In this exercise, we are asked to link the movements we make to some idea of construction using a fluid medium.
The ‘method’ we are asked to employ is as follows:
‘Spend time seeking out a subject matter that has plenty of strong directional lines.
Make charcoal drawings in your sketchbook or on loose sheets to develop your knowledge of the structure of your subject. Focus on trying to capture the underlying engineering and the power of the angles and lines.
Prime some cardboard, or paper stretched onto board.
Work simply with one colour and white paint to carve out your image onto your paper. Let the colour cut into the white and vice versa. Work wet-on-wet and be conscious of your own physical movements and how they operate with the way your eyes move across the subject.’
I will start by exploring very simple shapes with black on sand coloured paper, working very quickly. I will use the tree on Norber again for inspiration and the sketches I did for exercise 1.1. I will again use household gloss in black and also white, and see if I can develop some of the marks using the ring pull technique. Given that this exercise is about dynamic gesture I will work big for the final drawing – I am thinking A1 cut in half – so long and thin.
This is A4 sketchbook work. I painted the pages with varnish. Then I painted the left hand drawing with clear gesso. then did some pastel work. I thought the tree might be better with a reddish brown other than black and mixed black and red gloss paint together. (household paint). The white is eggshell satin wood and metal paint. Both a bit thick and thinned down with meths. Marks made with ring pull. The right hand drawing is just more experimentation with the media. I’d like to work on this ‘blown up’ version on the left on a large sheet of paper.
I was not too sure abut the red in the left drawing above and decided on more rust/yellow for the bigger drawing below. This is on stretched cartridge paper. It is A1 length (84 cm) and half that width (42 cm). I started as before with a coat of varnish. I then laid some strips of tissue over the top (to give some resist) and gave a second coat of varnish. I am not sure this really shows. Then I did an ‘under painting’ using the same thinned red/black gloss household paint as above and the same white eggshell.
I had a go at a larger (A2) ‘close up’ version. nb. I didn’t use either varnish or gesso on the paper before I started. The trees are painted in red and black gloss mixed together first with thinned down white satin wood paint poured on top. I had trouble getting the nice marks that I got above because I started by thinning the paints with water. (Even though they are water based household paints, I thinned them with meths the first time round). See left branch. The other branches are painted with gloss thinned with meths, and worked better (although I think its good to have the contrasting branches).
In case I ever want to have a go at a black and white version (transferred in iPhoto):
I recognise that the exercise as described in the handbook is not quite the exercise I have done, and this is deliberate. To work gesturally requires a lot of space if one is to use the whole body, and very large supports would work best. Secondly I wanted more control over the process than a gestural drawing would produce (see Heather Day’s video of her at work: http://www.heatherdayart.com).
However I have let the two paints ‘carve’ into one another and let their fluidity do much of the work for me, with some nice results on the trees.
My process works best if I work very quickly, with household water based paints, thinned with meths.
Build up layers. This allows more control of the process. Use minimal ‘manual’ mixing of paints – I used a spatula and a can ring pull, but best results come from allowing the paints to mix without interference, as much as possible. Pouring paint is better than brushing on the paper.
I used conte a paris pastels in the background. The work above does not have a coat of gesso and the pastels work fine without it.
These works look better in reality. A photograph does not do justice to the finish of gloss household paint, which has a high shine, and works well against pastels.
Very good to work on a board and stretched paper – both for the flatness of the paper, but also for ease of moving the work around, tilting it, letting it dry flat, and because this is a messy process, the board gives some protection both to drawing and floor!
Final pieces – I’m not sure that I’d use this technique again, although I like it for this tree scene, and to me both bigger pieces are evocative of Norber. As a composition I like the sense of depth, and I like the fields beyond leading up to the hills. If I did anything further, I’d work on a black and white version, and I’d go even bigger.
The exercise is to use a water based fluid media to block in tone and then do a drawing on top. Followed by a second drawing of the same scene without the fluid medium beneath. I am struggling to identify a new approach to this exercise: In Drawing 1, I started with fluid media in a number of assignment, (not always to block in tone), but for example, final drawings for assignments 3 (the catacombs below, A2), assignment 4 (figure below, A1) and assignment 5 (Norber below, A1) – started with a tonal underdrawing:
In the drawing of Norber for the final assignment, above, I wondered whether more variety in surface texture might be more interesting and so I think this is what I will work on with the exercise here. I will plan to do another drawing on Norber of the rocks and trees, but get more variety of mark making by including masking fluid in the base ink drawing, as I did in the catacombs above, and work on top with biro as well as other dry media (charcoal, graphite, felt tip pen?). For the second drawing of the same theme I will start with as much mark making as possible with pencil and charcoal, possibly felt tip pen, and tissue paper, before I do the overdrawing. I will do both on A2 cartridge paper.
