been present in other ways either in; drawing similar hard-edged/sculptural objects OR drawing something completely different/opposite to tools i.e. softer/more organic things such as plants, animals, insects. In this way, I had something of a revelation when I realised that my ‘long time art hero’ Jim Dine has explored plants and tools as well as plants with tools in the same image. This is an important distinction as I feel that Dine’s intention in doing this is in order to provide a contrast and a greater understanding of the properties and formal qualities of tools and plants respective. For example, you cannot appreciate, or comprehend the solidness and weightiness of a tool until you know how to capture the lightness and delicateness of a plant. That sounding more Buddhist than it perhaps should, but I am beginning to think that there is possibly, to my mind nothing more enlightening, more revealing than drawing both in terms of perception and personal solace. Recently I have been drawing a lot of plants, but then conversely almost craving to go back to drawing tools with a renewed fascination and attention.

From the 'Drawing a Day Project 2014-2015' Natalie Parsley

From the 'Drawing a Day Project 2014-2015' Natalie Parsley

I will post more of my recent work soon, but want to give it an opportunity to be first seen away from the internet before I reflect and document it on here. Watch this space...! 
Going back to Phillip’s project however, I admire the detail in which he draws each object individually ever perhaps slightly daunted it is part of a much bigger body of work. It has taken me years to appreciate noticing the unique patina each tool bears, the sign or trace of the person who wielded or possessed it. This makes Phillip’s project very much unique, in the same way a portrait is. This project is very much a portrait/tribute to his Grandfather and gives the project more meaning than just becoming pleasing wallpaper. Looking back on my early work, mono prints of tools I missed the opportunity to capture some of that uniqueness that is present in each individual tool. Rather than being an illustration or documentation of tools, I am almost reluctant to admit in the early days my tools had always been more about me, the tools almost a redundant shape on which to hang expressive mark making and intensity. I say 'reluctant' because I do not see myself as an ego driven artist so it feels difficult to contextualise my work within a personal viewpoint. The last few years have been about looking more closely and I’ve grown slightly more patient and with that has come a more conservative and conceptual treatment of tools. There is a slickness and clarity of purposefulness to Phillip's project that I sometimes lack in giving my work a truly professional or contemporary edge. Ultimately my aim is to find a middle ground between the early tool work and my new sense of intention and focus. In recent years my outreach to the art world and public place within it has wavered but my commitment and curiosity have remained.  The fight against the darkness is truly never ending?!

Natalie Parsley (2015) Mono print and ink on paper.

More of Lee John Phillip's Work and further details of the 'Tool Shed Project' can be found at:

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