When I look back at where I started this part of the course, drawing some seed heads in a vase, and compare it with my end point, I am amazed at the journey I have taken through the projects. I have tried to respond to my tutor’s encouragement to be less conventional, more gestural and to work large.
I have tried to explore lots of media and supports in this part of the course but in the end have refined my materials down to quite simple ones, charcoal, ink, graphite, clay. Increasingly, my work has become monotone. Colour seemed to have little to offer my final subject and was almost a distraction. Kentridge observed, “When I worked with colour, I was always stuck with the question ‘Does this look nice?” (Maslen and Southern, 2011). There is always the temptation to make colour pretty or representational. It can have its own symbolism which has to be considered. I have actually found it liberating to work in monotone and concentrate on the expressive mark.
Taking the loss of my father as a subject has been pivotal in giving me something to explore beyond the conventional. Trying to express abstract ideas, rather than direct representation, has been very challenging but also liberating. The physicality of working large and very quickly (albeit sometimes over a long period of time) feels like my right place.
Each work is the culmination of the work that went before it. I could not have drawn the work which I believe is the best in this series (the ink and salt piece) if I had not made small exploratative studies in my sketchbook, made a scrap book of materials, or painted the earlier acrylic work. I could not have found a spontaneous abstract expression of the eyes if I had not looked at capturing a defining characteristic through the shape of the eyes. I used to get down-hearted if a work or even a thumbnail was dreadful, but now I see this as just building my mental dictionary of marks. Life drawing has been particularly important in building these mental references.
My work seems to be most successful when, having done preparation and research, I am in the right mental place and I almost disconnect my thoughts from the process. Perhaps this is a consequence of working gesturally, but I seem more successful if something goes in my eyes and out of my hand without consciously touching anything between. If I think too hard about my marks as I work, they become stiff and contrived. This does not mean that the work is not considered. I have thought about it hard before hand, and I may stand back and consider for minutes or days before another phase of quick gestural drawing.
There has been a long running discussion thread on the student forum about what it means for work to show ‘evidence of a developing personal voice’. This is such a hard idea to understand. One tutor defined it as ‘making work that’s conceptually sophisticated, personally motivated and contemporarily convincing’. At the end of these projects, I finally feel as though I have some understanding of this and have made my first steps towards achieving it.