Here is the first stage of the tonal drawings in ink and ‘dry medium’ in my sketchbook. The first is a burnt sepia gouache underpainting with biro work on top. I think I will leave this for a couple of days and have a think, but at the moment I’m wondering if a coat of gesso, followed by work in charcoal/powdered charcoal or powdered graphite might be the way to go. It’s certainly very orange! I kind of like it though. It’s quite evocative of norber and I think the perspective is quite good. Also it’s fairly abstract. The line where the two rocks meets needs to be a little more vertical. The left hand rock a little higher and the right hand rock a little narrower. There should be more definition between the far and near fields. And the hill side needs to be a little darker. nb . the rock at the bottom of the hill goes too far down – imagine a footpath round the rock and down to the wall – the wall has partly fallen down and the footpath goes through the gap. (i.e. no black line across the gap). I like the directional lines made by the paintbrush. The gap between two trees top centre should be white. The white to the right of this should be pale sepia.
First stage: Underpainting in burnt sienna gouache. Drawing with black biro.
First stage: underdrawing in pencil, graphite, tissue paper, ink and powdered charcoal.
The process so far for the underdrawing with dry medium is as follows: 1. variety of pencil and graphite marks 2. rub out 3. Ink marks made with non waterproof black ink. 4. bit of bleach. 5. marks made with wheel and scalpel 6. powdered charcoal rubbed over whole page. 7. rub out. powdered charcoal added. 8. some rubbing out. 9. tissue paper added. 10. more powdered charcoal and more rubbing. 11. Spray with fixative.
Of the two underdrawings so far, there is no contest for me. I am far and away more interested in the right hand one. I think its more evocative and more interesting.
I will do a bit more on these two sketchbook pages today, hopefully and then have a go at the two images on A2 cartridge.
Here is the next stage of the tonal ink sketch on the left, and the ‘dry’ medium sketchbook work, right.
These drawings are both rather disappointing.
I’m trying to find things that work: I think the field in both the foreground and the background of both drawings works pretty well. I like the directional lines.I think the trees are ok on the left and I like the trees growing out of the rock right at the top. The rocks under the cliff work.
Areas to improve: In the ink drawing, the second wall across the field would be better a bit lighter. I thought the area behind the second wall was trees, but actually when I looked closer its high ground so would be better not going up on the left so much. the second diagonal line down the left cliff should be thinner than the one to the right. nb. when add gesso paint in different directions i.e. diagonally for hill side/wavy-horizontal for near field. etc.
In the black and white drawing I have lost all the lovely marks on the right hand rock that I had in the under layer: the liquid graphite I added was MUCH too thick. In the actual drawing the difference in surface quality is rather nice (graphite polishes to a beautiful shine). Also the root growing out of the rock top right is too flat against the rock and needs some shadow underneath. I forgot my guest colour! NB The whole of the right hand rock should be lighter than the left and also narrower than it is currently. Also make sure the tissue paper is stuck down properly and don’t use tissue with Brora written all over it.
Later! I have added the drawing below to remind me that a spot of rubber and another line can make all the difference. (I still need to work on the top right tree trunk but this is only a sketch and I’ll leave it for the final drawing). The texture of the rock to the right is much more interesting now and has lost that flatness that was so boring.
NORBER: A SECRET MAGIC PLACE (Francis Bacon: ‘the job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.’ Ian McKeever: ‘paintings should pull you in then push you back out.’ OCA interview.)
The ‘method’ is to use 20 sheets of A4 paper, laid out together, and to use fluid media quickly over the 20 sheets. This exercise is an exploration of power, fragility, confession, and rhythm. Hmmm. Well, I already wrote about what I think about confession in my blog on Bourgeois before I read the info about this exercise. I got interested immediately in an exploration of why I dislike ‘confessional art’ so much. Please see the beginning of this essay under ‘research for exercises:
I decided not to use ink for this exercise because I used it extensively on Drawing 1 and while I love its properties, I need to explore other media. I also feel fairly confident with oil paint. For assignment 5, Drawing1, ‘Norber’ I was interested in endurance, and pattern and materials that might convey the sense of endurance. see links:
George Shaw is another contemporary artist who often, or mainly, paints with enamels. I love his choice of subject and super-realist style, particularly paintings of the council estate where he grew up, and would very much like to see it for real.
