Category Archives: Research

The London Original Print Fair

The annual London Original Print Fair is held at the Royal Academy where the exhibition rooms are taken over by many galleries from all around the world which specialise in original prints.  This means that there is a huge breadth of work to see, spanning different ages and different artistic cultures, from Picassos and Bawdens to contemporary Chinese woodcuts and the latest Peter Bakes. I can’t imagine any other place where you could see works by such a wide range of excellent and emerging artists, all accessibly displayed and with knowledgeable people to tell you about the work. There is also every conceivable printmaking technique to examine, and it is even surprisingly affordable.

Here are just a few of the printmakers who caught my eye:

Anne-Marie James with her book pages sliced into slithers and interposed so that two images engaged in a dialogue. There is an image here (the second) and her other altered book art can be seen here.

Tom Hammick’s huge woodcuts are always interesting, especially how he layers colours.

Cornelia Parker’s polymer photogravure images of glass, particularly those of broken glasses.

Glenn Brown for his rather bizarre, affectionate but irreverent, take on art history

Victoria Burge brings together science, mapping and art. She used heavy embossing to create three-dimensionality in her prints.

Bill Jacklin creates monoprints in several layers with wiping and white spirit spattering, creating movement and atmosphere.

Alison Lambert was showing very large charcoal portraits where the surface had been torn and abraded to recapture highlights. She also makes some very strong monoprints.

Douglas Gordon’s offset lithographs of a solar eclipse juxtapositioned with Anish Kapoor’s etchings.

James Collyer’s Yamashiro Falls  married simplicity of design with technical complexity. This gallery picture is so poor that it hardly does it justice.

For inventiveness and originality, Thomas Gosebruch really stood out, and, wonderfully, he was there, happy to talk about how he made his work. I was intrigued by how he folded paper and then printed on each segment and how he got ink or paint to be 2 or 3mm deep.  The paper folding is an idea well worth stealing.

Basil Beattie’s prints were monoprinted using a silk screen, a process I have been experimenting with. The print studio representatives were really helpful with a discussion about papers, inks, mediums and screen mesh size. The prints were very tactile and heavily layered in oil paint, quite unlike run of the mill screen prints.

My very favourite prints were by Kate McCrickard. These were really complex, many layered monoprints using really bright luminous colours in the initial layers and muted colours on top, with an outline ultimately added to define the figures (I think). The gallery owner told me that she sketches in local cafes and then translates these sketches into monoprints. The whole process must be very drawn out, as each layer of ink dries, but I think she probably works on a group in parallel because the prints naturally formed sets with a rhythm of the same coloured layers between them. Another idea to steal.

I have to thank Rabley Drawing Centre for sending me a complimentary ticket for the Fair. How could I have missed Emma Stibbon’s Vent from my list of eye-catching prints? There was just so much wonderful stuff.

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

Workshop- Experimenting with Abstraction Through Drawing

This two day workshop was tutored by Jane Strother, an Oxford Adult Education tutor who offers thoughtful and interesting courses in personal development for experienced artists. I have been to one of her courses before at Oxford Summer School and found it really useful. The attraction is not just the content of the course, but the coming together with half a dozen like minded people, albeit with totally different art directions.

Jane started the day by reviewing the work of several artists and looking at their different approaches to organising mass and line within a space. We looked at William Scott, Ellsworth Kelly, David Tress, Simon Carter and Nicholas De Stael. Jane showed us their different methods for exploring composition; collage, drawing, tearing and rearranging, working via a grid, simplification via obliteration etc. We discussed how, in developing an abstract, or abstracted image, you might wish to completely loose any iconography, or choose to retain a few specific elements.

Jane had set up a towering stack of chairs and set us the challenge of drawing them in various ways, trying to loose the iconography. We drew quick drawings with our non dominant hand, with continuous line, unsighted, ‘sneaky look’, negative spaces joined up etc. The objective of this first day was to build up a body of drawings which we could work from the next day to create compositions for a future work.

A1, Pencil, wrong hand, unsighted, 3 mins

A1, unsighted, pencil, 5 mins

A2, pencil and charcoal, unsighted

A2, charcoal, neg spaces

A1, charcoal and white pastel, c 20 mins

These exercises show how difficult I find it to loose the representation, the longer I sketch.

