Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Kurt Jackson at Messums

On the day I  went to London for the Peter Sacks exhibition, I also popped into Messum's ( where I saw the David Tress) for the current Kurt Jackson exhibition: Olive and Fig:Provence.  We had a fig tree in our previous garden  but it only ever produced a few underwhelming fruits, nothing like the luscious qualities  of these. 

 I preferred the depictions of the fruit to that of the trees themselves as they had a more abstract quality  and were so well observed. Of the  tree paintings I like the mystery of the one below ( and how he uses text to  describe what he sees and hears ) , it reminded me a bit of Samuel Palmer. 

The studies  of many figs  carried out in different media , reminded me of the '100 Mussels' exercise,  the pleasure in the combination  of observation, how to portray the subtle differences , the enjoyment of  using the paint, the repetition. 

I loved the monoprints of the fig leaves and how they'd been incorporated along with  drawings, paintings and various objects in a number of collages 

My favourite was the painting of figs and snail shells on a sheet of newspaper, the contrast between the black and white, the hard and soft surfaces. 

Monday, 14 May 2018

Peter Sacks Migrations at Malborough Fine Art

Outpost 2 ( detail)

 I too had a surge of excitement when I read Olga's blogpost on the work of Peter Sacks. I managed to  fit in a visit to Malborough Fine Art last Wednesday ( press release here) and   was blown away by the work - both the overall scale and composition and the details  which you can only really appreciate seeing in the flesh. I spent a long time making notes and scribbles about techniques and combinations of materials in my sketchbook  some of which I've noted below.  When  I  came to buy the excellent catalogue ( which you can see online here) , I got it for free as they didn't have change and striking up a conversation with  one of the desk staff and enthusing over the use of old textiles, he asked for more details about my work and looked  up my website. He   instantly recognised the breakwaters which inspired my piece as being  between Reculver and Minnis Bay ! And Maggi Hambling was just leaving the gallery.  A fabulous inspiring morning  with a lot of food for thought and experiments with materials to try.   

Report from the besieged city I 

-Typewritten sentences and words on cotton - visual element as well as poetry 
-mainly white/cream with dark shapes ( trees? fire?) , bits of map 
-thin fabrics painted over texture of doilies and crochet 
- ghost textures 

Outpost 4
- Pleated fabrics, old hexagon patchwork 
-exposed painted corrugated cardboard
-hessian with numbers on, African strip cloth , contrast with patterned prints
-underlying canvas shows through
-matt medium over everything as glue and sealant?  
- marks in ink/paint covered over, bleeding through white overlayers 
Outpost 3 

- Layers and traces: thin muslins and laces over crochet doilies  and embroideries ( texture showing through) 
- bright cloths beneath, relation of patterns   change with overlays
- wrinkles and folds add further dimension 
Outpost 1
- folds of fabric (using both sides)
- 3d edges made using cuff with embroidery within , like a walled garden
- typed words: 'perfection such indeed laughter' 
- red marks along edge of lace ( fabric pressed onto it then removed to leave stain?) 

Quickening 7 (and detail)
- embroidered lines of wood with layers over 
-jeans pocket
-painting extended beyond lace 
-frottage , then fabric laid over hessian 
- sense of movement through patterns of fabric used 

Quickening 17
-Mainly lace ( machine , hand and crochet) with embroideries, limited palette 
-lace laid over African fabrics , pattern showing through layers. 
-lace laid over partially painted corregated cardboard
Township 13

- Smaller canvas placed over large one gives sense of space 
- layers peeled back to reveal what's underneath 
Township 12
- Very large scale prints  combined with parts of old patchwork log cabin quilt
- dense layering of lace over lace 
- linear elements of Kuba and strip cloths  contrast with bold patterns.
-  coarse weaves v, delicacy of fine laces 

False Bay 4 

- work on paper rather than canvas- different qualities , more delicate yet rawer
- torn strips of fabric, layered papers as well as fabrics
-twisted lace
-typed words on different fabrics ( edges of doilies, placemats)
-lines of words twisted, don't line up straight, placed in varying directions, changes meaning 

Visitation 1 - Noah ( detail ) 
This detail from a piece of work not in the exhibition but on  his website and the series ' Farewell to an idea' sum up some of the techniques  I'm going to try first with painted corrugated cardboard and layers of lace and textiles. I also want to explore the idea of text more, something I started to look at in collage course. Most of all I want to return to excavating the fabrics in my old 'boro' quilts.

