Saturday, 14 April 2018

Drawings on show in Leeds City Art Gallery

Anne Hardy: Installation view 'Falling and Walking'

It’s nearly always worthwhile checking out your local art gallery at least once a month. Exhibitions change and a new arrangement of their existing collection can reveal new things about often seen work that you might have become overly familiar with. So as you return to university after the Easter break why not pop in to see whats on?
Leeds City Art Gallery has two drawing themed exhibitions on at the moment. The focus on the drawings used to develop the installation Falling and Walking’ by Anne Hardy is really useful to look at if you are thinking about how drawing can be used as a way of thinking about large scale ideas and how they might be realised. Anne Hardy uses a combination of model making and drawing in order to both work her ideas out and to communicate them to other people. Most of the drawings are quick sketches of ideas, you get the sense that drawings are very much ‘what ifs’ for Hardy and that the models are where she gets t grips with the nuts and bolts of how things might actually work. She often uses watercolour wash to establish a feeling for a space and what might activate it and ballpoint pen to scribble out a fast idea or to hold on to a thought before it disappears.







Ann Hardy: Thinking drawings and a model of installation ideas

Adjacent to the display of Anne Hardy’s drawings and models is a very interesting display of the gallery’s collection of two-dimensional work by artists that we usually think of as sculptors. This was very informative and once again highlighted the role that drawing plays in so many artists’ working methodologies. It was personally interesting for myself because one of the first drawings on display was ‘Crossed Beds’ by Jenny West, a fellow colleague at the Leeds Arts University and one that I worked alongside for many years when I worked on the foundation course. Jenny is well known for her very technical approach to drawing,  using tightly controlled perspective drawing projections. In the drawing on display she uses a variety of surface qualities to soften and sharpen different areas of the drawing in order to emphasise the planar movement of her spatial grids and to humanise the technical approach she uses to nail down the image. It was impossible to photograph the image through the glass it was framed behind, so all I can do is give you a ghost image of the drawing, one that has my own body standing within the centre of its crossed grids. 


Jenny West (Crossed Beds: Image behind glass)

Jenny’s drawing is positioned right next to two Claes Oldenburg images. Both of his drawings rely on a very strong sense of how scale can be manipulated in order to give drama and power to an image. The first larger drawing is of a faucet or as we would put it in England a tap. The tap is on and water pours from it in a vertical column. The image is designed to look as if the tap is huge and an architectural insert into a park or garden.  Here perspective is used very technically in order to give authenticity to Oldenburg’s vision of what an everyday item might be like if it was elevated to the scale of a huge landscape feature.


Oldenburg: Proposal for a cathedral in the form of a sink faucet for lake Union, Seattle

A small much looser drawing of cigarette ends is also in show, it is also designed to get an audience to see how these throwaway items could become monumental. These two drawings give you a snapshot into Oldenburg’s mind and you quickly realise how good a draftsman he is. The images are drawn with a consummate command of the materials he is using, whether he is making a swift sketch or a more detailed technical drawing, he is in total command of the process.

Phyllida Barlow: exhibition installation of coloured drawings

Phyllida Barlow

On the opposite wall is a collection of A1 size coloured drawings by Phyllida Barlow. Her drawings are made independently of her three dimensional work, and unlike the Oldenburg drawings are not preparatory sketches or visualisations of ideas but works in their own right. You could think of them as compositions, or freeform arrangements of colour and surface materials, as thin coloured sculpture or flat environments. This distinction between sculptors that use drawing to visualise what might be and those that use it to explore other possibilities runs throughout the display and highlights a key distinction between those using drawing in the old sense of 'disegno' and those who see drawing as a discipline that has its own autonomy, those that in effect treat drawing as an object in its own right.

Alison Wilding

Alison Wilding is an interesting case in point, she uses drawing to explore concepts that she has also realised in 3D, not to visualise more 3D versions, but to create some alternative 2D possibilities that exist as images in their own right. Rose Leverton’s ‘Dinner table beneath the floor proposal’ is of course in the other camp, the drawing is showing us a possibility.


Rose Leverton

The person that perhaps opens out the most conceptually interesting approach to drawing is Cornelia Parker. Her ‘Dead match exposed by a live one’ uses simple photographic technology (literally drawing with light) to produce a photogram of a burnt-out match, brought back to life again by the light of a newly stricken one, in the form of a glowing white silhouette. Parker is conceptually playing with us, getting us to see a beautiful connection between how an image is made and what the image is of.


