Sunday, 28 March 2010

on destroying drawings

I cannot bear to keep drawings that are unsuccessful; they remain a constant source of disgust and embarrassment. Earlier in the year, in February, I wrote that I had made four drawings of rows of tiny, black , leafless trees, and that it was all I could do to refrain from cutting them up. Yesterday I retrieved them from the bottom of the boxes where I store my drawings, and looked at them. I was able to recognise them for drawings that I would not feel comfortable to show anyone, much less exhibit, and so I cut them up, salvalging as much unmarked paper as possible. They were poor drawings, in terms of both concept and execution. It is a source of great relief to me to have destroyed them, almost as though they have never been. Sometimes, as I have written, I err, and destroy a drawing for which I have regard, but as my confidence in my own worth as an artist is so precarious, I often find it difficult to distinguish a drawing of any merit from those which I know are unsuccessful.
To destroy an unsuccessful drawing is cleansing, and a kind of release from failure, almost as if the possibility to make better works had been restored with the disappearence of inferior pieces. To destroy a drawing about which one is unsure, to cut a swathe through ones' work, quite literally, without pause, but with an unrelenting sense of purpose, is, however, damaging. Afterwards one's confidence is shaken, and there is hurt from which it takes some time to recover. It is a compulsion, taking hold when one's sense of eqilibrium is disturbed and an unremitting urge to destroy prevails.

on drawing III

I cannot draw the pink cup; it is too difficult. I draw for about two minutes, producing a tentative, disproportioned sketch on the back of an envelope. But my heart is not in the work, I do not wish to draw the cup, and confronted by the task, am forced up against my own limitations and discouraged. I lose hope, and shed tears.
I am obliged to rethink my practice. What do I expect from a drawing? What defines a successful drawing to me? I know that a drawing can be as simple as two lines crossed at intervals by shorter lines, made in chalk on a garden path. I find myself wondering if I could not reproduce those lines in chalk, on paper, or, severed from their context would they still exist as successful drawings? But context was not the sole reason why the lines were successful as drawings in their own right; some sections of our childish railway had a genuine aesthetic presence independent from their purpose. However, I cannot reproduce the relationship of chalk to concrete, on paper, neither can I replicate the proportions of the lines to the path. Would it be possible to make fragile lines in pencil echoing those earlier chalk lines, on paper ? I am afraid to make the attempt.
I feel that I need an object to draw that can funtion symbolically, but I may be mistaken in feeling this. At present I cannot trust my feelings.
My work is not abstract, although it cannot be described as purely figurative, or representational. I do not deal with the problems of composition; in my drawings, the isolation of a figure in an expanse of white paper suggests a struggle with context and composition that I have not come to terms with, and instead avoid, preferring to deal instead with lack of context. I know that my powers of draughting are limited; I have never been able to draw with any great skill, my attempts at life drawing when at Art School, for example, were very poor. I do not have the eye for proportion, or the ability to transfer what I do see to the page. I have a poor comprehension of spatial relationships.
Yet still remains this stubborness to persist in making art, a desire to make drawings that amounts to a need. What is to be done?

Friday, 26 March 2010

on drawing II

Whilst in psychiatric hospital the chalk line drawings were very much in my mind. I felt an acute absence of connectedness with a former self, that was exceedingly painful.
One needs permission from the self to draw. In the case of the chalk line drawings, that permission was granted instead from Patrick himself, issuing from his childhood need for play; play involving a landscape that would offer him the scope he needed for adventure. I was released from the need to ask for permission from myself. An imperative was at work. I was fortunate indeed in having such a close relationship with him, and in possessing a box of pavement chalks, seemingly designed for our purpose.
Whilst making the rainbow drawings, some dozen years after our drawing game, I was again granted the permission to draw, and as my circumstances were far from easy, to be able to draw was a merciful release. (This is not to say that there was a period of a dozen years in which I was unable to make work, I did make drawings during those years, but the rainbow drawings brought me closest to the experience of mark making with Patrick).
I have again lost a sense of connectedness. With the cessation of the rainbow drawings, and of the volcano drawings, my practice has once more come to a close. I do understand that my experience is not unusual; there are, and have been, many artists who experience a break in their work, a period of sterility, when it seems impossible that one may work again. My own working practice has been subject to these enforced breaks when work is impossible, for as long as I can remember. One strives after the feeling of connectedness, it is as though a vital part of oneself is missing. I cannot yet gain permission to begin drawing again. The thought of following the instruction from Mary Potter, "Draw all the time..." is daunting in the extreme. I take coloured crayons in a fistful and scribble furiously on tissue paper, but there is no answer there.
Perhaps it would be possible to take an object from one's surroundings, something used each day, and make a drawing from that?
The most intimate object I have, at present , is a small porcelain cup, from which I drink coffee every day. It is pink on the outside, and creamy white on the inside, bearing on the inside a delicate painting of a small bouquet of flowers. If I were to follow the words of Mary Potter, I must surely attempt to make a drawing of the cup, in pencil, with care. I hesitate. I am afraid of such a committment. It is easier to write about fear, than it is to attempt a drawing with the possibility of failure.

