Reviewing my bus stop drawing for Project 3, I don’t feel that it addresses my appetite to create a form of graffiti and it also lacked the environmental credentials I was seeking, although it did meet my ambition of making public art. It leaves me unfulfilled. After considerable sleeping over it, I have therefore decided to make a second work which is graffiti based, but not on public property.
I am considering three mediums, grass (walked or mowed), clay used as paint or moss. I like the idea of using grass. It offers a large canvas but being large and horizontal, it would be very difficult to photograph well for the purposes of the assignment.
Researching moss graffiti on the internet yields quite a few examples and recipes, such as this or this. These generally involve mashing moss in to a soup with a nutrient such as yoghurt, rice water or beer. However, it you look carefully at most of these examples, it seems clear that the graffiti is using moss rolled up from other locations and laid like turf then cut to shape.
This post, by gardeners specialising in growing moss gardens, is much more helpful. It explains exactly what you need to make moss grow, which mosses will work best and that yoghurt etc is just likely to go mouldy. Their recommendation is to establish moss on horizontal, water retaining surfaces (ie soil) rather than attempting to establish it on walls etc. So, sounds like a dead end. At this point, I decided to use yellow London clay, dug from the garden, as my medium.
I have a really boring bit of north facing wall on the front drive, adjacent to the garage. I really don’t mind graffiting this, as long as it is natural and removable. It is not, however, flat. The pointing between the bricks is considerably inset. There are ferns and primroses growing at the bottom, and it just so happens that I have been sketching ferns recently, as their unfurling stems in spring always fascinate me.
The curves and spirals which ferns produce as they open up are truly magical. A drawing on this wall which references the ferns below and in the rest of the front garden, would be a good use of the wall, enhance the space and add quirky interest to a boring area. It is on private land but actually is highly visible to passers by and visitors, so nearly public.
My first a step was to do some more investigative sketches of the ferns in the front garden, examining their habit and how their shapes could be simplified.
Most of these shapes are too complex to draw on a non-flat surface. The detail just would not read. However, the shapes of the harts-tongue ferns were more promising. These can be rendered in a graphic way that would have impact scaled up and be practical to draw on the wall.
My ipad was used to take a pic of the wall and try shapes out. So far I have not found my self using an ipad for sketching on location as I like getting my hands messy with media, but I am finding it really useful for trying out ideas.
The shapes I finally decided on are not so much a drawing of the fern leaves as two graphic shapes which reference the garden. I have tried to find interesting negative shapes between them and also have them relate to the edges of the wall. The wall actually has a step in it and I have decided to carry the drawing right over this, but only with the linear tip of the leaf so that it reads from any angle.
Clay was dug and prepared by soaking in water and the squishing it until I had a suspension like very thick cream. The design was mapped out on the wall using water.
Clay was then painted on the wall.
The prepared clay was really sticky and difficult to get off the brush. At this point, I realised that it could be used as a glue to fix moss to the wall, which would be far more interesting than a flat clay drawing. The clay is also moisture retentive and the moss might just grow if watered reliably. Moss grows at the base of the wall and on the drive, so it stands a chance.
I wasn’t happy with how the frond on the right had come out and considered remodelling it. However, I have decided that moss and clay are like a water colour wash; it would be a mistake to try and touch it up.
The moss has now been in place for two weeks. As to be expected, some of the moss embedded in the clay has died, but much hasn’t. A bit has fallen off. The moss has been sprayed with water twice a day. My hope is that live moss will eventually grow out to populate the clay substrate. I have started this project at the worst time of the year when it is very dry and hot, and it is a long term commitment if I want to see it grow. The moss garden experts say that it can take up to six months for some moss species to anchor themselves and develop outwards. How it will cope whilst we are away on holiday, I don’t know.
Two weeks on, the fronds of the ferns at the bottom of the wall are now fully extended.
If the moss survives, this will become a feature, brightening up a boring wall in a difficult, north-facing corner.
One year later, and I am finally submitting for assessment. This installation still exists although the moss has never really ‘taken’. Most of the pillowing mosses have fallen off although the fern-like mosses have persisted. Many people coming to the door have commented on it, and I feel it has been successful in giving interest and involvement to visitors. It is a shame that moss seems to need a horizontal surface to thrive.