The reality of juxtaposition.
It has been just over 3 months since my Degree Show at Wimbledon College of Art (UAL). I had so much planned once this was over, so many projects I wanted to get started but in truth I have been like a fly trapped in a milk bottle – buzzing around wildly but achieving very little. It has been said to me that in order to make progress it is best to focus on one thing at a time. This is all well and good, but I think for many of artists this is just not viable. I need to earn some income, I need (and want) to produce some art, I want (and need) to collaborate, exhibit and experiment. I also have a family, so hence have all the activities and responsibilities that entails. So my mission in respect to my art practice these days is to try and focus on just a few things at a time, and to try to relax into it more.
I have recently been playing with making small collages, physical and digital. They have tended to try and evoke a sense of place, a quick escape route in my head. One is based in Spain; Andalucia region. I have juxtaposed and transferred images of photographs I had taken on past holidays onto a solid oak wood block that I had previously primed with a mixture of rabbit glue and marble dust. It is relatively small; approximately 27 cm square. In keeping with my usual practice, I painted and drew upon this. I wanted the surface and image to be deliberately rough and incomplete in parts – as if an artefact with the surface showing through in places – like touching the walls of an old city, the heat of the sun bleaching the paintwork and drawing delicate cracks upon its history.
The other is a ‘New Zealand’ digital collage -in a wildish sort of state. I am from New Zealand originally but have not been back there for quite a number of years. Living in London, whilst I love it, there is a reassuring primal ruggedness about New Zealand which I miss and wanted to capture.
Much of my recent art has been about the graffiti, shadows, reflections and gritty periphery side of urban areas and cities. It is also about how all these aspects blend with the corners of my thoughts – both conscious and subconscious.
In counterpoint to this I recently spent a week in Derbyshire and wanted to explore my response to the wilder areas of the moors and countryside. I have been reading the book ‘The Moor – A journey into the English wilderness’ by William Atkins and his detailed accounts and personal reflections on the ecology, history, and influences on literature of English moors. This book has inspired me to take those ideas and practices I use within a city to a completely different environment.
As usual my work starts with documenting via photography the surrounding landscape, both close-ups of wild plants and surrounds to distant rolling hills. I am interested in the light and how it falls, the different textures, colours, movement and the natural shapes the landscape suggests to me. The idea of using references from relevant literature appeals to me greatly and I am thinking about how I could incorporate this.
As a child growing up in New Zealand I use to frequently imagine the wild and deserted areas of Scotland. My grandparents were Scottish and this connection no doubted whetted my appetite. Once in the UK, the Scottish Moors did not disappoint. The landscapes, mountains and ever changing colours of Rannoch Moor filled me with wonder and I would dreamily imagine I was that tragic and brave heroine in a novel striding across the moors, hair and skirt flowing behind me.
Now I’m back in London I only have secondary material to work from, such as photographs and literature. In a way this may be useful in that I can focus on the purely visual aspects and literary descriptions of Moor land which should keep my work quite focused.
Its chucking it down out there and I’ve spent a good proportion of the day in my studio. I am still working on my ‘Abstract City’ series, be it a little slow. One of the things I consistently find difficult when I am painting within a digital montage of mine, is to let go and get away from the image in front of me. It is true that much of the work is done via my photography and my digital editing and drawing. However my intention with this series (as it is with much of my work) is to disengage myself from what I see as a whole, and work with the rhythms and patterns that suggest themselves to me.I have a few devices that help me do this; constantly turning the work around to lose the context, or stepping back and squinting my eyes. But I think the most successful thing that works for me is just to put music on and let it wash over me. This helps me become unattached and work more on an instinctive basis.
I also tend to hone right in to parts within the work (no matter how small the piece) and focus on the detail. The work as a whole might suggest certain things to me and it is with this in mind that I embellish and add the paint. It’s not just about highlighting or toning down but very often adding new motifs and structures. This close-up attention means that I occasionally have to step back and see whether it works as a whole. My work does tend to become too complex quite easily and I may have to create space within the work to give it some visual respite.