on drawing

I rediscovered drawing, after a break of several years, in the most delightful fashion whilst playing with my youngest nephew, who was then only three or four years old. ( He is now almost fifteen).
We devised a game, which came to be known as "chalk lines", and was played on the long paths of my parents back garden. The chalk lines were drawings of railway lines, made in children's chalks, upon which we ran his small die-cast metal toy locomotives and carriages. The lines would stretch from one end of the garden just outside the house to the bottom of the garden and were beautiful, spidery drawings. I made a number of polaroid images during those times, some in black and white, showing the delicacy of the white lines against the aged concrete path, and some of Patrick himself. Two of the latter I have especial affection for; they show Patrick, crouched double on the path in the manner of the very young, busily engaged in covering paving stones with a mass of white chalk, his interpretation of a blizzard, or 'whiteout', through which hazzard we were to manoevre his engines and carriages.
The practice of drawing thus with Patrick was stimulating, and invigorating, but I was not able to further the experience or develop a practice of drawing for myself.
Why was it not possible for my drawing practice to have grown from the chalk lines on the garden path? Those drawings are severed from my present experience as though they had been made by another person.
The closest I have to those childish lines, are the drawings of rainbows, made many years hence, and expressive of a very different experience.

An instruction from Mary Potter

"Draw all the time, anything and everything, and you will find things begin to happen. The only answer is to keep on doing it-particularly when you are not in the mood, and your potentialities will develop."

Mary Potter, English painter, 1900-1981, quoted in Mary Potter A Life of Painting, by her son, Julian Potter, page 116. Published by Scolar Press 1998.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Bonfire II

Although amongst the dried, dead wood there was a good deal of green material, including the yuccas, the bonfire burnt with spirit, subject to invigorating gusts from the light breeze.
This image shows a similar long view of the back garden as the previous photograph although my father and the cat are both absent.
There are four apple trees in the "apple tree plot", all dessert apples, two of the trees originating from around the time in which the house was built, so they are now venerable trees of eighty years or more. Visible in this photograph, on the right of the image near the path are the "Ergremont Russet", next to it, and only partially in sight, the "Laxton's Fortune", and beyond both on the left of the image, the "Charles Ross". Out of sight, next to the "Laxton" is the "Tideams Late Orange". Further down the garden is a "Bramleys Seedling", also planted when the house was new. At one time there were nine apple trees in the garden, but they age and fail, and some have had to have been removed. Each year my father has pruned the trees with care and love, having taught himself how to do so from a book on the fruit garden, " The Fruit Garden Displayed". The book was first published by the Royal Horticultural Society in 1951, and is one of two volumes, the other being, "The Vegetable Garden Displayed". I have my own copies of both of these titles, although mine are somewhat later editions ( 1965, or 1968). The volume on the fruit garden has comprehensive chapters on the pruning of fruit trees, and fruit bushes, illustrated with wonderful photographs and diagrams. From this book, my father meticulously taught himself to care for the apple trees that came into his possession with the ownership of the house and garden.
This year he has completed work on the "Tideams Late Orange", and the "Ergremont Russet", the two smaller, younger trees in the apple tree plot, and has begun pruning the "Laxtons Fortune", one of the older, larger trees. Progress depends on the weather, and the light; it is difficult to prune on a dull day, one needs to be able to see well.
The Bramley, at the other end of the garden, has grown immense, and three days work is required to complete the pruning.
Afterwards all the long timber, representing a season's growth, is collected, and removed to the bottom of the garden to be burnt on a new bonfire.

Sunday, 21 March 2010


My beloved father can be seen in this image, making his way down the garden carrying a bundle of dry prunings, wrapped in a dust sheet, to be burnt on the bonfire.
I recently spent a few days at my parents' home, in the company of my father, my mother being away attending her sick brother in the North of England.
My parents have lived in the same house throughout their married life, and this is the garden in which myself and my sisters played as children. This photograph was taken at the bottom of the garden, and shows the "apple tree plot", and a view of the back of the house, visible through the smoke from the bonfire.
My father and I had spent the previous day clearing dead material from perennials to allow for new growth, and removing two unflowering yuccas and a rampant growth of ivy from one of the borders. The following day, early in the morning, we built a bonfire, and consigned the results of our earlier labours thereon. Both my father and myself had regrets about the removal of the yucca, but the plants had become unwieldy and distorted, and the position they occupied was unsuitable for them. The place from which they were removed can now be restored to the planting of early bulbs such as bluebell and snowdrop.
The time spent with my father was precious, as was the experience of being in the garden. I am all too aware of the passing of time, and the inevitability of our mortality. This garden is one in which I have played as a child, and worked with love as an adult. I know it intimately; my fingertips recall the texture of the lichen on old fencing and apple trees, my ears the sound of my fathers' footsteps, my visual memory the sight of my mother tending flower beds, or hanging washing on the line.
In this photograph one of my two cats, Silas, can also be seen, interested in the proceedings, yet keeping a safe distance from the fire at the end of the garden.