The essay in the catalogue by poetry editor Paul Keegan   was thought provoking -  only a bit of 'artspeak' , striking a balance between  describing  the artists background and materials used and the meanings they convey.

"The songlines of fabric follow invisible as well as visible pathways. The sedimentary overlayering implies both losing and finding . What is inaccessible is preserved, the act of layering is a restitution"

"The printed voice is subject to transformation: lines become pattern, are stretched and slurred, they drift or drizzle, pulled downwards by the linen. Words fail us when we start to think of language as vertical , graphic rather than lexical. His use of corrugated cardboard, often overpainted with a thin wash, is a parody of print whose lines of text on closer inspection are blank. "

"Found fabrics, found figuration, found colours, found words, found expression . Here constructed out of elsewheres

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Large Scale Sketchbook: week 1

Yesterday was the first session of ' Large Scale Sketchbook'  with Tony Hull  at City Lit . I got a lot out of ' Reading the Paint Surface' I did with him a couple of years ago and the Contemporary Drawing Sketchbook course  with Amanda Knight  so it seemed the logical next step particularly as 'scaling up' is something I want to tackle. 
From experiences of others who'd done the course before I was expecting an A3 softback sketchbook  but the course should really be called  Very Large Scale Sketchbook  as we were given a  Seawhite A2 wire-o hardback

 We were all seated around a big table ( with extra tables added to extend it when we opened our sketchbooks)  which was a lovely way of starting. After  introductions , a still life was set up  in the centre of the table of some of the usual random selection of objects: bottles, tools, a teapot, a  large metal 'P' (above); a creepy looking doll.  Starting several pages into our sketchbooks we then  drew with charcoal  over a double page  A1 spread ( bit tricky with the wire in the middle). Lots of rubbings out which  gives a lot of lovely ghostly marks then  measuring, trying to make it a more accurate drawing.   
We then made up a very light ink wash and painted all the darkest areas with it, letting it dry during a teabreak  while we filled in the  admin forms. 

On our return we turned our sketchbooks upside down so more aware of shapes rather than objects  and started  cutting into the pages with a  Stanley knife

Initially the shapes cut out were glued  to the page beneath so that superficially the upper page still looked the same but then we became braver and stuck pieces on different places/pages. 
Every so often we  walked round the table to see what other people were doing - considering it was the same materials and objects being drawn , the approaches used were very different and  inspired by others  we started  cutting right through the pages, creating flaps  and holes. 

Finally we did a tour around the table again , opening and closing folds , revealing different combinations , before putting them away in a drawer until next week ( they're definately not very portable...)

So many possibilities  and ways of looking in just 3 hours! We have another session of exploration  next week  before the site visit to V&A Cast Courts in week 3. Unfortunately I'll be away for that  so will have to make a visit  under my own steam. My current sketchbooks ( A5 and A4) suddenly seem very small.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

The Vital Spark - Sketchbook Project 18

With my studio out of action for more than 4 weeks while redecoration and refurbishment of our bedroom was going on ( I slept on a mattress  there!) , my creative project  was finishing ( ok starting)  my submission to sketchbook project 2018  with deadline  looming. I've  taken place in 4 previous challenges , 2 digitised  here and here.  It was brilliant seeing the sketchbooks in the flesh when they came to London. 
I'm thinking about having Sketchbook Project 13  and 'Special Edition' digitised.

I based it on the artists book I produced during Contemporary Drawing Sketchbook course based on electricity exhibition at the Wellcome Collection . I made the same concertina with pamphlet structure but attached to the cover through one of the pamphlets. 