Sometimes I might get a bit stuck as to what I am doing next, but I find sitting on the floor for a copious amount of time staring at it can help considerably as well as leaving the studio and getting yet another cup of tea. I also get a fair bit of my inspiration by looking through travel and interior design books and images, particularly when it comes to the use of colour and maybe an idea for a different kind of mark making. I have many a ruined book in my studio with paint finger marks all over it where it has been the subject of a good perusal. I look for ideas that might work with my initial premise which I would then have a play with. It’s not always obvious but a way of helping me liberate my preconceptions and natural inclinations.
2 of the images I display here are from one of my ‘Abstract City’ series. In my head I call this piece ‘Asian and Orient’ which gives a bit of a clue to the elements I am focusing on. The original montage is based on photographs I took whilst wandering around Bordeaux as are all the other works in the series. The other image I have displayed here I refer to as ‘Fretwork’ – mainly because the original montage focuses on fencing and fretwork around the area. The close-up of the added paint-work demonstrates how I have focused on the patterns, shapes and colours that are suggested to me. The final pieces may end up changing considerably both in terms of how it looks and what I call them. I never let my original idea hold up its destination.
I have been asking myself ‘how do I develop my art?’ Is it a conscious or subconscious thing? I suspect it is actually a mixture of both. ‘What should I be doing more of?’ is a question I frequently wonder about. I read, I study other people art, I try to visit the many wonderful art galleries and take myself to exhibitions that wouldn’t be my natural inclination in efforts to shake things up a bit. Perhaps more importantly is that I try to keep experimenting and making work.
One thing I have noticed is that recently I think and plan in series as opposed to just working on a singular piece. This allows me room to explore a range of things over several works rather than try to encompass everything in one piece. It helps me relax and open up the work as it allows opportunities to go into a myriad of directions in a loose and instinctive manner. It is never definitive but tends to be roughly bound by a group of ideas that I want to try. These ideas never appear in isolation – they are never new. Very often art I have developed previously has considerable input into my new work in terms of the ideas and practices that I used.
To elaborate on this, I am currently working on an ‘Abstract City’ series. This will play with the everyday gritty aspects of a city and urban environment using my photography as a starting point. This is not new to me. I have done this before in various ways – my ‘Graffiti’ series being an example of this. I will also create montages and collages as I have done many times before.
I am keen to encompass the idea of bold colour, patterns and movement that I used in my ‘Patterns of New Zealand landscape’ (painting only) series – but using painting and drawing more in combination with my photography and montages. Now whilst my art practice frequently explores the ebb and flow of the painted versus the digital mark, I really want to push the physical mark making further in terms of colour, movement, shape and rhythm.
I have to ask myself ‘why do I want to do this at all?’ What I can say is that much of it comes back to my initial wandering around taking the photographs. These images are being captured very quickly on a compact camera as I’m walking down the street. They are not posed but very quick shots of things that catch my eye. I’m like a visual kleptomaniac, collecting anything that attracts me – it could be a street sign, or a piece of brightly coloured rubbish on the ground as equally as a beautiful carved column or pretty flower garden. It could be a pattern, a shadow, a texture, or a reflection for example. I end up with a large repository of images that define my impressions of that particular environment which I then bring together in various montages.
As I physically paint, draw, scratch and smudge onto these works it will be as a personal response to this recorded environment. I am tactically interjecting myself into these pieces – making my physical presence apparent, feeling the pulse, conducting the orchestra.
The works I display here show some of my new montages prior to painting and drawing within them.
I’m currently working on a drawing piece. It’s drawing in the wider sense in that it uses photographic images from the environment around us. These images are a mixture of man and nature creating marks, lines and movement in different ways. These include tidal lines, grass on a slide, railway tracks, tied up shoe laces, sand patterns, refracted light and a whole range of other things. With these photos I cut out shapes out of each image and then created a large montage as a type of line drawing which I then transferred onto canvas.
Much of my work is not just about presenting what I view and how I view it, but also how I respond to it. The detail within these drawings may not made by me but I experienced them. I want to record a personal response to these lines and marks. I plan to do this by using pastels, pens and pencils to create my own subtle markings to sit alongside and interact with the montage drawing.