In the afternoon, we sketched in the garden. Here the objective was to use the structural aspects of the garden with the organic shapes to find a variety of mark, shape and mass which could be selected and isolated or joined in different ways in a subsequent composition. Again, we were trying to loose the representation and just let the subject suggest marks or shapes. We all found this even more difficult in the garden. Jane suggested trying moving around and sketching the garden from different aspects in the same drawing.

A3, charcoal

A3, charcoal

A3, stick and ink

A3, stick and ink

A3, charcoal

A4, ink on stick

A4, ink on stick, charcoal

A4, ink on stick

A4, ink on stick

The next day, we thought about strategies for taking our drawings and making an abstract monochrome composition from them, either completely abstract or retaining some slight iconography of the original subject.

Strategies included:

  • tearing up and rearranging
  • painting over and obliterating in areas
  • adding paper to margins and extending
  • over drawing one drawing on another
  • redrawing and selecting
  • cropping
  • collaged papers
  • cutting up and weaving or rearranging in a grid (ref Kelly)
  • rotate some elements relative to others
  • joining shapes, neg or pos

I felt much more inspired by the organic shapes than the chair drawings, so I used the latter as practice for manipulation.

Adding charcoal and white paint, joining shapes

Uninspired and uninspiring. I went back to the garden sketches and drew from a couple of them, enlarging the shapes of the tulips, adding the loopy lines of plant supports and black shapes of clumps of perennials. I forgot to take a photo of this before I decided to tear it up and put the pieces together  another way, extending lines and shapes onto new paper.

Some shapes are still recognisable here, I then cropped into one bit, about a third, which I found the most interesting.

The drawing was added to, subtracted from with white paint and finally torn up again and the pieces rearranged.

Drawing was added to relate the shapes somewhat whilst trying to keep a balance of positive and negative space. I regretted that I had cut, rather than torn some shapes when cropping.

This has now completely lost any iconography of a garden. I can find a landscape within this, with an exciting sky, if rather literal land.

I like the idea of making very big marks for a very big sky.

Turning back to the garden, I made an even more gestural sketch.

Drawing on newspaper which I have previously used as worktop protection whilst painting, was really useful as a device for loosing representation. A stick with ink is great for creating a gestural, inexact mark. Once again, I tore this up, glued parts down onto new paper, and added some lines in ink, suggested by my earlier drawings of a tree and climbing rose. Watery, white paint was added to soften tones by making the ink run.

A3, collage, ink and white paint

With the day drawing to a close, I drew three marks on paper, suggested by the garden forms, and then tried to unite them in a composition.

A3, ink and paint

This sketch used carbon stick and white acrylic paint. Mixed on the paper with the paint, it forms a lovely bluish grey.

It felt decadent to spend days experimenting and I came away with an appetite to try painting again, beyond the representational watercolours I used to do years ago. I find workshops really useful for exchanging ideas, freshening up my own, putting into practice the stuff you might know but don’t give yourself time to do but should. It was lovely to meet new artists and look at their work and to be invited into Jane’s home and see her work. I was also grateful for being introduced to the work of Simon Carter and his excellent blog where he discusses the development of work from sketchbook to possibly finished painting with great honesty and humour. This was a very productive couple of days.

American Dream

The current American Dream exhibition at the British Museum is best exhibition of fine art printmaking I have ever seen. I have been to other exhibitions there, such as Picasso’s Vollard Suite  and the Japanese Shunga exhibition, both of which were really enjoyable and informative, but nothing matches the sweep of this exhibition. It looks at recent (since Pop art) and contemporary printmaking in America, with particular focus on how the artists are reflecting their contemporary culture. As you might expect, there are significant works by Rauschenberg and Warhol, but the scope of the works goes far beyond the obvious.

Some of the artists featured just happened to have made some prints and, because they are well known, their prints are included here, but I don’t think the prints inform their oeuvre or that they really exploited the unique possibilities of printmaking. Lichtenstein, for instance, does his usual stuff and it is indistinguishable from his paintings (though, of course, editioned). They could be giclee photographic prints. Other artists really pushed their work through the medium. For instance, Oldenberg’s etchings clearly relate to his more famous works but are uniquely themselves and Jasper John’s lithographs exploit the way oil based medium lies on the stone and can then be manipulated.