The work was carried out at the kitchen table and what took the most time was imitating the  woodcut that inspired it , drawing on  7 x 20" watercolour paper strip  with a 0.1 Unipen!  My wrist is still recovering from all those lines but it worth it for the effect it produced. 

The other side with repetition of the phrase ' the elusive moment of the vital spark' was less strenuous! 

The pamphlets are a mixture of paper and stitched fabrics and as with the previous book, turning the pages gives a multitude of different combinations. It'll be interesting to see how they digitise it. It was posted 2 days before the deadline! 

Train Stitching Part 2 : a beginning

 After several false starts and ideas that didn't come to fruition, I've finally got going  on a new 'train stitching' piece. I began it on my birthday, gathering together some scraps to take with me and pin to the  background fabric 

I didn't want to replicate exactly 'Wind Me In The Sea' ( detail below) which I'm delighted to say has been accepted for 7th European Quilt Triennial  which will open in Heidelberg in September but I like the idea of using indigo again but combined with some other colours . I tried different combinations  of colours and materials for scraps and backgrounds  but nothing was really gelling .   

Then looking again at the work I'd put together for Cwilt Cymru 'Traces' exhibition  with it's use of Musa's kola  fabrics  with indigo shibori   along with  paintings  seen in Margate and the colour palette I'd used for 'Painting the Novel' , I  made the connection that the subtle hues of the shoreline are what  grabs me at the moment. Working with a restrictive palette gives more opportunities to explore the tonal range, shape and composition as well as mark-making. I'll probably use the same range of colours for course with Gizella Warburton in  a couple of weeks.  

So I've  started gathering together scraps into  one of my African baskets and am  experimenting with wrapping some strips around the kasuri background fabric .  Lots of decisions to make - how many strips of kasuri to use, whether to join them together in a loop or as separate strips,  what colour threads to use. But the process is what's fun and at last I'm excited to be stitching again. 

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Book: Painting the Novel with Ashley Hanson

It's   6 weeks  since the excellent  course at Creek Creative  'Painting the Novel'  with  Ashley Hanson  but with  the upheaval involved with  preparing for decoration and refurbishment of our bedroom , I haven't had the  energy to give  the attention to  writing it deserves. Sleeping on a mattress on the floor for the last 3 weeks hasn't helped  but  nearly there, the bed arrives later today! 

The novel I  chose to work from was 'Remarkable Creatures'  by Tracy Chevalier, based on the discovery of fossils by Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpott in the cliffs of Lyme Regis. The title describes not only the fossilised animals they found but the women themselves, scientists way ahead of their time.   While rooted in fact , what made it special was it  was written in the first person  and described how Mary in particular felt about what she found  and her ways of looking.
' Pattern stands out when everything else is a jumble' I recognise from my botanical survey days, when you notice something is different.  

There are several quotes about lightning (  Mary was struck by lightning as a child)  and about eyes and teeth - those embedded in the rocks and 'having the eye' , finding differences and pattern.
"It was so obvious in the cliff with its forest of teeth and saucer eye"

"I opened my eyes and it feels like they haven't been shut since'"
'"That is why I am a hunter; to feel that bolt of lightning and that difference, every day"
"You can't be inside their eye, you have to look your own way. Two people can look over the same rocks and see different things" 

For my research, besides the drawings I did at the Natural History Museum of the actual specimens that Mary Anning collected, I found photos online  of the  cliffs  at Lyme Regis  and combined  images of the creatures and the rocks in Photoshop  changing the opacity of the layers  so that the fossils  were' hidden' in the cliff surfaces and used tracing paper overlays.

Thinking about how I might interpret the rocks in a painting I did a few collages as I had found this. such a useful process for simplification/ abstraction in ' Contemporary Painting Studio' 

We were asked to bring two same-size canvases to work on ( this giving the option to secure two canvases together in a book-format) . I prepared 2 pairs  (  canvas  sizes  60 x 45  and 40 x 30)  with newspaper  collage on one of each pair , painted with a neutral grey.  