Cornelia Parker: From ‘Dead match exposed by a live one’ 

The Cornelia Parker image was impossible to photograph because like most of the drawings on display it was behind glass. However it does give me a chance to show you a view of the exhibition as reflected in her photogram and it offers a timely reminder that all of the drawings shown in these blog posts are digital images rendered from photographic exposures. I am always having to write about a topic that is never actually seen, but only referred to. In many ways this demonstrates the power of photography, it is so embedded into digital technology that I often forget how it is shaping and processing everything that I refer to, so perhaps for a while I might turn my attention to 'drawing with light' and see how as a way of thinking it re-conceptualises what I have been trying to articulate in relation to drawing as an extended practice. 
In the meantime do try whenever possible to go and see original artwork, drawings are so much more like objects when you see them in the flesh, the camera lens flattens and de-textures everything, as well as resizing images to fit screen world formats. 



Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Same as it always was

Diego Rivera, Cartoon of The 'Manufacture of Poisonous Gas Bombs' 
(Detroit Industry Mural, north wall) 1932
The news from Syria is as always horrid. The use of poisonous gas another descent into the hell that human beings can build for themselves. Trying to draw in these circumstances seems fruitless and of such little value. The drawing above by Rivera a timely reminder that all of these things are manufactured and the arms industries of 'advanced' Western nations continue to grow and grow. In fact the UK prides itself on its achievements in this area, as a government spokesman states, “The UK is one of the world’s most successful defence exporters, averaging second place in the global rankings on a rolling ten-year basis, making it Europe’s leading defence exporter in the period.” How good to know we are a 'defence exporter' and not an attack exporter or warmonger. 
The manufacture of poison gas is accompanied by the manufacture of gas masks, companies profiting from both the gas and the source of protection from it. We first of all worked out that we could protect ourselves from airborne diseases by making protective masks for doctors during a time of plague. But our knowledge of chemistry has now improved. There is something of the alien about people in masks, something of the worst fears, fear of not touching others, of isolating every part of our bodies from contact with what should be life affirming, the very air we breath. 
The drawings below are not drawn to shock or to have emotional impact, they are simply illustrations of what existed, all taken from an illustrated history of the gas mask and yet in their very straightforwardness they are as horrid as the most powerful images of Goya.






Although I can sometimes think there is no way that as an artist you can respond to these issues that doesn't mean that we have to give up. 

Jill Gibbon: The sweet sound of violins with a tank background

There is an exhibition on at the moment in the Bradford Peace Museum of the work of the Yorkshire artist Jill Gibbon, who for the last 10 years has been going undercover at international arms industry trade events in order to expose what goes on.  In 2007, Gibbon applied for accreditation to that year’s Defence and Security Equipment International fair in London as an ‘official war artist’ and she explained that she was particularly keen to practice drawing tanks. (The fact that they accepted this reason, perhaps being an indication of how these people think) Since then she has under a variety of disguises attended several of these events, always taking her sketchbook in order to record her experiences.  Gibbon describes these events as full of “beautifully lit military equipment, girls in short skirts with trays of Champagne and an atmosphere more reminiscent of a high end car show than an arms fair”. At one event she was offered complementary rubber stress balls in the shape of grenades and at another free sweets their wrappers decorated with the words ‘Welcome to Hell’. Her sketchbooks document the sale of high-grade weapons with the potential to kill thousands of people, in environments completely normalised and constructed to appear as if people are buying a new car or replacement white goods. 






Jill Gibbon with one of her sketchbooks.

Installation view of sketchbook pages

The Bradford Peace Museum is located at 10 PIECE HALL YARD, BRADFORD, BD1 1PJ and is open on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays 10am till 4pm



Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Pop Art, Paolozzi and Collage



Paolozzi 

I’ve just been to see the excellent Pop Art exhibition at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. It was fascinating to see a really good collection of screen prints by some of the best British Pop artists of the time in one place. Colour is of course vital to how these works are received, but without the idea of collage so much of this work would not exist.
Visit this earlier post to give more context to collage.

