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After Another Hiatus- The Subsidiary Nature of Drawing

Tent:morgay

Camping at Upper Morgay, Various pencils, ink & w’colour on paper, 21x16cm

When I’m away I never stop drawing; perhaps I’m just keen to remind myself of my own existence.

However, I always consider that the real stuff takes place in the workshop. I’ve obviously now given the lie to my pretence that drawing is some kind of pure, primal activity. What I mean is that it’s good to be back to working for a purpose; that purpose being producing paintings, of course. Implicit in that “purpose” is that painting has a higher status than drawing, which in a way it has: paintings are more hard-wearing, more complex.

Getting going in the workshop has been like pulling teeth, so, rather than mither on about that, I’m going to lay out some of the process.       I know I’ve done something similar before but then I seemed to be working with some kind of direction. In this case I feel I’ve been hacking a trail.

glassfeather1

1st Feather in Glass Drawing, Ink & wash on paper, 18x16cm

Glassfeather2

2nd Feather in Glass Drawing, Ink & gouache on paper, 18x16cm

Glassfeather

3rd Feather in Glass Drawing, Ink, pencil & gouache on paper, 18x16cm

Glassfeather4

4th Feather in Glass Drawing, Ink & wash on paper, 17.5x11cm

Glassfeather5

Tiny Feather in Glass Painting, Oil paint on card, 11x10cm

Glassfeather6

Bigger Feather in Glass Drawing, Pencil on paper, 26.5x24cm

Glassfeather8

Feather in Glass 1, Oil paint on board, 24×22.5cm

Glassfeather7

Feather in Glass 2, Oil paint on panel, 33x30cm

It’s useful laying these out. It makes me aware that the more a painting develops (and mine tend to develop through the process of repetitive drawing rather than layering, as if all the layers are left visible at the finish) the more it becomes independent from its source. Whereas the drawings delineate and refer only to their subject, paintings offer much more. All paintings refer not just to the immediate but to every other painting and to the strange state between object and image. They give  something of emotion and otherness. Perhaps all that is, after all, is pleasure.

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After the Hiatus

Well, there has been a bit of a gap, due to finishing, framing and hanging work. So now I’m  stepping back from trying to impress people and attempting to persuade them that I truly believe that what I make will give pleasure for years to come and is worth parting with hard-earned cash to acquire.

Mole1

1st Dead Mole (delivered by cat) 19.6.93   Crayon & watercolour on paper   21x17cm

 Instead, for a week or so, I’m  going to think about drawing again- the engine that drives the painting; that reminds me of where I am; that lays down the moments, line by line. The activity of drawing never stops; it is as onerous and pleasurable, as well as necessary, as eating.

Mole2

2nd Dead Mole (delivered by cat) 21.6.13   Pencil on paper   21x17cm

This blog was never intended as being all about me or my drawings, So- if anyone wishes to post their drawings, why they draw, what they think about the process and activity of drawing, I’d be more than happy. Drawing is one of those ur activities- I think the impulse to understand the world through graphic means is as powerful as through language.

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Successful Drawing Part 2

Succesful Drawing2

Note book page, ink & pencil, 17x22cm

Drawing & its Relationship with Language (continued)

Richard Gregory in his seminal “Eye & Brain” says “…visual & other perception is intelligent decision making from limited sensory evidence”. And goes on “We now think of the brain as representing (visual perception), rather as the symbols of language represent characteristics of things, although the shapes and sounds of of language are quite different from whatever is being represented. Language requires rules of grammar (syntax) and meanings of symbols (semantics). Both seem necessary for processes of vision: though its syntax and semantics are implicit, to be discovered by experiment.”

I like the “limited sensory evidence”. The human eye is not that great an information gatherer in comparison to some other species.  But what we do lack in optical quality we make up for in processing power.

If we accept that a baby, new born, is adrift in a sea of sensations, unmapped; that understanding only comes about by relating one visual sensation against another and that that can only take place within the context of the memory of all previous sensations; then we have to accept that visual perception can only take place within a framework, a system where sensation interacts with memory, with relationships,  with everything else in an individuals life.

This is where the visual, and more especially visual representation,  develops something akin to language. Representation can  be said to have a syntax: edge, centre, soft, sharp, strong, faint, pattern etc. And it is easy to see that visual representation can be a carrier for meaning in ways formal and symbolic.

But does the visual operate through  an actual “language”?

Language pre-supposes at least a two way exchange. Originally between child and carer; between child and other children and so on. Language starts with a social exchange and develops into enabling conciousness and thought- it could be said to exist on the surface of the mind, where the discrete individual interacts with others.