When we are out and about at one with the environment, we are an integral part of it, not separate. The wind not only swirls the leaves around the ground and flaps a plastic bag caught on a tree. It blows my hair around my head, over my eyes and necessitates me holding my jacket shut. As I walk across the wet grass, I flatten it down, leaving a very faint imprint on where I have been. I interrupt the shadows on the ground as I walk across them and briefly my own shadow may appear. My fingers sometimes leave indistinguishable marks on surfaces I touch, and when combined with the finger marks of many they create dull and smudgy prints. Flowers have dropped onto the footpath from a nearby bush. They will of course decompose over time but will be altered and moved about by the wind and the rain, by the tread of my feet and others. I observe the flyover slicing through the sky above. I briefly see and hear the vehicles speeding past and imagine the people inside these vehicles. I absorb the graffiti on the buildings I pass, wondering who made it, when and why. Water runs down the drains and when it is dry, the remnants of nature and man hover over the metal coverings. My presence is felt in this environment and this environment is felt within me.
I am in awe of the British artist Richard Long whose land art encompasses some of what I am getting at. His extensive walks along the countryside and resulting interactions, creations, records and narratives are a more comprehensive expression of what I am trying to suggest where time and distance play an important part of his mediations. I see my piece as smaller and responding more to that which is created and becomes apparent in the fleeting moments in the personal space around us. It focuses more on the mark making, be it something that is clearly visible or residual or something that is incredibly transient that only exists in a split second of time. I see it as a natural occurrence of man, nature and self, creating a kind of collaborative collage as a type of drawing.
The image I display here is the work at a very early stage. After having drawn within it for a bit, I felt that something was lacking so I have physically begun to build upon the montage drawing part of it again. It may be that it becomes an iterative process where I continually do this until I feels it is time to stop.
Over the last week and a bit I haven’t done much art. There’s plenty I could be getting on with and whilst I am feeling somewhat tired from my current radiotherapy treatment it’s more to do with the fact I’m just not in a ‘doing’ mood. I suppose I have been very contemplative recently, preferring to read, sleep or do nothing in my spare time.
I stare out the window of my home at the flourishing (another word for overgrown) garden and quite happily look at the birds. I wonder at how the overladen springtime pink blossom has changed to an abundance of green foliage, at how my pathetic gardening attempts are superseded and surpassed by nature itself. I like watching the man-made structures dry out after the rain, the pavement with its crevices of small determined pools of water, the outside chair cleansed of its dirt and decorated with remaining droplets of rain hanging from its edges. When I am out and about I love how in a busy city, against all odds wildflowers announce themselves quietly between the paving stones and concrete walls. Reflections through train windows reveal layers of lights, shadows, buildings, graffiti, ivy and weeds. In my little microcosm, the world is capable of displaying both delicate and dramatic detail and form. It pulsates with incredible pattern and rhythm yet at the same time be capable of demonstrating an appropriate silent repose.
I used to take a lot of photos of such things. Not so much these days but I haven’t picked up my camera for a while. Very often my art work grows out of these photos one way or another and I have been revisiting some of these photographs. A new idea may be forming – not sure how yet but it has to do with how man and nature can create striking compositions and mark making – individually or as a united effort. Flowers on the ground – patterns of the way things fall, kind of like a beautifully choreographed ballet, perfectly composed with just the right amount of space in between. Dynamic colours of the green grass on a blue plastic slide with playful dappled sunlight in-between. Wall cables mimicking wisteria branches; their shadows crisscrossing and slicing up the space. A photo of a light through a bus window at night is unrecognisable and becomes something completely other. The patterns in the sand appearing as a detailed pencil drawing that an Old Master would have been proud of.
I think of the trilogy of films by Godfrey Reggio, more specifically the first – ‘Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance’ – an onslaught of images and music depicting different aspects of the relationship between humans, nature and technology. I also think of Wolfgang Tillmans – an artist I revisit frequently who sensitively and lovingly portrays the way he sees the world in his art.