Friday, 26 February 2010

on breathing II

I breathe shallowly, from habit. Rarely do I draw a breath of air deep into my lungs and feel its force enter my body like a tide. When I do the experience is electrifying, and a sense of lightness overtakes me. One can imagine being so filled with air that one would float away, like a balloon, way up high.
I wrote that I wished that making art could be as simple and elemental as breathing, that images would flow forth as air eases out of the lungs, as much a part of one's functioning as drawing and releasing breath. But the process of making art, like the process of breathing, has to be learnt. One has to learn how to breathe. And having learnt, one must exercise, drawing deep breaths as well as habitual shallow breaths which do little to invigorate the body. Breathing deeply takes effort, the rib cage expands reluctantly at first; it is only after holding one's breath for a short while before releasing it slowly, that one experiences that euphoric lightness.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

on breathing

Every so often, when making work, one experiences the thrill that I wrote of previously. When I look upon some of the drawings I have made, I experience a rush of pleasure, and disbelief. Every so often, a piece will go well, and the finished drawing will have a sense of rightness, as though it could not have been made in any other way. The drawings that possess this quality are rare. I wish that making art was as simple and elemental as breathing. But breathing has to be learnt.

revised position 2006

This drawing is entitled "revised position", and was made in 2006.
Buried in the earth near the lodge where my partner and I lived were the remains of destroyed outhouses; we found, and unearthed, a good many bricks, slates and pieces of terracotta roof tiles.
The drawing was made by embossing damp paper with a fragment of slate, so that it left an imprint, and traces of earth. I inadvertently moved the slate slightly, so that there are two outlines. That is why the drawing is titled as it is. When the paper was dry, I drew into the surface with graphite and coloured pencils, disturbing the traces of earth as little as possible. I made many such drawings, but this, and one other, are the best of them, most of the others have been destroyed.
This drawing has emotional content for me. I remember making it, the excitement of experimentation, and a thrill at the result, when I lifted the slate from the paper, and saw what had been left behind.

Monday, 22 February 2010

on dust and drawing

Today I managed to clean the house, and then empty the bag of the vacuum cleaner, which had been needing emptying for some time. As usual I am astonished at the amount of soft grey dust packed into the bag. It occurs to me to wonder if I could use it as a drawing material, but I would think that the acid content is rather high, which would eventually compromise the drawing paper. Despite the minimal, fragile and ephemeral nature of my drawings, I nevertheless take care that they are made on acid free, buffered watercolour paper, and I rest my hand on a piece of linen as I work, so I touch the paper as little as possible. I store them between sheets of acid free tissue paper and try to use in their making only materials having a high degree of permanence. The use of wax crayon and felt tip meant a departure from those strictures, and I have no idea how these materials will age. I imagine that the felt tip will lose its brightness, and that the individual colours will assume a brown homogeneity. I hope that the wax crayon retains its bright, soft colours.
The dust from the hoover bag is wonderfully fine, and of an even mid grey. It coats my hands as I empty the bag.
Motivating myself to clean the house, or to do anything at all, is a Hercluean task.
This is indeed a difficult period. I find it painful to try and make decisions, as I cannot trust myself. This makes drawing well nigh impossible. Much of the time I question myself as to why I should continue to attempt to make art at all. Depression saps one of joy, wraps one in a shroud of doubt, and loss of hope.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

