My critical review considers the work of Anish Kapoor, in particular his works on paper. For copyright reasons, the images have been removed from this text, but the list of illustrations appears at the end for reference.
My work in this course will be assessed against the following criteria:
Demonstration of technical and visual skills
Throughout the course, I have tried to keep in mind its title ‘Investigating Drawing’. I have interpreted this as licence to explore all sorts of media, traditional and weird, and mark-making techniques. Experimentation is now at the centre of my practice. The course has brought me to the realisation that I am very process driven and that the act of creating interests me more than the final outcome. I have particularly enjoyed gathering works together from constituent parts in acts of curation which I hope have demonstrated both technical skills and also visual awareness.
Quality of outcome
I am disappointed in the quality of the outcomes for many of the course projects, but it is a truism that you learn nothing from success; you only learn through being willing to fail. Making artists books has been a highlight of the course, producing some of the best outcomes. Good work has also arisen out of difficult working conditions when I have been away from home, acting as a carer. I am pleased that I was able to harness difficulty into valid work during the ‘drawing machines’ and ‘changing scene’ projects by capturing my own movement.
I have embraced process as outcome in its own right, especially through the use of video. This is a completely new technology for me and I am at the beginning of the learning process but hope to develop further in future.
Demonstration of creativity
I recognise that my initial response to a project is sometimes banal and that I have to work through that, by experimentation, to progress to something which is original and, hopefully, surprising. It isn’t always easy but I do know that grafting away in my sketchbook will be rewarded. Through the course, my practice has refined to producing very simple, direct pieces in monochrome which try to break the boundaries of flat, rectangular, wall-hang art. My ambition is to surprise and delight the viewer.
I feel that my artistic voice has developed significantly through the course and especially through the parallel project. I have really enjoyed having the freedom to undertake a long term project of my own devising and have been surprised at the end result.
Context reflection including critical review
When I start a new project now, my first impulse is to research how other artists have approached similar challenges. This is a discipline which the research points and course notes have ingrained into me and it is a great benefit of academic study. Initially, I worried that looking at other artist’s works would overly influence me, so that I might just produce pastiches of others work, but now I think that my own artistic voice is strong enough to absorb and learn without reproducing.
I find writing a learning log, reflecting on process and outcome, extremely useful and even enjoyable, and I am very sure that this analysis enriches and informs my work. In fact, it enriches my life. I was extremely worried about writing a critical review, since I have not done any academic writing before, but the opportunity to research around my chosen subject in depth was rewarding. My subject arose out of my parallel project and my research fed back into my work.
Investigating Drawing is an excellent and enjoyable course and I feel that I have grown immensely through it. The parallel project has really helped me to develop my own voice and the critical review has allowed me to delve deeply into research in a way new to me. I feel empowered and excited to continue my OCA journey and carry this through to my next course. I am committed to achieving a degree.
I have experimented with a number of approaches to making a video as a ‘drawing’ arising out of my parallel project. These have included looking at a ‘stop-frame’ animation of the process of drawing on paper, a video of a drawing developing, and videoing media in movement during drawing, for instance dropped into water or dusted over melting ice or water. I have also videoed flames, burning and smoke.
I have created a suite of small video clips from which I have selected a few which I feel work together and combined into a single video using video editing software. The video needs to be very short for assessment and most of my material has been rigorously edited away. The backbone of the video is the process of ink dispersing in water, which creates a complex sequence of ‘found drawings’ in motion.
I think that this video is a bit chaotic on the eye with the different elements appearing and disappearing. They have been accumulated in this way to maintain interest and to link the elements, but, ultimately I think the movement of the veils of ink is by far the most interesting and mesmeric part of the video. It brought to mind this work by Kader Attia in the Tate. My video has been remade with just that one element and the level of enlargement has been reduced to address poor resolution issues.
I have selected this final video as my assessment submission because I can imagine standing in one of those walled off corners in the Tate Modern watching this on a loop and seeing new shapes and details in the ink every time I watched it. I think that it would look wonderful projected over a complete wall so that the ink cascaded down towards you.
