The increasingly intense exploration of drawing, and the threads between words, sounds, music, lines…
The increasingly intense exploration of drawing, and the threads between words, sounds, music, lines…
It occurs to me that I have been in favour of The Backstop Position for quite some time now. Possibly 40 years? Probably since I became responsible for more than just myself. A proper job, a home to pay rent on, bills to pay etc. In my youth this might appeared in the guise of “What is the very least I can get away with?”/laziness… but I have come to realise it’s more complicated than that.
“What is the very least I can get away with?” is actually just a different angle on “What are my responsibilities?” And “Can I do what I have promised?” So what happens is, I make the promise, I take on the responsibility, knowing that it can be fulfilled probably fairly easily. This is the Backstop Position. Not being able to fulfil a promise, meet a deadline, meet a responsibility actually fills me with dread. I find it stressful. I also find it stressful when other people miss.
I used to find it stressful when my sons pushed deadlines for homework.
“Something dreadful might happen and you won’t have anything to hand in!”
I used to even teach to the backstop position, getting my students to just do SOMETHING so they at least had a bare minimum to hand in if some disaster befell them. As if, while under a bus, they’d plead with the paramedics “please… hand in my essay notes…..”
So wind forward a few decades and I’ve just noticed I am doing the same with my Arts Council project. I have promised to deliver the achievable… and now, at the half way point, I am feeling that if the disaster befell me, I could deliver what I promised. I can relax in that knowledge. If they asked for the results tomorrow I could hand in my essay notes, some drawings, some sounds and it would be good. I am a professional… I can hold my head high… self esteem… not letting anyone down… earning respect of my peers… blah blah blah… (for this you can also read in “Don’t get fired!”)
And now this is where the interesting bit happens…
I can do ANYTHING now. This is where the real interesting stuff happens. I have fulfilled the promise, so now my time is my own and I can be the pirate, the revolutionary, the hijacker, the maverick.
NOW I can make it better, and certainly more interesting!
So in some ways THIS is the beginning of the true project that will take things further forward into uncharted territory. THIS is where the fun starts. THIS is where the hard work starts in earnest… so let’s start ripping things up a bit…
So much of what I present to the public relies upon the edit. The judicious pruning. I’m not sure what percentage of my time is spent doing this – either consciously or subconsciously. But each piece of work, be it writing (even here if you can believe it!), songwriting, sound work, music, and drawing, all rely on a series of decisions while making, naturally, but the subsequent conscious editing is also crucial.
I have a couple of exhibitions coming up. I’m feeling the pressure a little, because I believe both of them are important to my artistic development and yes, dammit, my career. (The Art Career may be the subject of another post, but not here).
So there’s a lot going on in the studio and in my head and in the business end. I have a large pile of large drawings to review. For this I have enlisted the help of friend and fellow drawer Sarah Goudie. She is wise and knowledgeable about the practice of drawing, and is good at prompting the right sort of thinking to get me on the edit track. For one of the exhibitions I need six pieces of work… I have decided five drawings and one sound piece/song.
I’ve said here before that although I draw on large pieces of paper, I’m not always convinced that going large is a thing in itself. But there is something about endurance here. A large piece of paper covering the entirety of the table requires commitment, tenacity, stamina. The work I do on those large pieces are different to those I do in a sketchbook or even on a piece cut to A1 or A2. However, it doesn’t mean that everything on that tablecloth of paper is worth letting loose on the world. The judgement and edit, ultimately, is mine to make. The part of the brain used to make that decision is I think, different to the part that makes it. I recruit the help to nudge my brain into that different mode and function.
So last week the large sheets were laid out on the gallery floor and we talked about what I liked, what worked (and didn’t) and why. There’s a physicality to be engaged with, a scale that can’t exist on Instagram. One of the exhibitions is purely online – the other hopefully both real and online. There’s a dance isn’t there? We walk into a space and we are drawn to an image… we get closer… then we get right in there so we can see the quality of line/material and try to figure out what it is. This is before we try to guess or ascribe any meaning (the artist’s or our own).
So how much of this drawing holds the quality I am looking for, as the artist? Which bits then detract from that? Where do I make the cuts?
I had originally thought that the same work would exist in both exhibitions, but as the edit goes forward I realise that I have a different opportunity within the edit to push the work forward, to focus slightly differently for each. The online work is not about scale, so the hugeness of the paper (6’x4’?) Isn’t an issue. But I can get in really close to that quality of line here.
For the first instance then, I will concentrate on the works for the gallery, and get them mounted, sliced accurately, and carefully, professionally scanned. These scanned images can then be used not just as details, but digital images in their own right that could be projected, or printed if required. And as such they become something different. Once I have the high resolution scanned image I can play again and edit again. From these original works I shall then select the pieces to feature in the online exhibition. This feels much more satisfactory than just pictures from a gallery, in a second choice venue. These will be designed for purpose.
Meanwhile… in the music end of the studio I have started singing. Again it will all be in the cut. But I am starting to see and accept (and maybe I will eventually actually relish) the difference. I cannot yet be in the same room as my producer, in a professional music studio, but I do have the means to record. And he has the means to edit what I record. They are not “clean” recordings. But they are of interest. The background noises can be edited out to a certain extent, but they can also be exploited as a different quality of line.
Both exhibitions will include a song… at least one sound piece… and this edit has its own process. Decisions are being made according to the cloth we have to cut.