On the morning of the first day Ashley gave a long but interesting introduction to the portrayal of the 'novel' in painting  starting with interpretations  of  the bible, Shakespeare (Chagall) Don Quixote ( Daumier ) , fairy tales ( Paula Rego) and particularly Anselm Kiefer's work exploring German mythology and the holocaust  in the poems of Paul Celan . 

Ashley then showed us in some detail his  own series of works based on The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster. .His blogposts  showing photos of work as it evolves are fascinating (many of  these are based on grids and maps of Manhattan)and it was great to see the final pieces in the flesh and appreciate the textures and layers 

There were 12 of us in the class, some local, some had travelled some distance  and we were based in the 'Performance Space' at Creek Creative -  well lit but cold despite heaters being full on, I dashed home at lunchtime to  put on some thermals!  Suitably warmed up I was ready to make a start! 

Using a palette knife and acrylic paint mixed with gloss gel for transparency I enjoyed painting the 'teeth' and used  a credit card for the rock structures. I obliterated the 'saucer eye' early on as it was in the wrong place

I then turned to the second canvas to work with another idea from my research - a plesiosaur paddle combined with the colours of a geological map of Lyme Regis. 

I'd got this far when it was my turn to have Ashley look at my work. He was very insightful, picking up on the ideas I wanted to represent and the quality  and variety of my mark making. Having 2 canvases  gives options for a variety of combinations  - we tried them all and the one below  was the  one with  most potential but after much discussion we both agreed that the 'plesiosaur' canvas wasn't working. 

There was just time to start obliterating !  This was the  state of progress at the end of day 1 . Working on 2 canvases at once reminded me of ' Reading a Paint surface' class  where you start responding to the paintings themselves. 

Day 2 :  I spent most of the morning working on the 'teeth' canvas, turning it  round and looking at it from different angles, painting slowly  to add the textures and layer of rock but leaving my initial marks intact. 

The second canvas  still wasn't working  and discussions  with Ashley focused on some examples from his introduction based on calligraphic paintings from China and Japan : sections from poems that were related but  carried out in a different style /scale   and the work of Liu Dan focusing on the details in rocks.  He suggested I work using a different style of brush marks as a contrast to the use of palette knife/ credit card 

 Returning to my drawings  and photos from the NHM  and thinking about the section of the book where Mary is buried in  a landslip ,  I painted over the canvas with a dark blue grey ( representing the blue lias rocks)  and  painted the 'croc' in white and yellow ochre glazes.
"The landslip had caused a churning up of rocks caught in an ooze of blue-grey clay. My eyes flicked over the stones and came to rest on a familiar shape ; a ring of overlapping bony scales the size of my fist. A croc's eye , it was like it was staring straight at me" 

The finished  pair of paintings 

While my larger paintings were drying or I was deciding  what to  do next, I worked on the smaller pair of canvases. I'd  sketched out  some ideas based on a   photo of Lyme Regis which combined close up of rocks with a more distant  view, offering the opportunity to work on each canvas in a different way : palette knife on RH, looser brushmarks on LH . I carried over some of the marks from one  canvas to the other so that they worked together and physically joined the 2 canvases together with metal plates. It creates a different feel to just working on one canvas. 

We finished clearing up mid afternoon on the second day to  have an extended  critique session. Each painting was placed on a white wall in turn  for review and comment  , the artist explaining briefly the book they'd chosen and  what themes they'd explored. During the 2 days it was fascinating to see how radically some paintings had changed (particularly 'Riddle of the Sands ' by Penny Watts which was huge , every time I looked it was different). Hazel's book was Moby Dick  and  we'd met up a few  weeks before to discuss our ideas. It was interesting to see how her work developed ( and how she used the side of the canvas as well as the surface) .  

While I'm still not sure whether either set of canvases  work as finished paintings, I enjoyed using a restrictive palette and exploring different strategies and mark-making with constructive guidance from Ashley.  My favourite sections  were  those painted first and last over the 2 days , I like the immediacy and distinctive marks of the brush ( above) and palette knife ( below). 'Freedom in Painting' indeed!  I've already booked for 'Black and White' in September.