on being unable to make work

It is February, and I am unable to make work, a state of affairs that began in November 2009, and has continued throughout the Winter. I have made some scribbles, and did make four drawings of rows of tiny black, leafless trees, but I am afraid that they are not good , and have consigned them to the bottom of the boxes where I store my drawings. It is all I can do to refrain from cutting them up, my usual practice with drawings that are not successful.
The voice of experience tells me that this painful period will pass, even if it takes months to do so. At present my mind is as barren as a desert, utterly devoid of ideas, and confounded by the quality of ideas and expression I see in the work of others. It is during these periods that I descend on previous works with a vengance, seeing in them only inadequacy, or paucity of expression and technique, and I commit acts of destruction. At these times I am consumed by self distrust, and reduce to nothing drawings that I am embarrassed at having made, unable to see good or bad, with any degree of trustworthy judgment.
I have exhibited little over the years, and my drawings remain in their boxes, unframed, unseen except by myself, and occasionally members of my family. It seems to me increasingly that I draw for reasons that are entirely private. My works embrace only the personal; narrow in terms of the scope of ideas they engage with. I might describe them as tentative expressions, using fragile materials, and cautious methods; I cannot bring myself to draw directly on the surface of the paper without an intervening means, such as the tissue paper drawings.
I find my drawings eccentric, and odd, the suspension of images in a sea of white paper, for example, without context or other content, without reference points or clues as to how they may be read.
I am concerned with making only the barest intervention and impact in terms of the images I produce, and the means by which I produce them. I find myself unwilling to use photography and photographic processes any longer, as I am anxious about the impact on the environment that these processes effect. I have attemptemted to reduce the effect that I have to the minimum, yet am seduced by pastels, and wax crayons, and coloured pencils. I have used, with the delight I felt as a child, felt tips, and permanent markers, and watercolours. It is difficult to remain aescetic.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Differentiation 2007

This drawing is entitled "differentiation", and was made like the mensis Ianarius drawings, in the early part of 2007, although a little later. It is intended to be quietly humorous, the two slightly different forms of the trees possibly suggesting male and female. The drawing is made, as were the previous drawings , using a stencil, which again took its inspiration from a "Magic Crystal Garden" kit, although this time a kit comprising just a conifer, or Christmas tree and the sachet of fluid. As before, the two tree forms are made so that they slot together, resulting in a three dimensional tree. The idea of male and female forms came to mind, not necessarily to do with how the two became one, but how they appeared when separated. In this drawing differentiation does not suggest prejudice, or exclusion, but distinct and unchangeable difference of form and function.
The drawing is made from graphite powder, pastel and graphite pencil.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

mensis Ianarius II 2007

This is the drawing entitled "mensis Ianarius II", and was made, like the previous drawing, in the month of January 2007. In this drawing, the green shows above, the darker brown below, a reversal of the previous drawing.
January shows two faces, the demanding countenance of Winter, and the yet chill, but promising one of the turn of the season. There are days, few though they are, when the sun shines brilliantly from a sky of peerless blue, and the breeze bears the scents of Spring.
On such days one draws air deep into the lungs and hope arises like water from a spring.
At the time that these drawings were made, I was living with my partner in a 1920's gamekeeper's lodge on a hill in rural Hampshire. I remember still, a January day of blue sky, and castle clouds, and sweeping air, the sound of the skylark carrying on the wind.
This drawing was made, as was "mensis Ianarius I", from a stencil within which was applied graphite powder, and crumbled pastels. The image was then drawn into with graphite pencil.

mensis Ianarius I 2007

This is a detail of a drawing entitled " mensis Ianarius I", meaning the month of January. It is one of two drawings.
It was made, appropriately enough, in January, 2007, and was inspired by the appearance of trees in the early part of the year, often blackened with rain above, and seemingly lifeless. It is below the soil that life begins, when the sap starts to rise in the months of Spring. In January all is dormant; we have only remembered experience and hope, to sustain us through the difficult early months of the year.
This drawing shows the form of the tree to be dark above, yet green below, the green may be read as a promise of new life to come.
The drawings were made using a stencil, the shapes of the trees taken from the cut- out paper trees that come with a childrens' toy, a "Magic Crystal Garden" kit. The kit comprises a plastic tray, upon which paper shapes of a mountain ( Mount Fuji), trees, and shark toothed rows of grasses are to be set, and sachets of Potassium Phosphate held in solution. The sachets are poured into recesses in the tray, and within hours crystals appear to "grow" on the boughs of the trees, on the tips of the grasses, and on the slopes of the mountain as these soak up the liquid. The paper cut-outs are pre-dyed with coloured inks, thus influencing the colours of the resulting crystals. The cut-outs have a charm and simple beauty, the trees are themselves lovely objects, in two pieces, one of which slots into the other so that they become three dimensional. I made a stencil by drawing around them, one above the other. Graphite powder and crumbled pastels were applied within the stencil and rubbed against the edges. I then drew into the image with graphite pencil.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

