Category Archives: Part 4

Assignment 4 – Reflection on Tutor Feedback

My tutor report for Assignment 4 has been very encouraging whilst still giving me lots of food for thought and issues to confront. I have tried to distil it down to major areas to concentrate on, as I near the end of the course:

  • focus – review previous works and processes, analyse strengths and weakness and decide on forward focus
  • experimentation is good, but now its time to stop experimenting in all sorts of directions and bring things to some fruition
  • critical review – I need to join up my thinking and bring together all my research as a coherent discussion
  • parallel project – work on trace, history of marks, consider incorporating the ‘falling man’ (which I had abandoned as too literal), decide on focus for submission.

 

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Assignment 4 Reflection

In creating work for this assignment, I have tried to be experimental and unorthodox in my choice of location and material. I have tried to make work which is on a big scale and which exists outside, to be seen by the public.

The success of the first piece was limited because the blossom did not extend and connect the drawing of the tree sufficiently into the physical space of the bus shelter. I needed about five times more volume of blossom than I was able to collect, and the blossom needed to be on the drawing, and on the glass, the seat and the floor so that it was a real experience for the passenger as they waited or got off a bus. Drawn on a large scale, my tree lost its charm and the shapes became more crude. Whilst I think the concept was sound, it lacked in execution, so I am glad that I decided to make a second drawing.

The drawing of simplified fern fronds is completely appropriate to its environment, both in materials and in subject. The location chosen is visible to passers-by and visitors. A drawing here is not just an assignment piece but a real asset on a dull front drive. For practical reasons, I chose a very simple design. I am not entirely happy with the curves of the frond on the right but I do like the fact that it continues around and over the corner. With hindsight, the balance of positive and negative shapes might have been improved to cover more of the wall surface area, but then the fronds would not have been so elongated and graceful.

Deciding to use moss, rather than just clay, meant a lot more work and risk of failure, but I think the result is much more interesting than flat clay would have been. The moss has a raised texture which successfully negotiates the non-flat surface, and if it grows, will eventually have a range of greens from the variety of mosses used.

One of the great pleasures of this part of the course has been creating art to share. I have tried to make work which is simple and accessible whilst being unexpected and which enhances its environment and connects the observer to the location.

 

Assignment 4

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.

Two shapes painted thickly in mud with moss added to one.

Finishing the second frond, water sprayed around to keep the clay workable.

‘Lost and found’ moss to capture the delicacy of the tips.

Negotiating the step

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.

After two weeks

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.

 

 

4.3 Installation

I want to create an installation in a public place. Ideally, I want to make it large, or at least occupy a large space significantly. It must be temporary and leave no trace. It must be non-littering, not interfere with ordinary site use and not require permission.  This last is not because I am not prepared to apply for permission, submit plans, risk assessments etc, it is a practical consideration based on timescales.

Ideally, I would like to create a piece of graffiti driven by the sketchbook and screenprinting work that was generated by the ‘found drawings’ project. I have considered drawing with an instantly removable medium such as clay or chalk but even these might need a power-washer in the current dry weather. I could draw using a natural substance, leaves say (but its spring) or grass. I could walk on dewy grass to leave a drawing, but this might be very difficult to photograph (referencing Richard Long). I had lots of ideas but none that I felt would be practical to execute in a public space.

Adjacent to the amenity area I used in the last project, is a bus shelter and I thought that it would make an interesting project to bring the bus shelter and its users closer to the wilder environment. I can’t fill the space with sticks etc but could I draw a landscape the same size as an advertising panel, tape it to the glass, and then extend it in some way into the space to draw in the people? Can I make a bus shelter more interesting?

Just at the moment, the apple blossom is lovely, and the pavements and grass are covered in a confetti of petals. It is a beautiful, ephemeral moment in the seasons. I thought that it would be fun to share this with folk using the bus stop and using petals to extend a drawing into the environment. I don’t think petals can be construed as litter, although a drawing on paper might be. It would have to go up one night and be removed the next, without trace.

Initial preparation involved collecting apple blossom from under a tree (each petal collected by hand from the ground!) and storing it in the fridge for later use once I had a drawing. The other step was to measure and photograph the bus stop so that a drawing the right size and scale could be made and its position planned.

I drew over the images to assess scale.

Envisaging a poster sized drawing, mirroring the existing panels.

It is tempting to use the advertising frame and stick a drawing over the existing poster, but I think TFL might be justifiably irritated. This size looks a bit insignificant. There is also the problem of how I might stick petals to the glass as if cascading out of the drawing.