I have enjoyed discovering video as a form of drawing. This has involved a complex learning curve using several video editing suites, manipulating histograms, fades, contrast etc. The final video represents approximately 15 minutes recording with the speed of replay gradually increased through the video to achieve a sensible length and maintain interest. I think it may still be too long for assessment, but played at natural speed in a gallery setting, over a whole wall, I think that it would be compelling and hypnotic, as ink very slowly rained down on the viewer.
My dslr camera used for video offers limited control over depth of field and the limitations of resolution are obvious. If I want to pursue this further, I will need to hire or buy the proper gear for this specialist macro video photography.
My original idea for this work has been simplified and simplified and I am concerned that it has become almost too simple.
For my proposed artist’s book, I have been making lots of small, sample drawings. Some I have been video-ed in progress, such as ink in melting snow, or pigment spreading in water. Others are an exploration of ideas from which I expect to select for the final work. I have tried to revisit the mark making techniques which I have found most successful through the course, but now creating marks which explicitly consider traces, boundaries and changes of state.
Not all of these are successful and they vary in size from A3 to a couple of inches. Although I want the book to be monochrome, these different media often have a colour cast; warm black or blue-black, say. A set will have to be selected which works together, both in scale, colour and feel. I have explored, in my sketchbook, various formats for my book and made small test pieces. I need to consider not only my visual purpose but also the feel of the book, its presentation (slip case, box etc) and the practicalities.
I have decided on a landscape format which fits the sense of boundary layers and suits most of the drawings. The size was decided by considering the size of the human hand, the golden section and the size and scale of the drawings. The number of pages has been arrived at by selecting drawings sufficiently interesting but also sufficiently different.
Small sample books have been made to test out techniques, such as how to manage two layers of paper over a fold (don’t). This has resulted in some small books made from left over drawings.
Considering how to present a selection of small books and one larger book, I decided to put them in boxes, as this will protect them in transit, allow me to label the box, rather than the books, and present them to the assessors as a kind of gift. Thinking about how to make lids fit, I have converted this idea to a clam-shell case. I want to make opening them an act of discovery.
I do understand that established artists, with a strong commercial demand, recruit into their workshops to allow them to delegate technical tasks, and these clam-shell covers are certainly something I would have liked to delegate. However, I find that during the process of making and handling these books, I have taken small design decisions at each stage. If I had designed the works at the outset and handed them over to someone else to complete, the end result would have been quite different, less intellectually textured.
Since I have to write my name, course etc somewhere on the pieces, I have lined the cases with relevant drawings and written on these, under the books.
Each case has been topped with a drawing to indicate which way up it should be opened.
In the smaller box, I have brought together the earlier monochrome books, which I made for my parallel project in Part 5 of the course, with several new, small books in a similar vein arising out of, but subsidiary to, my final work, contained in the larger case.
The cases are designed to be presented to the assessors, one on top of the other, so that opening the boxes and viewing the books is a cumulative experience which builds towards a sort of grand finale, almost a performance.
Opening the larger box:
The interior of this case is lined with digital prints taken from the video.
The final book is concertina construction, but with ribbon forming a back hinge and a front tie, for stability.
The book is titled ‘At The Boundary’ and is, on a superficial level, an exploration of how media react at an interface. More fundamentally, it is grounded in my metaphysical enquiry into changes of state, possibilities, traces and the duality of presence and absence.
I am pleased to have made a culminating work which brings together so many strands of my research and experimentation through the course, from melting ink in ice in Part 3, through visiting the Rauschenberg exhibition and seeing his transfer prints, to experimenting with drawing on a silkscreen. The book represents and records my enquiry into drawing as a mark making experience and also my quest for non iconography and ambiguity. The only iconography I have allowed myself is the transfer drawings of Inuit people, living at the boundary, which is intended to be a mildly playful moment in what might be considered a sombre book.
Presenting the work effectively so that it unfolds for the viewer has been a major consideration, and, in general, I am pleased with my solutions. The clam-shell boxes suffer from being the first I have ever made and not everything is entirely square. However, I wanted the final result to look hand-made, rather than commercially-produced, but with a close attention to finish and detail. I think this balance is about right.