untitled volcano drawing

This drawing is untitled and was made in October 2009. It is, for the present, the last drawing in the volcano series, although I made four drawings afterwards, I destroyed each one of them.
It would be possible to imagine "Mons Quies" as being the last in the series, as though time and weather had softenend the outline of the volcano prtrayed in this drawing, clothing its slopes with vegetation and crowning its summit with snow, thereby presenting a final phase in geological evolution. I have, however, presented the drawings in order of their making, following a different chronolgy, one which allows for the presentation of the evolution of thought, which is not straightforward in terms of logical progression. It is not clear either, whether this volcano is no longer active, or if , like in an earlier drawing, there are unspent forces within.
The drawing is made from wax crayon, and graphite pencil.

Friday, 5 February 2010

untitled blue volcano drawing 2009

This drawing remains untitled, although I refer to it as the blue volcano drawing. That is because the snows covering the lower slopes of the mountain are tinted blue, as though rendered in the early light of a clear morning. The staining around the summit indicates that the volcano has been active recently enough to mark the snow with ashy debris. As with previous drawings, the shape of the mountain is suspended in an expanse of white paper, without the context of surrounding landscape.
The drawing was made in the Autumn of 2009, following the obscured rainbow drawings. It was one of three drawings of volcanoes, one of which I regrettably destroyed. The destroyed drawing returns to my mind with pain. It is impossible to recreate lost drawings. The loss is permanent. It is a necessary part of ones practice to remove work that is not good, that fails to satisfy, but the destruction of that particular drawing, and some others causes me deep regret.

Mons Quies (calm mountain drawing) 2009

This is the drawing entitled "Mons Quies", and is the drawing for which my blog was named. "Mons quies " is the Latin for "calm mountain". It was made, like the previous drawing, "thought to be extinct", in the early summer of 2009, again, in a matter of hours.
The mountain is quiescent, having no volcanic crater to spill forth erupted material. The lower slopes are clothed with vegetation. Snow appears to lie on the summit and higher slopes.
It is not the portrait of a real mountain, none of the volcano drawings are. Rather it is fashioned after a drawn image, repeated throughout most of the series of drawings, influenced originally by the profile of Cotopaxi as seen in an engraving, but not an exact portrayal of that mountain. It is a mountain of the imagination, an attempt to chart the difficult terrain of a mental landscape.
The drawing was made using a transferred wax image, then drawn over and into with graphite pencil.

thought to be extinct 2009

This is a drawing entitled "thought to be extinct". It was made in the early summer of 2009, after a gap of several months since the previous volcano drawings made in the winter of 2008. It took only a matter of hours from conception to completion, as did the two previous drawings. I find that a characteristic of my working practice is its inconsistency. There will be a painful pause, during which time I may try to make work, often only to destroy it, then a drawing , or several drawings will be produced in a short space of time. There follows afterwards a repetition of that painful pause which may be of weeks or months in duration.
This drawing was made using an image drawn in wax on tissue paper, transferred as before onto drawing paper, then crumbled pastel was applied and rubbed into the surface, using a stencil to delineate the edges. The image was then drawn into with graphite pencil.
I wished to suggest the beginning of fire after a period of quiescence, during which time all activity had been believed to be over. The drawing thus may be read symbolically.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

untitled volcano drawing 2008

This is the second of the two volcano drawings made in the last months of 2008. Like the previous drawing it was made first in wax crayon on tissue paper, and the image transferred to drawing paper, whereupon I drew into the surface with graphite pencil.
The drawing represents a cross section of a volcano beginning to erupt burning magma. It was made some eighteen months after the thumbnail sketch I first made in 2007, when beginning work on the volcano series, and has much in common with that sketch. I feel that it also shares a naivete with that and the other volcano drawings.
It was made on the same day as the previous drawing, one winter afternoon when I was alone, both drawings happening quite quickly.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

untitled volcano drawing 2008

This drawing was one of two made in 2008, resuming work on the volcano series of drawings,both of which remaining untitled. It was drawn freely in wax crayon onto tissue paper, the image then transferred by the simple expedient of placing the tissue paper face down onto a sheet of drawing paper, and drawing over the reverse of the image with graphite pencil so as to leave an imprint of wax. I then drew into the transferred image with graphite pencil.
It was obviously influenced by the earlier drawings, but I had not referred to them or consciously brought them to mind when I was making this drawing. It was made during the time that I was working on the rainbow drawings, difficult months of darkness and fatigue.

