The objective of this assignment is to draw a subject with using materials directly related to the subject. Rather than use the subject as an applicator of materials, I have chosen to use the relate the media to the subject.
For some time, as part of thinking about the garden as a subject for my parallel project, I have been considering what materials and media from the garden I can create and use. I make my own charcoal using pruned materials, hazel, willow, hornbeam, make my own bamboo dip pens and I have researched making inks from bark, oak galls etc, but haven’t progressed beyond research yet. My ground is heavy, London clay in brown and yellow, and I have thought about using this as a pigment. I discussed the idea with some people at Art in Action this year. One illustrator using traditional materials suggested that clay would work well with egg tempera. Talking to a supplier of traditional materials, they suggested grinding clay and making pastel sticks of it using gums. Online searches yielded flour paste as a possible binder for liquid clay paint.
At the end of this section of the course, my ideas are all centred around the human presence, and clay came to have a different significance for me. Both the Quran and the Bible say that God created man from clay, and this symbolism occurs in other cultures, too. There have long been scientific theories proposing that life initially occurred on Earth through the effects of static electrical discharges through clays and in recent years there have gained support from a wider academic audience. Ideas of life and death, presence and absence are also explored in Isabel Allende’s story ‘And of Clay Are We Created’.
These cultural ans scientific connections have led me to continue to represent my father as a distant and indistinct figure, but this time using clays from my garden. I dug different coloured clays from several areas of the garden and ground them in water using a mortar and pestle. The watery clay was poured into yogurt pots and allowed to settle for a while. The top was then skimmed of organic matter and some water poured off to give a thin creamy mixture. Some samples did not create a suspension in this way and were abandoned as too gritty or too full of humus. The yellow London clay, beloved of brickmakers, made the best paint. I used a heavy weight NOT watercolour paper hoping that it would withstand the water involved and that the texture would hold the clay crystals.
I considered the addition of gum arabic or acrylic mat medium, but decided to leave the clay natural. I did not want to alter the way that the clay would move in the water or on the support and I did not want to be constrained by small quantities. I used a big brush but mainly my hands and fingers to pour and drip the clay and then push it around, so in retrospect, I have drawn a subject using the subject as implements.
The piece is closely informed by my earlier drawing using ink and salt, but here rather than absent, the figure is present, coalescing from the watery clay surrounding it. I have created a hint of a curved surface and the figure can be read as rising up from this Earth. The figure is perhaps my father or perhaps generic ‘Man’.
This piece isn’t as successful visually as the earlier one because the variety of mark is more limited and the composition of the figure less interesting and also less intriguing. It would have been possible to create a more dynamic pose, had I had a model, but this may have endowed the figure with more character or personality than I wanted. One can think of works in which Adam is being brought to life, such as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel or Blake’s Creation of Adam, which have a much more obvious and literal narrative, rooted in the Abrahamic texts, than I was looking for. I would have liked the pose to be less conventional whilst retaining simple suggested form.
The use of clay creates that elemental connection between subject and media which was the objective. The clay has flowed and pooled, supporting the narrative of creation. The work probably cannot be fixed and the particles may fall of the surface eventually, but that seems entirely appropriate; ‘dust to dust’. The fact that it is ephemeral is completely consistent with the underlying subject of life/death, presence/absence.