The visual, on the other hand, is initially private. Seeing is the processing of information going directly into the dark space of the brain. Although influenced by social interchange, one does not need anyone else to learn to see; this is achieved, as stated above, through experiment.

Gregory also says “Two and a half millennia ago Greek philosophers thought that light shoots out of the eyes, to touch objects as probing fingers”. Anyone who draws knows that there is a truth in this. We probe and test, try out and criticise the results of our inadequate foray into the outside world; then return with the knowledge gained to try again, this time to try better.

Language, as words, is great and I love all forms of writing, I love talking (too much). But I get weary of the ability it too often gives to dissemble, to evade and obscure. More than anything it’s disgust at the dishonest rubbish I talk sometimes.

This is where I find drawing so unique, so exciting. Despite visual representation being  a social act, the visual is nevertheless  secret, dark, unknown. This is where drawing becomes so important as ,despite (perhaps, because of) it’s inadequacies and stuttering inaccuracies, it manages to reveal so much about the mysterious inner workings of another’s being. And, honestly done, provides access to an experience of a world you’ve never seen yourself.

MorandiFiori

Giorgio Morandi Flowers, 1959, pencil & watercolour, 22x21cm

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Successful Drawing Part 1

Succesful Drawing

Drawing & its Relationship with Language

Drawing, to be successful, must operate at a sub- or sur- linguistic level. By that I mean, in order, for example, to draw a cup on a table we must forget what is “table”; we must forget what is “cup”. Otherwise what drawing becomes is merely a process of placing a series of signs or symbols onto the surface of the paper. We might as well save ourselves a lot of trouble and say in words “here’s a cup, here’s a table. The cup is on the table”. I hope it’s not too obvious  to state that a cup seen at 3 o’clock of a sunny afternoon is not the same as the identical seen at 2 in the morning by candle light.

Jorge Louis Borges wrote  about just such inadequacies of language,  its inability to give a true rendering of the world and how it might be made more accurate in “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins “. It really is a fantastic piece of writing and I would recommend anyone to read it more than once. But Borges, at the end, admits language’s failure in a quote from G K Chesterton:

“He knows that there are in the soul tints more bewildering, more numberless, and more nameless than the colours of an autumn forest… Yet he seriously believes that these things can every one of them, in all their tones and semitones, in all their blends and unions, be accurately represented by an arbitrary system of grunts and squeals”.

The world, in all it’s complexity, is literally indescribable. Any means of description is ultimately doomed to inaccuracy and error and language can be seen as only  a  crude system of signs, useful for providing information and assigning status amongst members of our species but ultimately alienating. This is where I would privilege observation and graphic representation over words. And why I’ll continue this in a second part and try to deal with some of the implications.

Cezanne chair

Paul Cezanne, graphite & watercolour on paper, 47x30cm

I haven’t heard hide nor hair about the fate of any folding sketch-books for a while. It’d be nice to know if they’re still out there. That’s all.

Actually as I was writing, an email arrived from Ruth McCabe with the next instalment from book three which is on here. I’m really looking forward to seeing at least one of these books completed. I’ll post Ruth’s drawing in the next day or so, so if it’s not there now it will be.

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Quietly Great

In a comment on the last post Chris Murray brought up the ghosts of Williams Etty & Orpen and it’s been bugging me to the point that I’ve not been able to write anything since. However  being bugged is good- it shifts the ice pack in my brain.

In the take it or leave it stakes I’m definitely for leaving Etty: slick, salacious and pornographic. But Orpen‘s a very different painter, objective, warm & humorous. Last year Tate Liverpool had a wonderful show of 20th Century drawing called Tracing the Century and, for me, one of the high spots was a group of anatomy teaching drawings by the man. They were assured, informative and, above all, impressive as large (big!) pieces of performative drawing.What’s more they felt utterly modern, of now as much as of the early 20th century.

Anatomical Study, Male Torso c.1906 by Sir William Orpen 1878-1931 William Orpen, Male figure, Chalk on paper, 112x80cm  1906

Orpen was a contemporary of William Nicholson (Ben’s more talented dad and a real favourite of mine),  and Henry Tonks.

Tonks was a remarkable character. Trained originally as a surgeon he taught painting at the Slade school between the late 1890’s and the outbreak of the first world war, when he returned to medicine. At the end of the war he produced a remarkable series of pastel drawings (in the Gillies Archive) of soldiers with facial injuries and the subsequent reconstruction.

tonks FoBHenry Tonks, Pastel drawings, c1918

There is no sense of subjectivism here; individualistic expression or lack of attention would not only be an insult but render the purpose of these drawings redundant. They are a very modern record of the results of modern industrialised warfare and are as fresh and as relevant to conflicts today as they were then.