Rauschenberg was supremly inventive with printmaking, combining photographic imagery, lithography and screenprinting, all in the same monumental work. His life sized self-portrait ‘Booster’ (1967) is an object lesson in pushing an experimental approach and combining everything learnt into something new.

Jim Dine exploited the opportunities of printmaking by making a plate for the print ‘Five Paintbrushes’ (1972) and then developing the plate through subsequent ‘states’ to create a sequence of prints. The third state, fourth state and sixth state show how the plate was gradually enriched.

Two other stand-out works were Chuck Close’s colossal mezzotint ‘Keith’ (1972) both for its heroic endeavor (mezzotint is a very painstaking process, and most are, therefore, very small) and for the way he embraced the record of the process. Repeated trial printing reduced the tone around the mouth and exposed the grid system he used, and he chose to retain, rather than fight, this. The other work was Frank Stella’s ‘Cone’ (1987), a very large screenprint or a black shape, almost completely filling the canvas, with gently curved edges echoing his sculptures. The black shape is full of dense, raised, glutinous texture created by forcing oil paint stick through a silk screen; more inventiveness via the printmaking process.

In addition to the artists you would expect to be represented, there where many I was interested to be introduced to such as Kara Walker, Kiki Smith and the exquisite woodcuts of Veja Celmins. There were others whose work I love and was delighted to find represented here such as Louise Bourgeois and Julie Mehretu. Women are increasing represented in the exhibition as the time line progresses.

If, of the hundred’s of wonderful prints, I could take one home it might be Eric Fischl’s ‘Year of the Drowned Dog’ (1985). This series of etchings is full of the glittery light of the west coast and the sparkling colours familiar from a Hockney painting. There is mystery in the possible narrative around the body of the dog and the groups of people. From a technical point of view, the combination of techniques (aquatint, soft ground etching, scrapping and drypoint) to achieve the rich tones and then the outstanding inking make this a printmaking tour de force. The  six prints  can be combined in different ways to vary the narrative and I would never get bored of rearranging and enjoying this work.

This is undoubtedly the best exhibition of prints I have ever seen, and I think it may well be the best I will ever see.

 

Drawing Workshop at the British Museum

Yesterday, I was privileged to join a study day organised by OCA  in conjunction with the Bridget Riley Foundation. The Foundation’s Project Officer at the Museum had again selected an interesting group of about 12 drawings, on the theme of environment and landscape, for us to examine in detail and draw from. She gave an excellent introduction to the works and their relevance to their time and to each other.

The works we looked at are listed below, together with my quick sketches:

Artist: Barbara Hepworth
Subject: St Rèmy: Mountains and Trees I, 1933
Media: Graphite on paper

It was interesting to feel how her marks started much tighter and more controlled at on the left and became freer moving to the right. Some of the loopy contour lines are repeated for the right foreground and the hills in the background, and that feels almost like a signature, a line completely natural to her.

Artist: Frank Auerbach
Subject: Study for ‘Another Tree in Mornington Crescent’, 2007 
Media: Charcoal, coloured crayon, felt tip pen

I really wish that I had had coloured pencils with me to try and record how he used colour to record density of mass. Here, I have tried to use weight of line for the same purpose, but, of course, he used both. I really like the way both Auerbach and Kokoschka used coloured pencils; I explored this a bit in Drawing 1 and must revisit it.

Artist: Thomas Girtin
Subject: Eidometropolis (Blackfriars bridge and St Paul’s), 1800-1801
Media: Pen and brown ink, with watercolour; squared for enlargement

 

 

Artist: Henry Moore
Subject: Shelter sketchbook
Media: Pen and black ink and graphite, with wax crayon and watercolour

Artist: Paul Signac
Subject: Still life with bowl of fruit,1926
Media: Charcoal and watercolour

 

Artist: Jan Breughel the Elder
Subject: A tazza-shaped vase with flowers tumbling over the bowl, 1583-1625
Media: Pen and brown ink, with brown wash

In both the Breughel and Snyder drawings (Snyder being a pupil of Breugel’s) are, at first glance very detiled, controlled and representational, but close observation of details shows how gestural, free and assured their drawing was.

