As I sit here suffering with a heavy cold I thought I’d share some sketchbook drawings and make a few comments about drawing.  I hope I’ll feel normal again in time for teaching Life Drawing on Wednesday morning.  I’m full of cold right now and so I can’t tell if what I’ve written makes sense to anyone else but me.  Oh well, that’s my excuse and here goes.

Here are a few recent sketchbook drawings of people.  They are drawings of people and that’s all they are.  They are drawings done for drawing’s sake (drawing as a way of thinking about drawing).  They are drawings of people who were still (or fairly still) for maybe ten or twenty minutes.  They are drawings of people but drawings of people are never just hand-made pictures of people.  Drawings trace moments in time.  Hand-drawn lines take time and the moment of their making is subtly replayed each time someone spends time to notice them.  There are heavy lines, sharp lines, long lines, feathery lines… the variety is endless and each of them implies the presence of a thought.  We change our minds as we draw and our lines capture those moments of change.  We look and we notice something and we try to track the gist of it on the paper.  The time taken to draw even the shortest line is there to see in its entirety all at once (like seeing a tiny life-span played out on the page).  We pay attention to the simple presence of things whenever we draw.   The drawing is always wrong.  We look again and we make another line.  Each time it is wrong in a different way but sometimes the mark is good in spite of its wrongness.  Sometimes the line feels true or it does something interesting (something we couldn’t have predicted but which is more interesting than anything we could have predicted).  It’s enough that just a small part of a drawing is interesting for it to feel good.  As we make our mark we are bringing into play all our momentary perceptions, all our skill and memories of all the other drawings we have ever seen.  Eventually the time is up and the pose ends and all that remains of the moment, and of the protagonists, is the drawing.  One day the drawing will be the only thing left of that moment.  Perhaps we make ghosts when we draw.

I don’t get to draw people as much as I’d like to.  These drawings were done quickly in Life Drawing groups of at odd moments while teaching Life Drawing (in Margate and Canterbury).  I have about a hundred and sixty filled-up sketchbooks to date (filled up with drawings like these ones) and the drawings will remain in those books and one day, if they survive longer than I do, they will be in the hands of someone else.  I wonder what will become of them.

 


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“They looked like silver birds.  The sun was shining on them…”, silverpoint on gesso on boards, 30cm x 107cm

I’m going to be showing this work in a group exhibition in Margate.  I’ve exhibited it before (it was in The Jerwood Drawing Prize 2013 and more recently it was in an exhibition, ‘Remembering We Forget’, at the Sidney Cooper Gallery in Canterbury).   I wanted to show it again.  Something interesting always happens when work is exhibited.  There is no way of predicting who will see it or how they will see it.

The title of the piece is taken from an eye witness memory of the sight of the German Gotha bombers high up in the late afternoon sunlight just moments before one of their bombs exploded amid a shopping queue outside of Stokes’ greengrocers in Tontine Street, Folkestone, on 25th May 1917.  Scores of people were killed.  This work is about those people who were killed.

The piece is made up of sixty-eight small gesso panels containing silverpoint drawings and hand-written text.  Where I have found visual reference for individuals (mostly from a local newspaper published soon after the air raid) I have been able to make drawings of them.  Where I haven’t been able to find images I have just written in the space where the face would have been.  The faces have been drawn in silver of gesso.  I find this medium particularly beautiful to look at (you really have to see the work in reality and close up to appreciate its particular qualities) and it seems to me to be an especially appropriate medium for an artwork about presence and trace (silverpoint lines are delicate things that can’t easily be erased).

It is important to me that these images are hand-drawn.  Hand-drawn images are always so much more than the things they refer to.  I like to use the word ‘carefulness’ when talking about drawings.  Drawings are careful things: they trace the moments of a person’s presence paying attention to something outside of them selves.

I hope people will spend some time looking at the work close up and at various distances.  The viewer might begin to notice connections between the various individual panels.  The portrait drawings are drawn in subtly different styles depending on the qualities of the original reference material.  The texts are written in pencil and these create a different kind of space to the ones created by the drawings of the people’s faces.  Together the overall composition creates yet another kind of space.  A person reading the writing (hand-writing is a kind of drawing too) might find connections between individuals.  People who were together when the bomb exploded have been places near to each other in the artwork.

A person in a gallery chooses to go up to look at a framed drawing and it’s up to them to make up their own minds and I don’t expect anyone else to ‘get’ what I think I’ve put into this work of Art.

The story of how this work came about is a long one but its origins lie in my own family’s memories of the First World War air raids in Margate.  One thing leads to another and I became obsessed with the Tontine Street story.  I’ve been working on this, in various ways, for a few years and I intend to continue this work as time and money allow.  Since making this work I have been contacted by relatives of people who were caught up in the blast and I hope to be able to produce new work to incorporate their memories into future work.