I believe his works are quite large, whereas Swayne often works in miniature. I watched a video of Shaw talking about how he uses enamels: he takes off the lid and leaves them for a couple of weeks to thicken up. An example from his ‘My back to nature’ work at the Tate is illustrated by one painting below, called ‘The living and the dead’. I guess the irony is that it’s difficult to know what is alive and what is dead:
So for this exercise I propose starting with enamel. I have bought a very small tin of Humbrol enamel. It was rather expensive and I guess won’t last me the 20 sheets. When it runs out I propose to switch to household black gloss paint. I became interested in using only black and white media on Norber – a surprise because I love colour – I discovered black and white had the effect of narrowing and focusing attention. So I will use black and white media for this exercise too.
We are invited in exercise 1 to come back to the fluid marks after a day or two and add a dry medium of choice. I propose to use white hard pastel. Because I am not certain about the extent to which enamel will be absorbed by the paper I will start by giving 300 g. white cartridge a coat of varnish with shellac (I will use my old supply, but will search for an alternative to shellac during this module because it is an animal product and I am committed to not buying any new products with animal parts in them). Because I will then use pastel, I intend coating the varnish with clear gesso before making a start. I will add the 20 quick sketches in the order in which they are completed with a description beneath each that can be accessed by clicking on the image if it does not already show. I will end with a final reflection on learning.
In the image above I avoided the line round the edge of the rock, and I think this resulted in the image having more rhythm. I am pretty much hating this exercise so far, but trying not to be too judgemental! My heart sinks to think I have 18 to go! I love experimenting but I realise I don’t like experimenting unless I am working on a particular project and want to explore what media would best work for the particular effect.
In relation to power and fragility, it would be interesting to use enamel on top of say washi paper or tissue paper (something more fragile than cartridge). In the same vein I wonder if enamel on copper are too ‘hard’ materials and that contrast is more interesting. Maybe on top of a copper support I could try a more impermanent media, like charcoal powder. Or any powder paint or pure pigment. The difficulty would be getting it to stick, but I’m sure you could find a way round that with glue. It would be nice to try a copper support, with gold foil and black or maybe navy blue pigment.
Anyway back to the present project:
In number 8 above I have switched from black enamel to black gloss household paint. I cannot say I am sorry. So not all liquids are equal! Some are much more fluid than others – an obvious statement, but if one is exploring fluidity then better to go for something more fluid! Black gloss paint is far more fluid than enamel, which is pretty difficult to move around – think treacle. I would say the most successful application of enamel has been pouring, where the undisturbed shiny surface takes on a its own beauty – e.g. no 4 above. In no 7 above I thought more about fragility rather than power. ‘Norber’ generally is powerful – it is hard granite rock and has lain undisturbed for a million years. The most fragile thing on Norber is ME! Followed by the piece of paper – possibly the other way round, its hard to say.
Ok. I haven’t followed the brief here. Instead of a fluid and immediate drawing in liquid medium, followed by response in dry medium, I started with immediate pastel drawing underneath, followed by response in fluid medium. I guess this is how I would normally work only instead of the underdrawing being pastel, I would probably start with underdrawing in ink, followed by drawing in ink, followed by response in pastel. I am not sure whether the gloss paint has significantly different qualities when used in this way, to say my preferred medium of Indian ink. Indian ink also dries to a hard, shiny finish. I chose salmon, not because I particularly like it, but because I didn’t want it to stand out too much from the series. I will add a touch of salmon here and there to a couple of the remaining 9 drawings to come – just so that the 20 feel more like a ‘collection’. I should add – the reason I started with the pastel underdrawing is because I’ve been thinking that I haven’t made use of the gesso undercoat and that for it to have been a good starting point, I should be using pastel more. I do like some of the marks made by pastel on top of gesso. I also like the layers – they are beginning to build up quite a rich history – which of course rocks have. Perhaps this layering is something to work on in a large drawing – with each successive layer leaving traces of the layer beneath.
8-14 are experiments with gloss household paint as an alternative to enamel. If applied thickly, as in 10 above the finished surface is almost indistinguishable to black enamel. Still I have decided that the ‘hard’ and shiny finish of the enamel is superior if what you are looking for is a very shiny surface (and why else would you use black gloss – unless to cover a large area because its cheaper). The qualities of the enamel do not show in th photographs, but it dries to a more metallic gleam. Neither spread particularly well with a paintbrush on top of gesso. They both pour well. Interestingly, from thinking no 13 is a big mess and should be consigned to the bin, I now like it best – the learning is not to throw anything away but to keep working on it until you are satisfied. With this in mind I may well come back to 14. For now I’d like to press on and do the next 6. I am going to switch back to enamel for no 15.