dust cloud Cotopaxi 2007

This is a drawing of Cotopaxi, during an eruption of dust, taken from an engraving of that occurrence made by Mr Whymper, and originally published in "Travels in the Great Andes of the Equator".
The engraving is beautiful, minimal and entirely expressive of a peculiar phenomenon observed by Mr Whymper whilst he was some sixty miles away, ascending Chimborazo in the 1800's. In the brightness of early morning Cotopaxi emitted a "column of inky blackness", which issued forth with such "prodigious velocity that in less than a minute it had arisen 20,000 feet above the rim of the crater" ( this quoted in "The Story of Our Planet", from Mr Whymper's own book). The column then seemed to be influenced by an easterly air current, and was "rapidly borne towards the Pacific; remaining intensely black, seeming to spread very slightly", before being taken by a Northerly air current which caused it to drift towards Chimborazo, by which time it had spread to fall on Chimborazo's snows. Apparently, the dust cloud had travelled for about seven and a half hours before its descent.
The engraving from which I made this drawing is sparse, elegant, and visually compelling. I made a stencil of the shape of the mountain cone, and the issuing dust cloud, applying graphite powder and crumbled pastel within the stencil, and rubbing it towards the edges. I have exaggerated the shape of the cone, and shortened the stream of air borne dust, and made the whole very black.
The image is isolated within an expanse of white paper, devoid of any connection, or context. It was made in 2007.

Cotopaxi from San Rosario

This is a detail of an engraving of the volcano Cotopaxi in Ecuador, by Mr Whymper, taken from the book "The Story of Our Planet", as noted previously. It was originally published in Mr Whymper's own book, "Travels in the Great Andes of the Equator", for which I do not yet have the publication dates.
Mr Whymper enjoyed an intimate relationship with the mountain Cotopaxi, spending "a night on the cone just below the summit", and also being able to look down into the crater. This according to T.G.Bonney, in "The Story of Our Planet", chapter II, page 260-261.
Cotopaxi is the "highest active volcano in the world", and "situated about thirty geographical miles south-east of Quito" ("The Story of Our Planet", page 259)
Mr Whymper's own account, quoted in "The Story of Our Planet", is beautifully and graphically written. His description of the interior of the crater speaks of "Cavernous recesses" within, and "the pipe of the volcano, its channel of communication with lower regions, filled with incandescent, if not molten lava, glowing and burning ; with flames travelling to and fro over its surface, and scintillations scattering as from a wood fire..." He writes of the mountain blowing off steam in violent gouts, "The noise on these occasions resembled that which we hear when a large ocean steamer is blowing off steam."
This description, written more than a hundred years ago, captivated me. I wish I had been able to have been there at the time.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

untitled volcano drawing 2007

This is the second drawing from 2007 in the series of volcano drawings, and like the first, remains untitled. It is made from graphite powder, pastel and graphite pencil.
The books that I chose for my initial researches were only two, "The Story of Our Planet", as noted earlier, and a copy of "The Hamlyn Children's Encyclopedia", dating from 1971, given to me as a gift by my grandparents. Within its pages, I found what I was looking for; a coloured illustration of the cross section of a volcano in the first stages of eruption, to inform my own idea. I strove to convey the stillness on the surface, in juxtaposition with the impending explosion within.
I wished the drawing to possess the naivete of childhood, as I felt as though I were in my infancy in terms of understanding the subject matter I was attempting to engage with.

untitled volcano drawing 2007

This drawing was made in 2007, and is the first in a series of drawings of volcanoes. It is made from graphite powder, pastel and graphite pencil. Owing to a hiatus in personal life work on the series was brought to a standstill until the last weeks of 2008, when I was also working on the rainbow drawings.
As with the rainbow drawings, the employment of an archetypal symbol suggested itself to me, as a means to convey fragile states of mind visually.
"Volcanoes are external indications of inward disturbances...." These are the opening words of a chapter on "Volcanic Action and its Effects", from a geology book entitled "The Story of Our Planet", by T. G. Bonney D.Sc., first published in 1893. (I believe that the edition I have is from 1902). There seemed to be no more apt words to describe my own endeavour. However, the volcano drawings may be read symbolically , or not.
The shape of this mountain is taken from the profile of the Ecuadorean mountain, Cotopaxi, and inspired by an engraving in "The Story of Our Planet", by Mr Whymper, originally published in his book, "Travels in the Great Andes of the Equator".