Envisaging larger scale drawing to ground, fed behind the seats.

I think the larger drawing would work better but there would be a problem that it could no longer be flat but would have to travel over the raised, grey bar in the glass. It would also be harder to fix. I would have to use paper roll which has a memory of curling, so plenty of double sided tape would be needed which might come off the paper rather more easily than the glass. I am keen not to make a mess.

Maybe the tree should be a bonsai?

I quite like the idea of the drawing being discrete, having to be noticed by the observant, rather like Slinkashu’s ‘little people’ installations, but I am not sure that it serves the purpose of creating a dialogue.

It occurs to me that this whole idea is less about a dialogue between the drawing and the place, as trying to provoke a dialogue between this deeply urban structure and its environment.

I have decided to commit to drawing a large tree which will occupy all the space the left back of the buss stop. I did consider taking it right around the corner but this would have obscured the view of busses arriving for anyone occupying the seat.  The panel is 7 feet high, 4 feet wide.

I found a local small crab apple tree with interesting body language and sketched it.

I then considered where it should be placed in the frame, how it should be depicted and on what sort of background. A charcoal drawing was out because of peoples clothes and because the surface needs to be robust.  The pale backgrounds in my ipad sketches are too much like an ordinary poster so I experimented with dark backgrounds against which apple blossom should show up. A naturalistic background was rejected because I do want an element of startling the observer with something out of place.

A lot of this project was revolving around practicalities. To produce a drawing of this size, I need giant paper. Two 7 foot long sheets of heavy duty lining paper were joined to create a sheet 7′ by 4′. Whilst the glue was drying and the paper flattening under weights, I considered how to create a dark background on that scale and decided that the most dramatic and practical way would be to use drawing ink. Various experiments were done to test how the ink took on the paper to create a large scale wash. I used water washable ink which is cheap in volume and which can be manipulated with water to good effect.

Small scale experiments to test media and approach

Scaling up, trying different approaches for blossom

Testing things at a small scale was only so useful when it came to work on the actual paper.

The basic design was painted with various densities of ink.

Just using water and ink was quite effective at creating bark and blossom but I did want to include a blush of pink to link the drawing of the tree with the real petals, so tinted gesso was added.

I wanted to get the feeling of curdled masses of petals ready to drift down. Water was dripped into the ink and wiped off to create an impression of petals in the air, although the drips were rather more linear than I wanted.

Double sided tape was generously attached to the back and the drawing installed. Once in situ, real petals were glued on using Prit but, unfortunately, having been collected of the floor and  stored in the fridge in plastic, they were damp and wouldn’t stick reliably. The remaining petals were distributed over the seat and pavement.

In order to photograph the bus stop, I had to cross the road to the opposite bus stop at which people were waiting (why I chose the other). They were intrigued and grinning broadly. They said they particularly liked the petals.

Analysis

This project has brought together the small interventions I made in the landscape with natural material with trying to grab someone’s attention and involve them in their environment. In this case, that isn’t just this piece of urban street furniture but the wider environment around it and also the moment in time.

To capture the eye of the people using the place, I have introduced the unexpected with a shower of petals, seemingly falling from a tree within the space. For the idea to be fully realised, I could have done with a much greater volume of petals and with being able to add more real petals to the drawing.

The scale of the drawing it appropriate for the idea but could perhaps have been even wider to completely fill the glass on the left, and perhaps have reached right down to the ground. The drawing itself is a bit crude with the delicacy of the trunk and branches lost in the process of scaling up. The size meant working flat which made it difficult to stand back and assess the drawing.

The drawing was installed in the morning and taken down in the evening. I do not know how many people saw it, but I hope that it altered the mundane experience of a bus shelter. Perhaps, every spring, all bus shelters should be dressed in petals, like well dressings.

 

 

4.3 Installation

In this project we are called upon  to make a drawing which relates to its environment creating a dialogue with the space. Following the momentum of the previous project, I wanted to make a drawing in the landscape which draws attention to some aspect of that landscape and ideally draws the eye to some focal point or actually creates a focal point.

I have an environment over which I  have control and with which I am deeply engaged. My garden is at a woodland edge and if designed to be wildlife friendly. In particular, I have a pond which is home to newts and other creatures including dragon and damsel flies. Grass snakes and slow worms live in the long grass.