I have not followed the brief above – the fluid line, but instead painted with white enamel using a paintbrush. However, my response is more fluid and rythmical. I wanted to switch back to using enamel and by co-incidence my friend gave me some enamels for my birthday yesterday. I’d also been thinking a bit more about emphasising the holes in the rock and in the trees, as well as the black/white contrasts in my drawings.
Key Learning from exercise 1.1.
I have used this exercise largely to learn about the different properties of enamel and household gloss paint. At the moment this is what I have concluded:
black gloss and enamel paints are practically impossible to tell apart unless applied by pouring. When applied with a brush, stick, straw, wire, they are almost indistinguishable.
in many applications black gloss would be my preferred paint because it flows more easily and is easier to ‘pull’ around, for example see the difference between 8 and 20 above which use the same technique. black gloss is also MUCH cheaper and obviously easy to obtain in huge tins. Enamel tends only to come in tiny pots.
I would use enamel if I wanted to make use of its smooth and reflective qualities if left to pool undisturbed, e.g.by pouring when it is particularly beautiful. It is possible to obtain quite fine lines like this – see 17 above.
enamel is not suitable for scratching or trying to make marks into, once applied. It is best left undisturbed to dry to its own hard sheen. see for example 4, 10, 19.
It is possible to use white chalk on top of enamel in a minimal way (so as not to lose the benefits of using enamel in the first place). See left foreground, 20.
With regard to the themes of power, fragility, rhythm:
Most of the drawings in my view express power. This is good because Norber is a particularly powerful place. Both gloss paint and enamel are good mediums for expressing this quality – particularly enamel. Colour is important for expressing power and black is powerful. Strong shapes express power, for example, 4, 19,16,13. Broken shapes and thinner lines are less powerful than unbroken and thicker.
15 is the most fragile. 15 is actually based on the fragmenting base of an old tree – many of the other drawings are based on rocks. Or at least healthy young trees. The sense of fragility is enhanced with white. Importantly the white base is enamel, but Matt rather than gloss enamel. Importantly too, salmon pink is used in a number of drawings, but against the white it adds softness. There are a number of circular, less definite marks adding to this sense.
I think that rhythm is most apparent when either the paint is poured (no 17) or non traditional drawing materials are used. For example, 9 uses a straw to draw with, 8 a ring pull from a can, 7 uses fuse wire and 5 a toothbrush and straw (this time with the enamel sucked inside then dribbled out).
Trust the process. Its weird and wonderful what can emerge. 4,5,8 and 19 contain some magic for me.
I had fun with this exercise. My favourite and the one I would think of developing into a larger drawing, is no 13. I also like, 19, 16, 8, 4 and 5. Of course the problem with any drawing that depends to quite an extent on chance markings, is that it is impossible to reproduce (the animal spirit that emerged in 4 and 5 are pure luck). I would still like to try enamel on copper. I fancy a bit of gold building alongside. I don’t know what dry medium would work with copper – maybe you could paint bits of the copper with clear gesso and use pastels? Or (as 20 above) I could use some white pastel on top of the enamel (but am not sure this could ‘count’ as a drawing?). These could be ideas for the assignment for part one, possibly alongside the occlusion exercise which I am very interested in, and intend focusing on the angel monuments on the gravestones in Abney cemetery.
I fail to understand how one person could be as prolific and as talented as William Blake. I see that on the Tate web site they use the wikipedia entry! And so shall I:
‘William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. His so-called prophetic works were said by 20th century critic Northrop Frye to form “what is in proportion to its merits the least read body of poetry in the English language”. His visual artistry led 21st-century critic Jonathan Jones to proclaim him “far and away the greatest artist Britain has ever produced”. In 2002, Blake was placed at number 38 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. Although he lived in London his entire life (except for three years spent in Felpham), he produced a diverse and symbolically rich œuvre, which embraced the imagination as “the body of God” or “human existence itself”.Although Blake was considered mad by contemporaries for his idiosyncratic views, he is held in high regard by later critics for his expressiveness and creativity, and for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents within his work.’
Here are three drawings from The Book of Job. All in pen and black ink, gray wash, and watercolor, over traces of graphite. It’s interesting to see a similar colour palette used in each of predominantly blues and beige/grey. The drawings have luminosity and beauty, as well as a sense of balance and symmetry for example, ‘Behemoth and Levianthan’ (the land and the sea monster) has God flanked by two angels, above two people on either side of his arm, with the dragon and Behemoth balanced equally in a circle beneath.
Behemoth and Leviathan
Job 40:15–24 describes Behemoth, and then the sea-monster Leviathan, to demonstrate to Job the futility of questioning God.
