Following on from yesterday’s post regarding the ‘purpose’ of exhibiting, I have been thinking about the best way to present my drawings. One thing that tends to divide people when they look at my work is the framing. I have tried my drawings in just about every frame you can imagine, and the reactions have varied considerably.
In the first exhibition of Madge Gill’s work at the Nunnery, her small postcard drawings were presented in drawers, protruding from underneath the bed in which she used to work. This functioned really well, creating another dimension to the experience. The presentation helped contextualise the pieces whilst also inviting an uncomfortable physical reaction from the viewer. Basically you had to alter your body shape into an uncomfortable position to view them up close, alluding to the physical and mental problems Gill faced.
I wonder whether the presentation of my drawings could reference the curation of the first exhibition, providing continuity without it being too explicit. The layout referenced archives and this is something I want to explore further. I am not saying I will present my drawings in drawers but there is perhaps an approach that amalgamates archival techniques with a strong aesthetic and curatorial judgement.
Initial conversations with curator Rosamond Murdoch have also suggested she plans to exhibit one of Gill’s large scroll drawings alongside my work. We briefly viewed the calico piece at Newham Archives last week and it really is quite incredible. Its vast size will certainly contrast well with my tiny drawings!
I’ve been thinking a lot about the ‘purpose’ of exhibiting today. In his essay ‘Cosmic Cavalcade’, the historian Gary Haines asks “What drove Gill to exhibit?”. She wasn’t interested in selling her work, as an Evening Standard article from November 1939 testifies. I sometimes struggle with this as well. My drawings are so personal that I find it difficult letting go. At last month’s Bow Arts Open studios I sold three pieces – undoubtedly a great achievement and something I was very pleased with. However, it did feel strange allowing people to walk off with something that is, in effect, part of me.
From 1932 to 1947 Gill was present in all but one East End Academy show. Haines suggests that perhaps her reasons were purely practical, quoting a Times article from August 1947: “It appears she exhibits…mainly in order to have the opportunity of seeing the whole picture spread out on the wall.” I’m not sure I feel the same. I do want to share my drawings with people, but I also find it incredibly stressful. The worst moment is the private view. I have been brought to the brink of tears by disapproving glances or comments about my work! This is undoubtedly quite bizarre considering I spend a lot of my time critiquing other artists’ work!
In 1948 Gill suddenly stopped exhibiting. Perhaps she was ticked off with the Whitechapel Gallery’s new submission policies. This is pretty unlikely. Gill shunned publicity for fear of offending her spirit guide, maintaining her work did not belong to her but actually to ‘Myrninrest’. I hope I never reach that stage but I can understand what Gill felt. I want to almost ‘protect’ my drawings. I know that sounds strange but I am quite paternalistic towards them. They are not separate objects or commodities.
My drawings are part of me.
I’ve had a really productive day today, completing two new drawings for possible inclusion in the show. Generally Gill leaves little or no empty space in her work, speckling dots and dashes across otherwise unfinished areas. I often attempt to balance the more intricate areas of mark making with blank voids, encouraging the viewer to fill in the gaps. However, my latest drawings are more akin to Gill’s all-over technique and this is something I want to push further. Think Pollock but on a microscopic scale!
I have also been working on promotional material for the exhibition with curator Rosamond Murdoch. I always find this useful in terms of clarifying the purpose and context of a show, and it has been important to try and map the route for the next five weeks. The full press release will be ready within the next couple of days. Onwards and upwards!
This morning was my first visit to the Newham archives and I spent just over 2 hours viewing around 50 of Gill’s drawings. The first thing that struck me was the fragile intimacy of the works. They are all about her. Gill’s webs of dots, dashes and lines keep the viewer at arms length. We are faced with Gill’s code and it is not easy to decipher. However, they have a strange way of capturing your attention. I can’t quite put my finger on it…let’s just say the experience was quite spiritual. Viewers often describe my drawings in three ways: obsessive, compulsive and time-consuming. You can definitely say the same thing about Gill’s practice. Our drawings record time elapsing and the laborious process of their construction is explicit in the final work. I am particularly interested in examining this further, particularly within the context of archives, which are by their very nature a capsule for preserving the past and protecting it for the future. I wonder whether this could become a crucial element in the curation of the final show. I will be selecting work and curating the exhibition with the Nunnery’s Director Rosamond Murdoch. She tends to get things spot on and I’m sure we will work well together. Anyway, lots to do and I will keep you posted as things progress. You can also follow my updates on Twitter using the tag #MadgeGill and on my website http://www.jackjhutchinson.com See you at the PV on Thursday 22 August at the Nunnery Gallery!
So here we go. This is a new blog focusing on my residence at the Nunnery Gallery, Bow, London. Over the next 5 weeks I will be keeping you up to date on my activities as I work towards an exhibition of my drawings alongside those of the Outsider artist Madge Gill. My aim is to produce a new body of work in response to Gill’s and framing this process will be regular visits to the Madge Gill archive in the London Borough of Newham. I will also be working directly in the Nunnery Gallery itself.