It may be that eventually I do re-record my vocal in Michael’s studio. In the meantime, as a point of pause and assessment this is good. I have audio and visual that have been made at the same time, they have influenced each other.
And that, in a nutshell, is the whole point.
Yes, I’ve been reading…
This might seem like a strange statement. It seems strange to me. I was the child (and the adult) who would carry on reading if the house was on fire.
When I undertook, in 2010, a Masters in Art Practice and Education, I decided that I had to put on hold that sort of reading because I had a different sort of reading to do. So for two years I read art and philosophy, badly, grudgingly, and with only the end-result essay in mind as I read. I lost all the pleasure of it. I wasn’t getting engrossed, I was merely scanning for something I could use. Occasionally I would come across something that held me, but not often. And when I did, it seemed to be the “wrong sort” of reading. So, after all that, I gave up. I got the MA but never regained that sense of joy in reading. I feel bereaved really. Here I am 11 years later and I still haven’t got it back… but I can see glimmers of hope.
I seem to be able to read non-fiction, of the episodic, biographical type. I’ve read a Sandi Toksvig book, and I’m coming to the end of Caitlin Moran’s More Than A Woman. I know. Hardly taxing, but it’s like stretching muscles that haven’t been used.
I’ve also read little bits of poetry, and I’ve read song lyrics as if poetry.
I’ve tried fiction. People have suggested the “un-put-down-able” to me, and after a chapter and a half at best, I have indeed, put them down. I can’t be bothered. This really saddens me, because I do remember the feeling of total immersion. Maybe I’m getting there slowly.
I also wonder if my eyes are part of the problem too. I am on my second set of varifocals and I don’t have the field of vision required for prolonged reading I don’t think. Even with these really expensive ones. Or maybe I’ve worn out my eyes with drawing and they need a break?
Audio books perhaps?
Anyway… there is good news… I bought “Drawing Water” by Tania Kovats (I don’t seem to have given up buying books it seems!) and it has been a revelation. If anyone knows Tania, thank her from me. I am able to open this book at random, sink into the words, for a few pages at a time, and come up for air feeling refreshed and inspired. Since the book arrived I have written about ten song lyrics inspired by its pages. “Some Of My Favourite Lines Do Not Exist” kept me going for days. And even when I read other pages, I often skip back to those.
So, in hope, I have this pile by my studio table. I’m just about to have a big Tidy-Up in order that they are more accessible. You’ll notice most of them have bits of ribbon/paper/post its as markers of where I’ve got to, or points of interest, but maybe only two of them are “finished”.
I found I was tying myself in.
It is way too soon to be doing that, but in some ways I have found it reassuring. If it all goes pear-shaped tomorrow, I have work that will be ok to produce that has some merit. But that really isn’t the point is it?
So I gave myself a jolly good talking to, on the top of the safety net/security blanket of “it’ll be ok if…”
I need to remember that this time is precious for the art of play. It is far too soon to be doing settling, however reassuring!
So I let go.
I let go of the presumptions that just because something is like this now, it has to stay this way. Particularly with some of the songs. I have initial recordings from when they were written, in a couple of cases, actually three years ago. I have been listening to them like this, but I am free to ask the question “Does it need to stay like this?” The answer is most definitely “NO!”
Same with the drawings. Not everything I try needs to be exhibitable. Indeed it’s far better at this stage if it is NOT. I need to free myself up to play.
This can be the double edged sword of the funded art activity though. The responsibility of being publicly funded can mean you feel obliged to make it ALL worthy. It really doesn’t have to be like that. In my case it MUSTN’T be like that, otherwise the project period will finish with me in exactly the same place as when I started but will a slightly higher polished finish, but with the work no further on!
And what is the point of that?
I have to say though, this can be my default tendency. I have become better at recognising it, stepping back, ripping it up and starting again. But it can be a bit scary, when you look at a good drawing and a good song and think “That’s ok, that!” And then I have to tell myself that that sort of attitude never got anyone anywhere. That’s not pushing hard enough. It’s not good enough if it is comfortable. I have to teeter on the edge a bit.
I have been away from the blog and the studio for two weeks. I’ve moved house. This has been more exhausting than I had imagined: physically my joints are shot; mentally I have had days when I couldn’t string a sentence together. It’s also, naturally, been emotional… 38 years in one house is a lot to move away from, but it was the right time.
This weekend though, I’m starting to emerge from it all. Most of the boxes are now unpacked. Normal life is able to function, all spaces habitable if a bit higgledy piggledy. So now I’m thinking that a day in the studio might be just the thing.
I have much to do, but I need to be in the studio in order to make the studio lists. In the house I seem only capable of making house lists.
I need to get back to Drawing Songs. The planned Christmas/new year break was elongated by the house move, but there’s not much gone awry in terms of the project as a whole. In fact, it’s all going pretty well.
I think the biggest thing in my head is to start singing. I don’t mean in the car or the shower… I mean proper warmed-up, concentrated, in front of a mic singing. Because only then do I do it properly. It’s been nearly a year since the last gig, and I’ve hardly sung at all. I was just starting to get the hang of it too! I need to be studio-fit when we get the nod from the government that it is safe to do so.
I’ve also got a couple of exhibitions to think about. One that will hopefully be real, in Birmingham, and one online that will hopefully contain some musical aspects. I’m particularly looking forward to that, as it will be the first time I have done this for an exhibition that isn’t self-generated. I’m keen to know how it works, and how it will be received by a wider audience… I’ll let you know when that happens!