Tonks went back to the Slade after the war and became professor of painting. He taught Stanley Spencer,  Gwen & Augustus John, David Bomberg and William Coldstream amongst many others.

Tonks, Nicholson and Orpen were people of their time, late Victorians and Edwardians, confident and certain in the idea of objectivity, that there is really only one true way of seeing the world.  At the same time they were aware of and being  influenced by the work of the French realists, the impressionists and Cezanne and others.

There was a quiet greatness about these painters but ( and this is where I become uncertain) I am not sure that it is possible to work in this way to the same effect today. All artists are made by their times and circumstances. A realist (such as  J-F Millet or Courbet) working in France in the mid 19thC would have had a whole range of ideological and social concerns driving their work; Edwardian painters in London would have had another set of social & economic influences.

Since then the main thrust of artistic discourse has been away from description and towards investigating how art interacts with ideas (doesn’t it always, anyway?): cubism, surrealism,  Duchamp; into the post World War 2 years, when the (expressionistic)USA played out its ideological opposition to the (stuffy & socialist realist) USSR in a series of individualistic gambits about “freedom”. I over simplify but, along with all that and the accompanying technological changes, it’s no wonder that the same drawing done in 1906 will have a totally different meaning to one done in 2013.

We live, so I’ve been told, in a plural culture where all artistic positions are relevant. That doesn’t mean anyone will take any notice, however, and it might seem that the only arbiter of worth is the market. But I do know that every time someone takes up a pencil with serious intent and concentration they will make a drawing which is of that specific moment and that particular place and has just as much chance of reaching out to another human conciousness as the drawings of Orpen & Tonks.

(I have just discovered how to do links- I do hope it adds something)

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Drawing towards Painting

`Begin at the beginning,’ the King said gravely, `and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’ 

I still have the feeling that drawing is subordinate to painting, a precursor, a preparation. A tutor  at college, when confronted with dozens of my preparatory drawings, said something like “are they like training exercises for the 100 metre dash of  painting?”.

A few years later I had a conversation/ argument with a (sort of) eminent painter (me and eminence don’t rub up together that often, it raising feelings somewhere between that of fear and boredom). He insisted that  the activities of drawing and  painting were essentially the same whereas I thought that there is a difference of intention and execution between the two. I still think that. A painting is a  container of a rich mix of emotion and context; in some mysterious way  connected to all other paintings. Whereas a drawing is connected only to the perceived world for a finite period, an investigation of how we are placed in relation to its objects.

I can’t talk for anyone else so here’s a  recent (incomplete) series of drawings and one painting. It is part of an ongoing group of studies and paintings that never gets to an end but has frequent pauses. All I can say is that the painting, however slight or quickly executed, relies on the density of information gained through the drawings.

Is this a stupid way to work? It’s the only one that gives me satisfying results and I have a suspicion many other painters go through an equally tortuous, if not similar process.

Snails1

1.Drawing, pencil on paper, 21x16cm

Snails2

2.Drawing, ink on paper, 24x22cm

Snails3

3.Snail Shells & Lenses, watercolour on paper, 21×18.5cm

Snails4

4.Snail Shells & Lenses, watercolour, 23×20

Snails5

5.Snail Shells & Lenses, watercolour on paper, 23x20cm

Snails5a

6.Snail Shells & Lenses, oil paint on card, 22x20cm

Snails6

7.Snail Shells & Lenses, oil paint on panel, 35x31cm

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The best drawing in the world

ThenThouLines

Sol LeWitt Ten Thousand Lines, 5″ long, Within a 7″ square  1971  Pencil on paper (28.5 x 28.5cm)

I saw this at an exhibition of Sol LeWitt’s drawings at Leeds city art gallery in 1991 and have been captivated by it ever since. I can’t get over how an artist can get so much information and reference within something so visually simple. In part it is a commentary on all drawing, the endless process of defining space by grubby marks on processed wood pulp. But there’s an image here, of a man sitting at a desk repeating the same action over and over, not as obsession but as an act of discipline. There’s reference to Malevich’s Black Square on a White Ground but this time alluding  to its own making. Or perhaps LeWitt’s drawing represents only itself, where Black Square was a image of spiritual truth. There is also something of action art, in our being presented with the result of a such an obviously long, repetitive and arduous process, but pared down, without the histrionics of the abstract expressionists.

I sometimes think of Sol LeWitt’s process as over clever and emotionally cold but I’m also surprised at how often I’m encouraged while drawing by the obstinacy of this piece  and I’m reminded of the physicality and materiality of all  actions.

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