I would have liked all the drawings to be the same size on the page, and I could have selected drawings to achieve this, but I decided to select on the basis of variety and quality of mark instead. For instance, melting ice with soluble graphite resulted in a very buckled support, so I compromised on the size.
During the process of completing the book, a large stack of paper has been reduced to 16 pages. It has come as a surprise to me how much I have enjoyed the act of curation and how creative a process that can be. The course has radically broadened my ideas of what an artistic process can encompass.
My choice of parallel project arose out of work produced in Part 2 of the course when I considered the loss of my father when I was young and his continuing presence in my dreams after 40 years. The project became about memory, and the duality of absence and presence. Initially, I was producing works with sentinel, shadowy figures, but, in a search for diminished iconography, the work has moved towards boundaries and changes of state from one thing to another or one place to another. This has linked spiritual and metaphysical ideas with explorations into media and the interaction of materials.
I was already looking for ambiguity in my work, but my research into Anish Kapoor focused the realisation that the less explicit a work is, the more it allows for possibilities in the mind of the viewer. My own impulse for creating a work does not have to be spelt out; the viewer is free to make of it whatever serves their own needs or interests. The work both signifies possibilities and allows possibilities.
The final works are an artist’s book and a video. The video is, of necessity, very short for assessment. It is not how I initially envisaged it but I enjoy the fact that a work evolves in response to its making. The artists’s book is, I think the more successful of the two. It is designed to be discovered through the process of handling. It is significant that both works are small and personal, and I hope the viewer will find pleasure in their quiet detail.
For Part 5 of the course, since it is the penultimate and therefore the last chance to discuss current and future work, we had a Google Hangout tutorial. I find this very useful as it allows question and answer and a wider discussion. I submitted my notes to my tutor who incorporated them in her written report.
She praises me for moving away from iconography but wants me to do more work around the ‘falling man’ motif, especially using solar bleaching. It is now mid-winter and solar work is difficult. In any case, I am not sure how that fits in with the thrust of my final parallel project work. I have proposed an artist’s book and related video. I was concerned that I have not been able during my preparation to produce a video to a standard of finish that I want. She has advised me to embrace this so that the amateur quality is part of the texture of the work.
My tutor wants me to show planning and progression of my artist’s books in my sketchbooks. I have tried using the sketchbook in this way but it seems more like technical drawing and note making. This is an area where I find it difficult to know what should be in my learning log, and what in my sketchbooks.
I have revised the critical review as suggested, tightening up the text and relating it more directly to my own work in the parallel project.
All in all, I am very encouraged. I have very limited time to get work ready for assessment, about four weeks, so, no time to waste.
One of the aspects which I have really enjoyed in this course is making artist’s books. I feel that these bring together my love of drawing and drawing media with sculpture, my last course. I very much enjoyed sculpture but knew that the classical mediums of clay or plaster were not for me; I was at my best in that course working with found objects and with paper, fabric or yarn.
I love experimenting and I love making. I am a maker. I also have a constant underlying rebellion against the tyranny of rectangular, usually A-format, wall hang art. It is so easy to be constrained to this format without even realising it. Our supports are manufactured pre-constrained. Art is difficult to display, and space consuming, if it can’t be popped in a rectangular frame and hung up. Books and video allow me to break out of the flat rectangle.
A professional artist told me that I she does not rate artist’s books as they are too craft based and rather naff. I do not agree. The format is not inherently worthless. As always, it is what you do with it. It is as possible to make a naff painting as a naff book. A good quality of finish helps elevate an object but I think it comes down to the quality of the content, the intellectual effort which has been put into it and the depth of feeling and understanding for its subject matter. I find most flower paintings and pet portraits superficial and un-engaging (to be polite) but that doesn’t make all flower or pet painting worthless; think of Georgia O’Keefe or Lucien Freud’s paintings of his whippets. This level of content is what I have to aim for in both book and video.
