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.
As my ongoing exploration of ‘the fragment’ in my MRes Art: Theory and Philosophy course at Central Saint Martins, I have been working on some collages and montages in my studio. These are specifically related to the idea of the collection of dreams, imaginings, transformation and the search for unity. For the artwork I have included here I have written a short performative piece of writing that both grew out of the resulting image but also inspired it in the first instance – the linearity of time becoming subverted and elusive.
I imagine a vista. Green lush ferns and native New Zealand bush stretch out before me high up on a hill, overlooking the sea and the sky beyond. The blues shimmer and merge and it’s hard to tell where the vastness of the sea ends and the expanse of the sky begins. The more I look, the more the scene transforms in front of me, shifting from sea and sky to small islands and waterways and back again to the glistening of the sea and never-ending sky.
I lie on the ground, imagining a bed beneath me in the warmth of the afternoon sun. There is a gentle breeze lapping at the edges of my body and I am lulled off to sleep dreaming of old buildings and ancient cities. I am floating within memories of European hotel rooms and comfortable beds with freshly cleaned sheets, resting my legs after exploring the little streets and famous landmarks which blur in my recollections of culture and history.
I walk a familiar path to the local shops and railway station. For many years I have made this journey to and fro, passing by houses and flats where occupants move out and new ones move in; excited to explore their new environment. Parents with pushchairs, kids on scooters, runners, commuters, dogs and their owners all meander along, staring ahead to their journey’s destination or like me exploring the surroundings with their eyes (or in case of a dog, snuffling every possible surface and crevice).
Red camellias have dropped onto the footpath from an overhanging bush, looking melancholy and poetic. Moved about by the wind and altered by the tread of feet, sun and rain they will decompose over time and fade into nothingness, although leaving a trace in my memory that I try to capture in an art work. Every year they bloom and fall and every year I notice them, touched by their presence and not sure why they should affect me so much.
As predicted the making of artwork has been exceedingly slow and patchy over the last year, primarily because of my MRes studies but also of course impacted by this ongoing pandemic.
Despite the issues we have all faced, I am still very pleased I embarked upon my research and studying. The thinking behind my work has certainly become more focused and questioning as a result of my studies. I am hoping it is with more critical eyes that I make my art and a better understanding of the philosophical and cultural context that comes into play. I enjoy the reading and the writing and see this more and more as being important components of my practice.
Thank goodness for the arts in all its guises – it has given me a place to retreat to, to console and inspire me during those darkest days, before, during and hopefully after the pandemic and anything else that happens to come drifting along.
The piece shown originates from an older piece of mine. It began as a montage of a photograph of a scene in Mount Maunganui in New Zealand that I took during a walk soon after the passing of my father, combined with the close-up detail of an antique bowl that had belonged to my grandmother. It’s the idea of acknowledging history, both personally and culturally as well as the emotional and physical manifestation of grief, loss and hope – the interconnection of fragments of experience and phenomenology.
After what has felt a very long time I am back at Central Saint Martins to do the second part of my MRES Art: Theory and Philosophy course. This academic year is all about the final project – a 15000 word dissertation or if one is doing a practice based project – 5000 words. I toyed with the idea of doing the latter but am very keen to undertake a creative piece of writing that links to my art practice and philosophical concerns.
Following on from my methodology research on the use and power of the fragment and what we can learn from this, I have decided to produce a piece of writing that plays with some of the tropes and mechanisms that emerged from my studies. I have been doing quite a bit of reading of other writers who have played with such ideas including literature and critique. The difficult thing for me is to know how to practically approach my dissertation and where to start. I thought perhaps I could focus on the urban and domestic environment as my main subject as this is where most of my artworks originate from.
It then occurred to me that I could perhaps trial some of my ideas on this blog and maybe use some of my artworks to initiate this. So today I am going to use an older artwork of mine called ‘Enchant me’. This is from 2018 and is a very small piece of work made of photo montage and oil paint on canvas, measuring 12.5 cm square. It is one of a series of works when I was feeling particularly devoid of inspiration so decided to focus on what was simply surrounding me in my studio. ‘Enchant me’ began with a photograph of a few objects on my shelf – I think maybe a book, a metal canister and a box of tea, but in truth I can’t rightly remember and ultimately is no longer important. I digitally altered the photographic image, the items themselves losing their identity but rather becoming indeterminate forms and shapes in a hazy and dreamlike transformation.
Once I transferred the altered image to canvas I then painted within it, again not thinking of trying to depict a particular scene, but instead getting absorbed in the detail and the subtle changes in colour. One thing leads to another, the smallest shift in form becomes vague impressions of clouds or country-like shapes and the circles create an intergalactic dimension in my mind. When I look at it I think of night time, dreams and stories.
There is something particularly special about night time, especially when it is depicted in the arts whether it is music, painting or writing for example. ‘Moonlight Sonata’ by Beethoven, ‘Nocturne in Black and Gold’ by Whistler and ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’ by T.S Eliot to name just a few. One thing many of these have in common is how the dark of the night can be transformed by the suggestion of light. Hazy, flickering pinpoints of light can turn the dark from something deep and impenetrable to wistful, mystical and magical. Our attraction to light has been attributed from the ability for the fetus to be able to discern (be it rather blurry) bright lights in the womb to man’s ongoing fascination with space and the universe and all those big unanswered questions surrounding it.
As a child I was drawn to a story book called ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses’. These 12 sisters used to sneak out of their castle home in the middle of the night to go dancing. It wasn’t so much the overall story I was attracted to, but more the description and illustration of their nightly journey, crossing a lake in the middle of the night, on little boats with colourful lanterns to light their way. I can still imagine the bobbing pools of light as they move across the water, with the princesses looking like fancy lanterns themselves in their beautiful dresses contrasted against the smooth velvet blackness of the night. The flickering of lights can transport us, not just in their ability to show us the way ahead in the darkness of night but in their atmospheric capacity to transfix and enchant us as we enjoy being caught in that unworldly place where there is no certainty or answers.
When we view things it is never a flat scene in front of us. We take for granted the layers of structures, nature and people, interweaving one behind the other, a constant change of positioning and shifting going on all around us. Layering is everywhere. The leaves on the ground, the clouds in the sky, the clothes that we wear, the surfaces of roads, walls, pretty much everything. Even if we can’t see it, we can touch it. We can also hear it. We can hear different sounds intermingling with each other, creating a kind of sound picture. We can also discriminate one sound from another from this chorus, identifying the entities. Even our thoughts are created from layers of influence, cultural coding, circumstance and history, whether they be conscious to us or not.
‘Waiting at East Putney Station’ is my response to the accumulative information I had in front of me at the time – post lock-down and venturing out cautiously onto public transport (in this case the tube). The platform was virtually empty giving me the space and time to absorb in more detail what was going on around me, both an overall view and yet being able to take in the individual components.
‘Waiting at East Putney Station’ – photography and paint on board, 20 x 20 cm, August 2020