My ambition in this project was to create something which would act as a focal point for this seat overlooking the wild life pond. In the summer, I like to sit here and watch the dragonflies, so I thought it would be interesting to use a dragonfly as the inspiration for the drawing. I could think of two different approaches, either use the shape of a dragonfly, or a wing, or the kind of arched stem on which they like to perch over the water.

A number of curved lines, arching over the water would be interesting because they would intersect and change their relationship as you moved around. They would also serve a practical purpose as the dragonflies would actually use then. However, I don’t have any material in the garden which arches like that. There is plenty of bamboo but it stays upright when cut. I have willow from basket making, which would work but is too fine to be visually assertive and is quite short.

Sketchbook thinking:

Having played around drawing wings, supports and bodies, I settled on trying to draw a dragonfly in wire. I really like wire drawings/sculptures; they combine both linear form and mass. I have some iron wire which I considered using but, as you can see below, it disappears against the background. Instead, I selected copper wire which is recycled from some project of my husband’s. It’s fineness means that it bends very easily, you can literally draw with it, and has a beauty of its own.

Making the body, about 25cm long.

Looping and twisting the wire, I was trying to retain a drawn nature by making the structure open.

Working out how to make wings.

Four lengths of wire were twisted together to make the wings. This was to give both structural and visual substance. I played around with internal strutting in the wing, but this looked both contrived and too loopy. To make it work I needed to cut short lengths and solder them in place, and I decided that this was too much like a model of the real thing rather than a drawing.

Seeing if the dragonfly shows up in the environment.

Final size, 25cm by 55 cm

Having tried it in various locations around the pond, I really wanted to position it perched above the water. A bundle of willow withies was formed into a support using more wire used in a loose, non uniform way.

In place, over the water.

I also considered locating it in a field of willow stems which would repeat  the shape of the bound perch and offer perches for real dragonflies. As time has gone on, the willow has sagged in spite of reinforcement.

Seen from the bench.

Analysis

Wire is a lovely medium to draw in and copper is really responsive. Although it slows up well in the environment, I find it too shiny and unnatural. I have sprayed it with acid and am hoping that it will eventually oxidise to a lovely green. I plan to purchase some finer iron wire to try some further drawings, and this will rust pleasingly. There is a difficult balance to be found between wire which can be worked easily and intuitively, and wire which has visual substance and presence. I would certainly have liked to have made this bigger and with more presence.

This is a drawing of a dragonfly and not a model. It is deliberately impressionistic and does not attempt to accurately represent the details of the dragonfly such as the structure of the eyes or wings but I have tried to be accurate about proportions, attitude, volume, angles of legs and wings etc. In this way, I hope that I have captured an essence.

The drawing is relevant to its location and adds a focal point currently lacking. I am in two minds about how dominant it should appear. I would have liked to have made something stronger, but I also rather like the idea that is something to be discovered rather than shouting its presence. The family have firmly declared that ‘it’s a keeper’ and they rarely offer an outright opinion on my work. Making larger art in the environment engages people and elicits a response that wall hang art doesn’t.

I am considering how a better support can be manufactured in a material which will create an arc over the pond but will not sag and which is appropriate for the environment.

 

4.3 Research – Importance of Place

It is hard to believe that place, especially one’s own place, isn’t important to everyone, although we might all focus on different aspect of place. For me, place is inextricably linked with the natural environment, the change of seasons and the weather. For Frank Auerbach, it is the urban environment of London, for Giorgio Morandi, it was his studio filled with familiar pots and jugs and for Emily Kame Kngwarreye, it was her ancestral homeland of Utopia, north of Alice Springs, both its physical landscape and her community’s deep cultural relationship with the land.

Her initial works on canvas, when given acrylics at the age of 80, were dot paintings in the aboriginal tradition of ceremonial body art or sand drawings used to tell tales of ancestors and the ‘dreamtime’ or transmit life lessons. Without a written language, aboriginal peoples developed pictograms used in their story-pictures to depict people, animals, plants and landscape features. This gave Emily a visual vocabulary with which to speak about her her place and everything within it. Dots were introduced when the ‘white man’ arrived to hide or obscure the underlying sacred symbols (Kate Owen Gallery, 2017).

Emily’s paintings move beyond this symbolism to a less traditional interpretation of her landscape in ‘Earth’s Creation’ (1994). She has still used dots but in swirls of vibrant colours which represent the greening and flowering of the landscape after the rains. In her final works, the landscape is reduced to broad, soft, swathes of colour, sometimes vibrant but sometimes muted. All iconography, symbolised or not, has dissolved away into colour and emotion.