I have been considering the options for an artist’s book as a culmination of parallel project work, in conjunction with a video. I have drawn up a list of objectives for the book:
- it should require some time from the viewer and not reveal itself instantly
- it should be a significant artifact in the hand
- it should combine techniques and materials in a multilayered, textural way
- no text, except, maybe a title
- high quality of finish
- limited colour palette
- not too small, it needs to have a physical presence for assessment
- the book and video should link by sharing some media and/or content
These lead me to some conclusions. The book cannot be a simple concertina book. Concertina constrains size but is also consumed in a single glance unless it includes internal pamphlets, windows etc, a possibility.
I need to consider what papers would support what media. I would like to include some of the techniques or media experiments I have been exploring, for instance the movement of gouache in water or with watercolour. This requires heavy paper. Other techniques have worked on 35gm Japanese paper, such as salt water in ink or mixing digital images. My book design should ideally allow me to mix paper types. This means that a colour theme will be important to draw the pages/images together into a unified whole. Given most of my work has been monochrome, I think that is the way to go. However, black is rarely the same colour across different media, and, if I want to layer things up to create complexity, I will have to either use different blacks, in different media and intensities, or else colour, say reds or two process colours. I might also want to use burning, rust or clay, so earth colours are a possibility. I need to do trials.
Ideas for layering up:
- drypoint drawing over painted or printed background
- monoprint with removed ink over painted or printed background
- collagraph layer (melted tyvek etc)
- drawing in charcoal or pastel over monoprint
- encaustic monoprinting over drawing
- rust and burning together
- or any combination.
Strategy – make a number of printing plates of the same size with melted or flowing materials which can be inked in different ways and combined with backgrounds. Make a number of backgrounds capturing flux to try with the plates or which might stand alone. Make lots so that a set that works together can be selected. If possible, video materials in flux to incorporate in the video.
Thinking about all these parameters, I have selected to make a narrow rectangular book, with each image being a double page spread of about 38cm by 10 cm, yielding a book about 40cm by 11 cm. Some light weight papers may not support themselves at this and need to be mounted. It does mean that each page will have a centre fold with stitches showing but I hope that this will not be visually intrusive. More trials! I need to aim for about 10 to 12 images over double spreads.
Following my tutorial for assignment 5, my tutor has clarified some things for me and this alters my objectives for this piece of work. She tells me that my work is at its best when it is simple but playful. I have therefore decided not to layer up but to make each page a simple statement of media in motion or the surface altered. She particularly liked the way I presented my earlier books in slip cases so that they become like a gift for the assessor to unwrap, so I shall definitely do that. I am also considering how I might present a small stack of books, in slip cases but then all contained together in a box, say.
She says that she thinks the concertina structure is especially successful as it unfolds in a sculptural way , so I may reconsider how I can do this rather larger. I am very pleased that, as an audience for my work, she got what I was trying to achieve with my artists’s books.
I have been reviewing my work through the parallel project and considering how I present it, or a culmination of it, for assessment.
My original thoughts for a parallel project arose out of a workshop I did at West Dean. The original plan was to produce work based on my garden but as abstractly as possible. My tutor talked me out of this on the basis that I would very easily slip into the banal.
In Part 2 of the course, I produced some work about the loss of my father and this became the seed for my parallel project. The project became about memory, absence/presence. In a serach for diminished iconography the work has moved towards boundaries and changes of state from one thing to another or one place to another. This has linked spiritual and metaphysical ideas with explorations into media and the interaction of materials.
I have been considering how I can make a video of a drawing in progress and animate it, in the way of William Kentridge. This process would inherently address a change of state, but I want to make that my subject also. Along side this, and in case the video is un-realisable, I want to make an artist’s book addressing the same subject.
Visiting this exhibition at the National Gallery yesterday, I have to admit that I was disappointed. I left not quite sure what the purpose of the exhibition was. On one hand it seemed to be emphasising the technical and cultural place of painting in black and white within the history of art, and on another, considering the power of monochrome to deliver impact.