Collage as a drawing technique is central to the idea of drawing as an inclusive discipline, one that is the result of ‘things coming together’. Collage can be brought right into the centre of drawing theory, if you decide that a mark left by a pencil on a sheet of paper can also be thought of as a type of collage. Sticking bits of paper onto a flat surface is not so different to sticking a crumbly graphite powder onto another flat surface. This way of thinking also means that the idea of drawing as traces can be included as part of a definition of collage. Traces of the earlier life of these paper fragments, connect to their 'Ur-history'*, in a similar fashion to the way the material properties of other drawing materials shape the outcomes of encounters between surfaces and objects within an object orientated ontology. 
*Ur-history was a term used by Walter Benjamin that focuses on any manufactured object's complex social and political history. For instance the ur-history of the pencil includes the lives of workers who manufacture the graphite, or mine it. It would include the lives and working conditions of the people involved in the wood industry, the paint industry that supplies the colour coating of the pencil's surface, the people involved in the distribution of the pencils to the various shop outlets etc. etc. (What I'm getting at here is that drawing as an idea can be about the inter-weaving of social history, politics, material thinking, chemical differences and sub-atomic theory, and can be seen simply as lines following the various threads of the Wyrd, linked narratives that are at times the domain of inorganic objects, at others part of the domain of sentient beings)

Paolozzi collage from the 1950s.

Eduardo Paolozzi's collage's from the 1950s still came across as fresh and vital, and you could see clearly why silkscreen printing as a way to further his ideas was exactly right as a medium. The way that in print all the various elements can be brought together in one unifying format really helped Paolozzi's ideas. The technique in this case providing the mechanism that helped the artist achieve the image's 'gestalt', a term widely used when I began my art education, that was taken from psychology and was used to describe the importance of the totality or wholeness of an image, and how this was in many ways of greater significance or of greater value than the sum of its parts. In the image below both the rectilinear structure and the restricted use of cyan and magenta as key colours ensure a particular emotional colour tone and geometric stability draw the various elements into a totality. 


From: General dynamic F.U.N. screenprint

Screenprint allowed Paolozzi to add controlled colour to the process of collaging together images, as well as giving him more control over the composition of the images, as individual elements can be resized as they are taken through the various reproduction processes. 
He was working in both 2 and 3D. However in both cases the essential constructional tool was collage and a clear sense of how 'disegno' (a term that fuses together our two different words, drawing and design, which was used during the 16th and 17th centuries to designate the formal discipline required for the representation of the ideal form of an object in the visual arts) works as an underlying principle.


Left image: cast metal from wax original. Right image: silkscreen print.



Paolozzi: Saint Sebastian, bronze

The bronze above was made by pushing various found objects into wax and making sheets of these wax surfaces, which were then cast in metal and welded together to form the standing figure of Saint Sebastian. The drawing together of the various elements allows for new narratives to be developed, this Saint Sebastian is made of all the bits of life that surround us, its wobbly legs mean that it is only just able to stand, reminding us that at his martyrdom he was clubbed to death and the image Paolozzi has made feels as if this figure has just attempted to rise up from a recent clubbing. This three dimensional drawing expands our notion of 'drawing in space' and incorporates 'constructivist' elements into drawing, in the sense of carving, modelling and construction being the three key forms of sculptural practice, which can all be also thought of as approaches to drawing. (Especially if you think of drawing as thin sculpture.)


The Comte de Lautreamont's famous poetic line, “As beautiful as the chance meeting of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table”, is of course often cited as being the trigger to the Surrealists' growing awareness of the importance of collage, and we can open the idea out to embrace all things that are happening, things are “as beautiful as the honey on my toast meeting my teeth and tongue,” or "as significant as the itch on my leg caused by a change in the soap powder used to wash my socks." The significance of Jarvis Cocker's 'Common People' is due to the chance meeting of a Northern working class lad and a posh Greek woman on the St Martin's fine art course. Things come together and make new things and as they do rich patterns emerge, ones that as an artist you can reveal as you work with them. 

From Paolozzi's 'Moonstrips empire news'

Of all the various series of silkscreen prints produced by Paolozzi the series I was most taken with was his take on the life and writings of Wittgenstein. Each of the prints included a short extract from Wittgenstein's writings and the conjunction of text and image worked to not only 'illustrate' new ways to interpret Wittgenstein, but to also open out further approaches to thinking about the nature of languages themselves, and how the physical substance and different perceptual mechanisms needed to 'read' them were an integral part of both what could be said and what could be understood.   


Wittgenstein in New York


The exhibition 'POP! Art in a Changing Britain' is on at the Pallant House Gallery in Chicester until the 7th of May 2018


Nb
If you are interested in the concept of the Gestalt and how it can be applied to the reading of an image, one of the best introductions is: 'The Hidden Order of Art: A Study in the Psychology of Artistic Imagination' by Anton Ehrenzweig