This development has similarities to Morandi’s enquiry into his collection of artifacts, and his still life paintings remind me of landscapes; when he groups them together in flat planes, touching but not overlapping, the objects loose individual character and become part of a panarama. His intense enquiry over many years in to the same artefacts resulted in a greater and greater loss of detail. He was experimenting with how much he could leave out and still capture an essense.

O’Keefe had a similar absorption in the landscape of New Mexico around her Ghost Ranch and a similar delight in the intense colours produced by clarity of air and changing light in the desert. In her paintings, the desert isn’t rocky, but fluid and plastic. Her favourite subject was Pedernal Mountain, “It’s my private mountain,” she once said. “It belongs to me. God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.” (Sooke, 2016).

I am a keen walker and over the years have camped, walked and climbed in some stunning mountainous locations which have tugged at the heart with their isolation and beauty. The Cuillin Mountains of Skye (here painted by Alexander Goudie) appear in my prints repeatedly, although there was a twenty year gap in my visits. When I finally returned there last year, it was very emotional. I envy people who are able to access readily the landscape that inspires them. My garden, enclosed by high trees, is my proxy for the wilderness.

Sketch of Cuillin from Glen Brittle as they briefly appeared from the cloud, Sept16

References

Kate Owen Gallery, (2017). [online] Available at: https://kateowengallery.com/page/Aboriginal-Art-Symbols.aspx [Accessed 22 May 2017].

Sooke, A. (2017). How Georgia O’Keeffe left her cheating husband for a mountain: ‘God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it’. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/art/what-to-see/how-georgia-okeeffe-left-her-cheating-husband-for-a-mountain-god/ [Accessed 22 May 2017].

Bibliography

http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/utopia_the_genius_of_emily_kame_kngwarreye/emily_kame_kngwarreye

https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/global-contemporary/a/kngwarreye-earths-creation

https://kateowengallery.com/page/Aboriginal-Art-Symbols.aspx

4.3 Installation Research

The Tate defines installation art as “large-scale, mixed-media constructions, often designed for a specific place or for a temporary period of time” (Tate, 2017) but what is large scale? and presumably an installation could use just one medium (although the fabric of a  location might be deemed to be a medium also). It seems clear however, that an installation, to be fully realised, should arise from its location and the location should be an intrinsic part of the work. There are three dimensional works, or even two dimensional works in non-traditional materials, which are described as installations by galleries but which are not site specific because they are for sale and will move on to another site, so installation can be a catch-all for works which don’t fit any more traditional art niche or which the artist wants to move beyond a label such as ‘sculpture’. However, thinking about installation in the context of the next project, I am thinking about line and location and extending the one into the other.

An installation work which epitomises this approach is Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s epic ‘Running Fence‘ , 1972-6. This line of fabric snaking across the landscape draws attention to its undulations. The texture and colour of the fabric contrast with and highlight the textures and colours of the terrain and link it with the wind and the clouds above. The work creates variable sinuous lines when viewed from different locations. Of all their works, this seems to me the most poetic and the one where the installation and the landscape speak to each other.

In the Pais Vasco, in 1984, the sculptor Agustín Ibarrola created an ‘animated forest’ in the Forest of Oma by painting a huge number of trees with undulating strips and shapes which join up or fragment as you walk through them.  The scale of the enterprise is amazing with hundreds of trees painted. However, whilst this is site specific and inspired by the prehistoric paintings in a nearby cave, the man-made nature of the paints and their riot of colour sits a little uneasily in this beautiful environment. The work has been imposed on the place and has taken it over.

Jim Lambie’s psychedelic staircase  transformation for the Royal Academy’s 2015 summer exhibition, like Ibarrola’s trees, brought colour to a place which is little regarded compared to the exhibitions beyond. Here the installation was ephemeral and had the dual purpose of making us look again at a familiar place and drawing the visitor up the stairs and into the galleries. Although the jazzy colours may seem as out of place here as in the forest, the work is completely rooted in the location and the fact that a work is temporary can have the effect of making us pay attention to it whilst it lasts; it never becomes old hat.

A key component of installation seems to be a sense of theatre. The artist requires the public  to be startled, shaken out of their expectations and dragged into involvement in the place and art. Perhaps this is where scale comes in because, whilst intervention can be small and quiet,  Installation is Big and attention grabbing.

References

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/i/installation-art