Artist: Gabriel de Saint-Aubin
Subject: The interior of the artist’s studio, 1780
Media: Black chalk

Artist: Frans Snyders
Subject: Game and fruit, 1594-1657
Media: Pen and brown ink, over black chalk

Artist: John Napper
Subject: Dried plants, 1958 (no image available)
Media: Black and pink chalk, touched with bodycolour and white

Artist: Eugène Louis Boudin
Subject: Groups of figures near Planches, Trouville, 1866
Media: Graphite, with watercolour

Artist: Vincent van Gogh
Subject: La Crau from Montmajour, France, May 1888
Media: Brown ink drawing over black chalk

This is an immense, unbelievably detailed drawing, in ink, using a variety of nibs. The foreground looks like a reed pen used very freely and the far distance is very fine, precise marks using, I imagine, a fine steel nib. Then chalk under-drawing can be seen. He has put, if possible, even more detail into the distance than the foreground. I find the drawing of the train naive compared to the rest with less well observed perspective and proportions. This may of been because he could only observe it briefly as it passed, or that he was consciously or unconsciously recording how discordant he found it in the environment. 

Artist: Margaret Stones
Subject: “Helianthus Annuus” drawn at Kew Gardens, 1973 (no image available)
Media: Graphite and watercolour

Meticulous, scientific record drawings.

Subjects which were touched on in the discussions included the different purposes which drawing and making studies can have, how sketching on location effects choice of size and media, the differences in ways of looking before and after the invention of photography, and how different artists approached the analysis and portrayal of mass.

I found it particularly useful to discuss how, as an artist, I might approach copying a work and the different things I might be trying to explore and understand by doing so. For instance, I might be trying to understand their choices about weight of line or how marks are used to build mass. Our guide advocated copying a work multiple times, copying details, copying lots of works by the same artist, copying, copying and copying to understand and appreciate.

It was a real privilege to see and examine these works close up, especially the Van Gogh.  My personal favourites were the Signac and the Auerbach but everyone enjoyed being introduced to the work of John Napper.

After the study visit, I decided to visit the current exhibition ‘The American Dream‘ looking at contemporary and modern printmaking in American, and which I have written about here.

 

Exhibition – Rodin Drawings

I was excited at the prospect of this exhibition at The Courtauld because I had been enthralled by Rodin’s drawings which I discovered whilst studying Sculpture 1 and it is unusual to find an exhibition concentrating on a sculptor’s working models and drawings rather than final works.

The central element of the small exhibition is a series of small plaster models which he had cast from clay forms which he made. These are rather like the traditional artists wooden model in that he made a pointing arm, say, and had multiple copies of it made which he then combined with different other body parts to create small figurines in different poses. This gave some of the figures a rather peculiar look but others a rather abstract one.

The exhibition was in two small rooms, lined with his drawings. These included some drawn from the models but also life drawings with his famous drawings of Cambodian dancers the most interesting. These were executed during performance with a hand, say, drawn in multiple positions as the dance progressed.

He added to the sense of mood and movement of his drawings with later additions of watercolour. I was surprised to learn that he also collaged them, in this example, two separate sketches together to make a new arrangement.

Ultimately, I was disappointed in this exhibition as I felt the drawings on show were some of his poorer works and many did not have the excuse of being relevant to the models. The exhibition did include. one small sculpture of Nijinski, which was exquisite.

Normally I enjoy sketching in exhibitions, but on this occasion my dominant hand was in a splint and drawing was a frustrating experience as I had no fine control over my pen or pencil. Here are my poor efforts.

rodin-1-of-6 rodin-2-of-6 rodin-3-of-6 rodin-4-of-6 rodin-5-of-6 rodin-6-of-6

 

 

Research – Meaningful Materials, Iron and Ice

Iron

I have been considering the symbolism of colour and medium in drawing. In an earlier work, I used clay as a drawing medium with its connotations of place and geology. I have also used carbon sticks and charcoal,  carbon being a basic element of life but also being a relic of fire. I would like to consider fire as a drawing medium and am considering how I can safely and effectively do that.

Iron is also a basic element of life. Its ability to readily oxide allows it to transport oxygen around a body. It is also one of the elements created in stars. When astronomers detect iron in the spectrum of a star, they know that its years are limited and that it will soon (relatively) die in a supernova explosion. In the past I have printed with rust but I wanted to try drawing with it. I collected filings from my husband’s grinding machine (he builds steam engines) and applied these to  a small paper sample which had been dampened with lemon juice.

music-1-of-43

The lemon juice dried before it had any effect, so my next sample used distilled vinegar.