It’s hard to know what to say about a genius. It seems trite to say that he is commenting on mankind, and man’s relationship to God and the universe, his soul and damnation. do we have any artists’ today who are commenting on these larger and more important relationships pertaining to our purposes here on earth and the mistakes we are making? I am sure that we must and I will seek them out.
I did quite a lot of research on Henry Moore for Drawing 1. In fact I own two limited edition prints of his drawings from the underground. Here is an extract from part 4 of Drawing 1 – the figure:
‘Below I’ve added some drawings by Henry Moore. I think Moore is such a good drawer! Unlike Picasso, who treated women so cruelly and often depicts them as wailing disintegrating nightmares (he was not humane in my view, despite what people say of him), Moore’s monumental females consistently evoke gentle strength. One feels Moore loved women, while one gets the impression that Picasso hated them.
And here an extract from part 5, Drawing 1:
‘I seem to return to the same artists again and again for inspiration. Henry Moore’s mark making is beautiful. He is of course a Yorkshire man and its fair to assume the second sketch might be a Yorkshire landscape. His studies of trees, for example, the sketches below, shows his fine attention to pattern:something I can learn a lot from.
‘On the night of the 11th of September 1940, Moore and his wife were coming home from a dinner party in central London. It was the fourth night of the Blitz. They got off at Belzise Park underground station on the Northern Line where Moore was confronted by an extraordinary scene. The platform was packed with the sleeping and huddled bodies of men, women and children who were taking unofficial refuge from the air raids above. … Moore was astonished and in a letter to a friend wrote, “I was fascinated by the sight of people camping out deep underground. I have never seen so many reclining figures and even the holes out of which the trains were coming seemed to me like holes in my sculpture. And there were intimate little touches, children fast asleep, with the trains roaring past only a couple of yards away. People who were obviously strangers to one another forming tight little intimate groups. They were cut off from what was happening above, but they were aware of it. There was tension in the air”.
The scene resonated with Moore and he returned again and again to sketch the sheltering Londoners, working the images into larger, more finished drawings. When Kenneth Clark, chairman of the WAAC and a senior official in the Ministry of Information saw the pictures, he purchased a number and commissioned more. They were exhibited at the National Gallery as part of Clark’s campaign to bolster civilian moral in the face of the relentless German bombing. …
In many of the drawings, such as Grey Tube Shelter 1940 or Tube Shelter Perspective 1941 Moore depicts an amorphous mass of people, some recognisably women and children, others genderless, their bodies small and fragile in comparison with the dark, cavernous tunnels. It is as if they have been imprisoned in some claustrophobic, underground prison or tomb. They sit, they lie, they wait with silent resignation. They are grey and ghostlike, their spectral, shrouded, almost mummified forms looming out of the darkness. … In Woman Seated in the Underground 1941, a lone woman sits apart from the others. Swathed in layers of clothing, she stares out of the picture, anxiously clasping her hands. This sense of tension is heightened by the abrupt jump from foreground to background and the network of nervous, scratchy lines that describe the figure. The drawings are images of the dehumanisation of war and have been described as depictions of survival and endurance. They are unsettling, one critic at the time writes, “they are figures of life…the wonder of which is terrifically threatened. The figures belong to the mass of life; they are below the edge of will…they are life to which terrible things are being done”.
Woman seated in the Underground is drawn with Gouache, pen and ink, ink wash, watercolour and coloured pencil. Moore, the son of a Yorkshire miner, had been a soldier in the first world war where he had seen many of his colleagues die in the trenches. He was fervently anti-fascist and anti-war. The drawing above, produced in 1941, could be compared with Picasso’s Guernica made as an anti-war painting about the same time. In my view, the human hell of war, (forcing one to sit underground in a tunnel while London burns up above,) is more strongly depicted in this small drawing than in Guernica, and I think that Moore’s drawings deserve more recognition. Carol Ann Duffy, the poet, chose this drawing on which to base her poem.
I read somewhere that Moore liked to start drawing by covering his page with fairly arbitrary marks at the start, and I like to do that. I also like his use of mixed media, which I like to use too!
Perhaps the most distinctive of Kline’s paintings, and the one’s we might think of as a ‘Kline’ are the large black on white abstract expressionist works made with black and white gloss household paint. Apparently he developed these larger works by projecting onto a wall, and blowing up smaller abstract drawings.
I understand that the point of this research is to both understand how our own art might ‘fit’ in different traditions, but also to recognise our own interests more clearly and learn from that which has gone before. Key learning for me from this focus on Kline is firstly about the use of black and white, and secondly about how much one artist, who devotes his/her life to art, changes over time. I have become interested in using black media. Particularly black ink. The interesting observation about Kline’s black and white work (which I pretty much hate) is that he uses ‘black’ and he uses ‘white’ with little tonal variation in between. I guess for this to be the case he lets the paint dry completely before adding white on top of the black (I also note that he builds up the painting in layers (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xQTlp0hscs).