The first three rooms of the exhibition explained the use of monochrome in religious imaginary of the Renaissance to show the material world in comparison to the richly jewelled colours of the spiritual scenes. We were shown how monochrome paintings were used for studies to explore tonal balances and modelling, how monochrome paint was used to draft out a large work and to under-paint the tonal areas. Multicoloured paintings would also be copied in monochrome which was then used as the basis for creating an etching for the mass distribution of an image.
Some of the most striking paintings were those produced to refute the idea that sculpture offered more to the viewer than painting by allowing observation from all sides and enhanced and changing modelling with light. This debate had resulted in paintings which were so indistinguishable from carved relief that you really wanted to reach out and stroke them to break the illusion.
This was all fairly interesting but very dry and there were only a couple of paintings in this section of the exhibition which really made my heart beat faster, firstly a Rembrandt, ‘Ecco Homo’ 1635, actually a grisaille study for an etching. Rembrandt’s blobs of clay faces are masterful in their minimal, effortless evocation of character and the resulting etching had smoothed them out to idealised blandness. The other work was an enormous painting by Giandomenico Tiepolo, almost 3m by 2m, painted on a gold ground, the fourth of the images here. The effect of the gold in the sky and the gold under-painting was to make the work glow with an inner warmth. To stand before it felt like standing in sunlight pouring through a stained glass window. It had the most astonishing physical presence. I know that copper is used as a support for this kind of glowing effect, but I can’t imagine the cost of a gold ground applied over this areas of six panels, never mind the technical difficulties. I have used gold tissue in printmaking as chine colle under ink and that is very effective, if by it’s nature not very gold. I must try gold ink or gouache as an under layer. I had little success with gold leaf when I tried it as it floats off the plate or doesn’t hold the ink.
The next three rooms really puzzled me. These showed modern (well, mostly 20th century) monochrome works but I felt that many of them had been chosen almost randomly just because they happened not to use colour, not because they were using monochrome as a statement or to achieve a particular effect. There were paintings by Richter and Close which were reproductions of monochrome photographs, but I didn’t feel that the fact that they were monochrome added particular significance. It felt more that the curators were saying, ‘Look, monochrome painting can be as worthy as painting in colour’. I think it would have been much more powerful to have included a monochrome painting by Rothko, say, where the colour, or lack of it, has an emotional charge. Similarly, the works included by Twomby, Kelly and Johns felt like they had just pulled out any old thing in black and white. The one work which I felt really made a point through its monochrome palette was one of Vija Celmin’s ‘Night Sky’ etchings (this illustration is actually a drawing in the series). The black background creates an emptiness that the tiny white stars emphasise rather than fill and although her works are quite small (A3ish) they generate a much greater space. This is not just dependant on the subject, she achieves this when drawing waves or deserts, all in monochrome. The lack of colour is another component in her act of paring an image down to create vastness within it.
That was my problem with the modern works; they happened to be black and white, but did it matter that they were? For one or two, yes, for instance Malevich’s ‘Black Square’, but for the most part, no. I think that they could have chosen much better.
I also felt that the exhibition confined itself too narrowly. It is called ‘Monochrome: Painting in Black and White’ but included quite a few etchings and one light installation. Only a couple of works had been made within the last 50 years. I think that, with profit, they could have included some of the amazing monochrome works being created now, especially drawings such as those by Julie Mehrethu or Anita Taylor, after all, the curators had already strayed beyond painting. Given that they included a room filled with orange light, the definition of monochrome could have been pushed beyond black and white. I do see however, that a red on red painting would have pushed the predominantly grey works back, and the orange room was navigated as you left the exhibition.
It was a good exhibition, and I am glad I went, but I think it could have been so much better. My work for Investigating Drawing is largely monochrome because I feel that it has a power and directness that colour does not, particularly in the context of my parallel project. All colours carry their own cultural significance and often, prettiness. In my increasingly non-iconographic work, I want to avoid these. I think that this exhibition made the point that monochrome work historically had a specific technical place, and even a cultural place in the Renaissance, but did not really drill down to the significance of the choice of monochrome in the work of contemporary artists.