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Design ideas and first samples and notes in sketchbook

As a design, I tried drawing the suggestion of a figure, which relates to the themes I am exploring in my parallel project. This is rather like the Turin Shroud of Anthony Gormley’s oil body prints. The design isn’t very clear; the paper has been flooded with fluid too much.

music-3-of-43

Trying to control the spread of iron mould, I used less fluid and left the image to develop longer. Here I have returned to the Zen Enso design which relates to completeness but also imperfection. I have added two other marks, one inside and one outside the form, seeing this as an extension of the dichotomy of presence and absence within or beyond the void.

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Enso, rust, A3

Although I used less fluid, I still used enough to cause run off. The rust has almost formed a crust on the paper but it is completely integrated with it. After developing, the paper was soaked to remove the vinegar and and particles of iron which did not shake off. The rust was undisturbed by soaking. In this next experiment, I used even less fluid and left the filings overnight. This has produced an even stronger stain.

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Abstract form, rust, A3

I think these two images work well together as a diptych. I used strong Japanese paper which I knew would take repeated soaking because of its long fibres, but even so, a couple of tears occurred during handling and the paper has been hard to press flat.  In fact, trying to press it flat has caused extra wrinkling.

I have considered developing the rust drawings with additions in graphite, ink or paint, but I think that this would appear very contrived.

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Feeling that I was ready to use a better support, I returned to my original design using good quality watercolour paper.

rust-figure-1-of-2

The rust has imprinted completely differently on this support. Less texture has been retained in the dense areas, but a wider variety of marks and range of tone has been achieved. Then figure is clearly represented but is only solid in places. It has defined edges in places but in others melts into the background. The fluid bleed gives the figure life, even perhaps burning or exploding with energy.

rust-figure-2-of-2

Detail

Although I have done rust printing in the past, and I know that it is a popular technique with textile artists such as Alice Fox, I have found very little reference of the internet to anyone drawing with iron. An exception is Esther Solondz who produced very large works using this method. I can see that sprinkling iron is an imprecise drawing medium and so well suited to working large.

These rust drawings combine a meaningful material with texture, colour and soft, complex edges. It is possible to produce bold and simple designs, but complex designs would require working at a much larger scale. The quality of the support is important to withstand the wet process and archival quality is questionable. I suspect, over sufficient time, the rust areas would develop holes in the support which would be really exciting but, ultimately, destructive.

Ice

It snowed this week and I was excited to see if I could use the snow as a drawing medium by combining it with ink or paint. I hoped that I might get marks on the paper like those you see on the edge of glaciers caused by algae and dust or on the edge of geysers caused by minerals.

The snow have frozen over night and was icy and thawing by 9am, but collected a basin of granules. scattered them in arcs over my support and dripped Indian ink into them. I also scattered some ground up charcoal because it would be non-soluble and float on the water, hopefully to the edges.

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I realised that the ice was producing a lot of water. I used a brush to join and spread out the puddles a bit, but instantly wishes I hadn’t, that I had just left the water to do its thing.

I was very disappointed with this as it progressed. The ice produced so much water but slowly enough to buckle the paper in to basins which retained the water. Some interesting edges were achieved, mostly due to the charcoal.

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music-19-of-43music-17-of-43

 

I tried the experiment again, this time with much less ice, with which I mixed a little ink and charcoal.

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This has melted into more interesting shapes but the ink is far too strong and solid. The paper has wrinkled locally again.

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The edges are rather hard and uninteresting, so I have lightly sprayed the paper with water.

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Spraying has made this more interesting but I don’t think it qualifies as drawing with ice and is not at all the effect I was after. Research has revealed that it is possible. This work by Andrew Goldsworthy, using a snowball, is more the sort of thing I was looking for. I suspect the use of a snowball means that it can be removed from the support when it has released the desired amount of water. I had intended to continue this experiment on a much better quality of support, once I had learnt about the parameters, but now the snow has gone for the time being.

These have been extremely interesting experiments with the rust being particularly successful, producing visually exciting results with a repeatable technique.