But compare the drawing above with the one below:
While I hate the abstract expressionist work, I love this drawing. There is a little more tonal quality in the painting, and the addition of the figurative element, against the abstract background, together with the simplicity and fluidity of line is stunning, in my opinion.
His earlier work of pennsylvanian urban/industrial life is not so well known, but I think rather beautiful.
and here is a work done between the first, simplified abstraction at the start of this exploration, and the earlier work above:
How interesting to see the development from colour and interest in pattern, to more simplified abstraction and black. Also how interesting to think that this would be described as a painting, and that his black and white ‘paintings’ might be considered drawings.
HOW INTERESTING too that the contextual studies we are pointed to by the OCA seem to be taking us on a journey from the extremes of subjectivity (self referential and self exploratory – Bourgeois) to the inter-subjective and more political study of female identity (Swayne) to the ‘male’ objective expressionist work of Kline, and next up, I see, the drawings of Henry Moore, that I would describe as objective realist (who I already studied extensively on Drawing 1 and whose drawings I admire greatly) and of William Blake, male, and spiritual idealist. I am particularly interested in, and teach, ideas about knowledge and I would be interested in exploring links between views of knowledge and art. I guess ‘Visual Culture’ takes up these issues? Here is an initial go at ‘plotting’ these works in relation to subjectivity/objectivity as a way of helping me place myself on this continuum (I might come back to it and work on it further). I understand that this is a crude attempt and that artists might fall in and out of different categories. It is based solely on the core works discussed here:
I suggest that the Objective realist political ‘reality’ and the Intersubjectivist genre ‘relativity’ share in common an interest in the socio-political context, for example Moore’s underground drawings bear witness to the context of war. Swayne’s woman looking in the mirror bears witness to the idea that woman are seen and see themselves in the context of an obsessive objectifying culture, within which females must consume products in order to change their ‘look’ in order to be seen as acceptable. My interests fall mostly in this relative, insubjective genre, although I also veer toward the objective realist political domain and the mystic world of William Blake. I am not interested in exploring the confessional or objective expressionist genres. I think that the ‘inner’ confessional psychotherapeutic journey plays into contemporary obsessions with self – what the sociologist Weber called ‘the iron cage of modernity’ – a cage that is produced by constant negative reflection on self that feeds into excessive consumerism. And the attempt to express an emotional response to the ‘outer’ truth fails to challenge that ‘truth’ in any way or to recognise and critique the socio-political context of its existence.
I intend using the investigation into Louise Bourgeois, Geraldine Swayne and, later, Henry Moore partly to get to know their work, but also to introduce myself and my interests. Please forgive my impudence when I compare my work to these extraordinarily artists.
Louise Joséphine Bourgeois 25 December 1911 – 31 May 2010) was a French-Americanartist. Best known for her large-scale sculpture and installation art, Bourgeois was also a painter and printmaker. A major exhibition of her work at the Tate modern a few years ago featured her massive spider sculpture in the turbine hall. She explored a variety of themes including domesticity and the family, sexuality and the body, as well as death and the subconscious (wikipedia). Her work is often considered as ‘feminist art’. I consider myself a feminist and have written books on gender and education, but am not wholly committed to the idea of ‘feminist art’. Having written that I think I will reflect more on why not and write more about it later on.
However the reason I began the DRAWING 1 course was to develop my skills so I could better explore gender performativity. I guess this is exactly what Bourgeois is exploring in the paintings below: Femme du maison, literally ‘house woman’.
I think of all her work that I show here I prefer these. It’s funny and it pretty much sums up much of what preoccupies woman. These are described as ‘paintings’ although I wonder if they are actually multi media. Many of her drawing are quick sketches, in blood-red gouache. I am not sure what tool she uses to ‘draw’ with It could be her finger or a brush. Some drawing seem to have a pencil mark round the peripherary – whether added before or after I don’t know. This repeated use of red in many drawings is strange, and itself suggestive of birth, death, sex, menstruation. The insomnia drawings were done late at night when bourgeois could not sleep;
The drawings on the left, ‘the couple’, mostly depict pregnant women or a pregnant woman and a man with an erect penis. In ‘the family’ on the right the man and woman come together – she is pregnant and he is again erect. I am not sure what she has round her neck – is it her arms and her dangling breasts? Hmmm. What can one say? If I was an art therapist I would be fascinated to know what is going on for Louise. An obsession with erect penises and pregnant woman is always amusing and interesting. The use of blood red is worthy of several hours or months of psychotherapy. Who is the woman and who the man? Is it significant that one of the pregnant women is blue or had the red gouache run out that night?