Niagra Falls from Prospect Park by Illumination

The third image from the Niagra Falls series that I have in my possession is entitled "Niagra Falls from Prospect Park by Illumination". On the back of this postcard there is also a text beginning in the same elevated tone as that of the first card; "Exceeds Sun's Brilliance..." and continues "When the new floodlights are marching across the Falls, and resting on either or both of the American and Canadian faces of them, or playing in the mist of spray above them, they are described by beholders as more beautiful than ever the Spray and the Sun combined could make them in the past, or than ever the Moon and the mist could make them. The effect is described as one suggesting that both the Sun and the Aurora Borealis have combined to do their utmost in the creation of a new spectacle."

American Falls of Niagra in Winter

This is an image also taken from a postcard, in the same series as the first. It also has the date 1928 pencilled on the back, and is entitled,"American Falls of Niagra in Winter". A brief text informs us that the falls are "illuminated by one billion c.p. electric searchlights".
As with the firstpostcard, I enjoy the quality of the image; I imagine the original was hand tinted before the edition was printed. It is, by modern standards, decidedly 'low-tech'. Perhaps that is part of the attraction I feel towards it.

American Falls from Canada by Illumination, Niagra

This image is of a postcard dated on the back, in pencil, 1928. It is entitled, "American Falls from Canada by Illumination, Niagra Falls".
It is the photograph itself which I find beautiful, I enjoy the isolation of the colours and forms in the surrounding darkness.
I would not go so far as to agree with the text on the back, which assumes a somewhat arrogant stance and reads; "This new enhancement of America's beauty resources is nothing more than the Falls, under flood lighting for four hours each night. Their own power has been taken from them, brought under the control of man, and then turned back oupon the power creator itself, and we get a new beauty, ten-fold greater than any beauty known at the Falls before man took hold to conquer them for service."

rainbow and hand drawing 2009

This drawing is entitled rainbow and hand drawing. It was made in November 2009, and consists of two sketches on a piece of scrap paper. I came to realise that the smokey image at the bottom of the paper resembled a hand, and that the two images went together as if I had intended them to all along. So the drawing came to be the rainbow and hand drawing.
The drawing is made from felt tip, graphite pencil and wax crayon.
I still remember the joy of receiving a packet of felt tips as a Christmas present when I was a child. They are, in their way, as crude as wax crayons, and yet are similarly capable of great delicacy.

Monday, 1 February 2010

untitled rainbow drawing 2008

This drawing too, is untitled. It was made in the later months of 2008, following discharge from psychiatric hospital. Those months seem to have been shaded by a prevailing darkness. It was, nevertheless a period when several drawings were made, and I also resumed work on a series of drawings of volcanoes, a series begun in 2007.
This drawing is one of the first of the rainbow drawings, followed by the Winter rainbow drawings.
( In July 2010, I changed this drawing, so that I have only a photographic record of it, as seen here, this drawing no longer exists. It has been shrouded in a dark pastel cloud, and is entitled dark rainbow drawing II. It appears as a revised drawing much later, under the entries for August 2010).

untitled rainbow drawing 2009

This drawing also remains untitled, and I cannot remember the time of its making, except that it was around the Summer or Autumn of 2009. It certainly preceded the dark rainbow drawing, therefore must have been made before September 2009. I am familiar with it, yet I do not remember making it. I know that the figure of the double rainbow appeared with the rainbow drawings of 2008. Sometimes the rainbows are close together, and sometimes they appear to be separating from each other, almost as though they were being peeled apart.
For me, a drawing is an interface between the self and the external world, a site where received and processed information is laid down, where the articulation of the imagination takes place.