I hope to have time to write more about this piece but for now you can find out more by scrolling down the home page of my wordpress blog (‘Roy Eastland Drawing’) until you find the relevant posts or by going to my facebook page: ‘Roy Eastland’ (https://www.facebook.com/Roy-Eastland-1495390357351370/) and scrolling down to find the relevant posts.

The exhibition is called: ‘MEMORY’.  It will be at The Pie Factory in Margate’s ‘old town’ (near Turner Contemporary) and it will be open from ten o’clock in the morning until four o’clock in the afternoon each from Friday 20th to Wednesday 25th.   The exhibition has been organised by Kent Creative Live.


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Toy, 2015, silverpoint on gesso on board, 12x9cm

This is one of three recent silverpoint drawings belonging to my ongoing series of drawings of toy soldiers (the ones depicting dying soldiers).  I wrote a few things about this series of drawings in my previous ‘I draw’ blog.  There is plenty I could say about these drawings but I would much rather that people make up their own minds.  That isn’t to say that these drawings sit outside of the world of ‘conceptual art’, it’s just that I prefer to let go of any need for others to ‘get it’ in precisely the same way as I do.  It’s really up to you to make up your own mind.  Here are some thoughts that went into my art work.

These drawings take a 1960s plastic toy soldier as the repeated point of reference for a series of drawings… [And at this point I hesitate to say what my artwork is about as my inner editor chips in with a reminder that any truly sincere writing about visual art can so easily come across as pompous or silly.  “It’s just a drawing!” it shouts.  Yes.  It is just a drawing.  It is just hand-drawn lines in the way that a poem is just a line of words.   Somehow words never really ‘get it’ when it comes to writing about Drawing.  Oh well, I’ll continue…] …about presence and about memory.  Drawings (and here I specifically mean hand-made drawings) are never just about the things they depict.  What a drawing means has at least as much to do with the way it is made as with the image the drawing refers to.  For example, a drawing is made up of lines and marks which took time – and so drawings trace the presence of time as well as the presence of the mind which decided to scribe that line in that particular way…and so on.  These drawings are done in silverpoint.  Silverpoint lines are subtle traces of a metal point touching a surface.  Silverpoint lines are gentle things (pressing the point harder won’t make the line any darker or its presence any stronger).  These qualities, and others, make it an appropriate medium for an art concerned with the themes of presence and memory.

The original toy soldier was one I used to play with.  It is modelled on a British infantryman of circa 1960.  My dad painted it as a German soldier (because I didn’t have enough Germans for my British soldiers to fight).  My dad played a modest role in ‘The Last War’ but he had a lot of little stories.  My childhood wargames were played in company with the ‘ghosts’ of remembered events.  I don’t expect anyone else to ‘get’ any of this from looking at my drawings, but it’s all there and I suspect the gist of their presence comes through in some form.  The hard-to-read text beneath each of the drawings, in this series of three, is made up of my memories of his memories of the war.

I’ll write more about my drawings in future ‘I draw’ blog posts.


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Dancing Dying Toy Soldier 4’, 2009, silverpoint on gesso on board, approximately 6x5cm

This is a drawing from 2009.  It is one of a series of drawings of mass-produced plastic models of dying soldiers.  Most boxes of plastic soldiers contain at least one figure depicting somebody dying.  These figures are more dramatic than the others because of what they represent: an imagined final moment of life.  This serious little toy is posed at the moment when balance is altered or lost.  It could also be seen as a depiction of someone lost in a moment of ecstatic dancing.  The more you look at something the more you see.

It’s one of a series of drawings that I’ve been working on, on and off, for a few years.  The drawings are small, mostly about 6x5cm (you are probably seeing it much bigger than it is in reality), and they are drawn with silver wire on boards prepared with gesso (an ancient drawing technique known as silverpoint).  I’ve fallen in love with this gentle and labour-intensive drawing medium.  The drawings are worked on over long periods of time.  They are repeatedly redrawn and repeatedly scratched into, worn away and re-drawn.  Traces of earlier drawings remain as fragments of other versions of the same image.  The re-drawing and re-looking brings something new into play.  These works begin as drawings of toys but they become something more through the repeated re-looking.

I would like to be able to do a lot more of these drawings but the cost of framing is always an inhibiting factor in making new work.  This is always the case for those of us who make works of art that are delicate physical objects. Works of art have lives of their own once they leave their maker’s hands.  This particular drawing has been shown in a number of exhibitions including: The Jerwood Drawing Prize, a solo show at Marine Studios in Margate and at Millennium St Ives.  It presently resides at Millennium St Ives but isn’t presently on display (if you were to ask them nicely, the people at Millennium might let you see it).  It’s the image I use for my profile picture for my artist facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Roy-Eastland/1495390357351370?ref=hl).  This body of work is ongoing.

 


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