Above are more examples of her red drawings. Again the woman is pregnant. I am not sure whether this is gouache or possibly ink. The right hand drawing is more abstract. Is it a flower? Or a uterus with fallopian tubes? My guess is the latter.
’10 am is when you come to me’ is one of her well known series of drawings. There are many of these depicting hands touching and the reference is thought to be to her assistant who arrived at ten to start working with Louise.
I am horribly reminded of a drawing I did at the start of Drawing 1 part 4 (before I had seen any of Bourgeois’s drawings) that I didn’t finish and consigned to the bin:
I don’t know what I think about Bourgeois. Her drawings are oddly touching in the almost voyeuristic way that, say, Tracy Emin’s bed is voyeuristic. (I see that Tracy Emin is a keen fan and collaborator of Louise Bourgeois and this comes as no surprise). All art, I guess, gives some insight into the artists state of mind and preoccupations. But these works inspire a more than healthy interest in the mind of the artist to the extent that, apart from the Femme Maison work, is devoid of social meaning, and becomes instead an exploration of psychological motivation, sexual obsession, loneliness, feelings about motherhood. Bourgeois herself in the youtube video (www.youtube.com/watch?v=eiOHA0INiqA. viewed on 23 june 2017) talks about her artwork as a way of recreating the past as a way of being liberated from it. This raises the question of the purpose(s) of art and I accept there are many purposes. I think some are more important and interesting than others.
Art as self-disclosure is not reflective or critical (as reflection should be), I would argue, but merely descriptive, and it reminds me of the ‘show and tell’ stories of celebrities with which we are so obsessed. There is of course nothing wrong with exploring these themes through drawing in a psychotherapeutic environment (which would go beyond merely describing or ‘showing’), but in my view this is a private exploration for the artist, rather than ‘art’ in the public sense. This is not a criticism of Louise Bourgeois or of her drawings, but of an art establishment that chooses to fawn over them, and probably to buy and sell them at extraordinarily inflated prices. It is also a criticism of us, who are so interested in the lives of others, particularly if they are sad, gory, confused or labelled as plain mad . After all, we think, our lives are not so bad.
Contextual study point 2: Geraldine Swale.
Geraldine Swayne (born 1965) is a painter and musician (performing for example with the German band, Faust), and film maker, who is known mainly for her miniature portraits in enamel on metal. Some of these are as small as 2 cm x 1.5 cm and others up to 8 x 12 cms. However she has also painted large oil landscapes, many explicitly sexual acts, and larger portraits in inks and oils. Much of her work is funny, challenging and some, disturbing.
She studied Fine Art at Newcastle University from 1985–89 and in 1990 she won a Northern Arts Travel award to paint and make super-8 films about Voodoo in New Orleans, then moved to rural France for a year, living as a portraitist and making a series of large outdoor paintings. In 1992 she moved to the UK and became a pioneer special effects designer at Computer Film Company, in London and later, Los Angeles.
Since 1999, she has made numerous experimental films including the world’s first super-8 to Imax film ‘East End’, produced by Cathy Shaw, and narrated by Miriam Margolyes with music by Nick Cave. After leaving the film industry in 2004 she worked as an assistant for Jake and Dinos Chapman rebuilding ‘Hell’. Although better known as a painter in 2005 she joined experimental rock group …bender and in the following year the ‘Krautrock” group Faust, with whom she has recorded two albums and toured widely, making musical improvisations and live paintings at venues such as the Wrexner Centre for the Arts in Ohio, Detroit Museum of Contemporary Art and CalArts.
woman with dog. ink.
woman with dog. oil on canvas
The ink drawings above are largely tonal with line. I wonder if she began, partly, with fairly arbitrary tonal patterns and imposed her subject on top with line? Current buns with wavy hair reminds me of someone floating in the bath. The two top current buns seem to be her breasts, but why she has three further current breasts going down to her naval is anyone’s guess. Swayne draws and paint the same, expressive, face, over and over and I assume it is her own.
I am interested that this ‘exploring drawing media’ course has started with the instruction to research two female artists, both of whom could be said to be interested in female performativity, which was also my focus before I joined the BA. I really like the enamel on copper painting above and would like to see it for real. I don’t know if it is one of Swayne’s miniatures. Again, I am struck by some similarity to a work I started a couple of years ago:
My own drawing above started as a mono print. I also explored the same theme in a drawing at the start of the drawing 1 course. See below. I can’t exactly remember what I used to draw this with but I know it involved a photograph, sandpaper and nail varnish. Although I prefer Swayne’s use of colour and paint, nevertheless I rather like the fact that my girl above is looking at us, looking at her, as she ‘performs’ for us.
