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Andrew Bryant talks to Artists talking blogger Jack Hutchinson about the relationship between drawing and obsession, and about his residency and exhibition at the Nunnery Gallery in East London
Andrew Bryant: Vija Celmins, most famous for her drawings and paintings of sea and deep space, says she likes to fill up space. There is something in your work about filling and repeating – what do these things mean to you?
Jack Hutchinson: An obsession with completing repetitive tasks has been part of my life for a long time. When I was a teenager I suffered from OCD and at times it got a little bit out of hand, with particular numbers defining my actions on a day to day basis. Drawing became a productive way of channeling these urges. Now, instead of turning lights on and off 64 times before I leave the house I make a drawing.
AB: You have a very personal relationship with your drawings – in your blog you describe them as a part of you. Do you think this is something particular about drawing, the directness of the pencil point on the surface perhaps…?
JH: I have always been fascinated by the intimate nature of mark making. For me, it is the most immediate action linked to the inner self. You could describe my drawings as abstract self-portraits – they are a form of signature. I see drawing as speaking its own language, but it is not specific to the medium, it is specific to the person making the mark.
AB: You have described your drawings as suggesting ‘…anything from far distant galaxies to the inner workings of the human body.’ The root of this dialectic of intimacy and distance, represented through flatness and an all-over surface, could be located with Malevich, with the so-called ‘degree zero’ of modernity, but also runs all the way back to Romanticism and the sublime. Why do you think we still find meaning in this aesthetic?
JH: We have an ever-increasing knowledge of the universe at a macro level, with technology allowing us to transnavigate geographies instantly. There seems to be an obsession with ‘large is good’, whether that be exploring the farthest reaches of our galaxy, or just trying to stimulate economic growth. I wonder whether this is at the expense of dealing with things closer to home. The inner self is a vast territory still to be mapped.
I think people find the experience of engaging with my drawings similar to meditation. There is an inner calmness that can be achieved by slowing down, switching off your mobile phone, shutting up for 5 minutes and engaging with the work. I guess you could describe it as quite spiritual.
AB: I am intrigued by the way you title your work. Some of the drawings are simply numbered, but others have Greek names like Kyklos, Helios and Aerilon. Could you talk a bit about that?
JH: For a long time I resisted titling the work as I felt it became a distraction. In fact, the new works I have created for 'Autography' are simply numbered and placed in chronological order. This decision was taken as a method of making the process explicit. However, I have recently started to title stand-alone pieces. I would love to say I conduct complex research into titling but it's actually really basic. Some of the titles are taken from opening random pages of science or philosophy text-books. Others are taken from song lyrics or sci-fi programmes. As you can probably tell, I'm still more comfortable with the numbering system!
AB: As well as your studio practice you are an active campaigner on behalf of artists. What do you think it is that artists need that they aren’t getting?
JH: Artists can sometimes be their own worst enemies. Too many are defeatist in their attitudes to things like getting paid properly and prefer to moan about ‘the system’ taking advantage of them. The bottom line is, if you think things should be different, get off your backside and do something about it!
AB: You are currently doing a residency at the Nunnery Gallery, producing drawings in response to the work of Madge Gill. Can you tell us a bit about Gill and how you got interested in her?
JH: Madge Gill was an Outsider artist who lived in the East End of London. She wasn’t particularly well known during her lifetime, and received little acclaim until after her death in 1961. We both work with obsessive, compulsive mark making, with drawing used as a way of confronting the inner self. Repetitive processes are used to counteract deep-routed fears and anxieties.
I wasn't too aware of Gill's work until I was approached by the Nunnery Gallery's director Rosamond Murdoch to do the residency. As soon as I started exploring the Gill collection at Newham Archives I was hooked. I felt like there was a connection, not just in terms of the aesthetics of our work, but something deeper. It was strange collaborating with a deceased artist, but the results have been extraordinary. To immerse myself in my drawing practice and produce 40 new works in 6 weeks has been incredible. There were moments when I felt I was going slightly mad, but it was worth it in the end. It has been a profound experience on many different levels
AB: Why is the exhibition called ‘Autography’?
JH: I came up with the title along with the Nunnery Gallery’s director Rosamond Murdoch. Framing drawing as a form of signature, I was looking for a title that also evoked notions of automatic writing. There is a desire to connect with the subconscious through my mark making. I never really know when to stop a drawing – the end point might come about just by a chance occurrence such as the pencil snapping or sheer tiredness. In many respects I feel like I am being guided by something else, beyond conscious awareness. This is something that I definitely share with Gill.
There is an artist talk at the Nunnery Gallery on Wednesday 19th September, in which you can hear more about the residency and his practice from artist Jack J Hutchinson.
Please book your place at the talk here: http://autography.eventbrite.com/
For more info on ‘Autography’ click here: http://www.bowarts.org/nunnery/autography-madge-gill-retrospective-resident-artist-jack-j-hutchinson
Read Jack Hutchinson's Madge Gill Residency Blog
Andrew Bryant is an artist and freelance editor living in London
First published: a-n.co.uk August 2012
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