I think that Swayne goes beyond self-disclosure to poke fun and comment. Looking at Swayne’s work makes me think I want to come back to this initial motivation for starting the BA, but currently I’m committed to my ‘Norber’ project, begun for assignment 5, Drawing 1, and there’s no rush. I can return to this preoccupation in my self directed studies later in the BA programme.
Back to Swayne. We are asked to discuss the relationship between her drawings and paintings. This is clearest in the ‘Women with dog’ studies above. The oil painting is a direct copy of the ink study. Personally I prefer the latter – it has a luminosity and clarity that I think is lacking in the oil. I wonder whether she ever develops a drawing from a painting. And if not, why not?
I love the use of enamel on copper. Interestingly too, I had determined to use enamel on copper for my final drawing 1, part five Norber project as a way of exploring the theme of endurance. I got as far as buying the copper, but was so short of time at the end of the module that I didn’t get as far as trying it out. I will. Swayne’s drawing ‘Don’t kick the puppy’ in ink and chalk has a fairly demonic quality. It’s an interesting combination of lines and a more abstract face on the right, and a very realistic face on the woman doing the kicking. Swayne seems often to combine the realistically proportioned face, with the very distorted body. Her favourite drawing material, so far as i can see from exploring her web site, is ink or ink with chalk. She rarely seems to use pencil or charcoal or pastels, for example. She also does lots of miniature paintings that are called ‘erotic’ (I’d like to explore the difference between erotic art and pornogrphic art at some point – or because it’s art is it always supposed to be erotic and not pornographic?) . Even more interesting than the erotic/pornographic divide is the layers of ‘looking’ and our distance from the act. What does it mean in a painting, like the one below, that we look at an image that has resulted from looking at a photograph, that resulted from looking at an act, that we don’t normally look at? i.e. the looking is thrice removed from the act itself or from ourselves as actors? Has someone written about this in relation to paintings, based on photographs, of sexual acts?
For example below is 2 in x 1.5 in copper on enamel;
I also read that she paints on silver and gold grounds – something I’m also really interested in doing and was working on before starting drawing 1 but got a bit distracted from. I must go back to this in this new drawing course. It will be really interesting to explore drawing rather than oil painting on silver or gold grounds. Here is a Swayne portrait on silver ground. I love the colours and looseness of the background:
And here is a painting in oil on a support that I primed with gold pigment. I’m shocked to see I painted it four and a half years ago.
I have really enjoyed discovering Geraldine Swayne. Many of her interests co-incide with interests of my own – figurative work, metal, silver and gold supports, gender performativity. I am also interested in trying enamel paints and have thought for a long time that there is too little art that is concerned with sex (one reason I like Schiele and Marlene Dumas so much). I’m fascinated that Swayne paints on such a small scale (although note her recent work is much bigger) and I really like her humour. I am very interested to see her work for real and see that she has two small works in the RA summer exhibition. I will go and see them on Monday.
Ps. I went to see the RA summer exhibition today. I found it, on the whole, incredibly disappointing. Apart from one or two artists – and Swayne was one of them.
Photographs of Geraldine Swayne’s work are very true to colour and detail. The works themselves are small but for me they stood out in galleries of works that dwarfed them. What photographs don’t capture so well is the effect of enamel on metal, which is very shiny – think your shiny new cooker. The other work I really loved was the black and white antarctic prints by Emma Stibbon. I will do a post on them at some point during this course.
I also visited the student’s exhibition in the basement. Nearly all this work was ‘conceptual’ and I think its time they (the RA) supported an investigation into how students are supported in finding the best medium and means of communicating the concepts that matter to them. To me, and I don’t think I’m dense, nothing whatsoever was communicated, and I had no emotional reaction except for a feeling of boredom.
I’m being very arrogant, but the end of degree work reminded me of work I saw at the end of student degrees 20 years ago. I couldn’t see what was being communicated then, and I couldn’t see what was being communicated now. Other arts, e.g. photography, music, fiction, poetry seem to communicate pretty clearly and I think art should too?
ps. Coming back to this post two weeks later and having come across a Francis Bacon quote ‘The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery”. I am considering the relationship between communicating clearly and deepening the mystery. I don’t think they are in tension. Perhaps I should stop at just communicating and forget the ‘clearly’. On the whole the art in the RA exhibition and student end of year show did not communicate with or to me.