Tuesday, 25 May 2010

good days

Good days are when I do not cry and hit myself about the face and head with my hands.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

floor text 1991

A third floor text. At the time of making the floor texts, I did not consider them to be drawings. They were texts; words written on the floor in sentences, even though those sentences were almost unintelligible, overwritten, erased and fragmented as they were. Now, at a distance of almost twenty years, I am able to understand them as drawings, and to accept the polaroids of them as images in their own right, not just as documentation of an event.
At a period in my life when I am desperately unsure of how to proceed, and distrust my work as an artist so profoundly, it is helpful to look on the polaroids again, to experience them much as I did at the time of their making.

Thursday, 20 May 2010


One of my most cherished possessions is a small, blue glass jar, of the sort usually containing ointment, or a preparation for the skin, when new. I dug it out of the ground, whilst living at the lodge in Hampshire; we unearthed a good deal of spoil buried by previous occupants of the site.
When my partner and I first moved to Somerset, and lived for a short while in a tiny rented cottage, it was my habit to cut wildflowers from the wayside, and place them in the blue jar on the mantelpiece of our bedroom. As the cottage had been a turnpike cottage in the 18th century, it was built on the very edge of a now busy road. The bedroom overlooked the road and thus was noisy and dusty. It was dimly lit; the posy on the mantelpiece seemed to offer up a light of its own, especially when it contained yellow flowers. Throughout the Summer I picked a succession of small posies, buttercup, wild geranium, thistle, dead nettle, and snowberry from the hedge, each posy slightly different from the one preceding it. In the Autumn, when I was admitted to hospital, the posy contained flowers from the later months of the year. On discharge, several weeks later, the posy was still intact in the bedroom, sere and shrunken. I removed it, and kept it, wrapping it in tissue and placing it in a small box, where it still remains.
I have continued the practice of cutting tiny flowers to place in the jar. Now the flowers come from the garden of the house that we rent, and exhibit a difference from the wild posies that I used to gather at the cottage. The garden has a rockery, mauve and white Aubretia swarming over the stones, which looks well in the glass jar when it is picked. This Spring, I have kept each little posy as it finishes, and have laid them on tissue paper in the kitchen, where each day I struggle with the fear that prevents me from trying to draw them.


I imagine my mother in the garden in the early morning, bending over the flowerbeds, choosing which flowers to cut for the posy she placed in my room. She has slipped a jacket on over her frail white cotton nightdress, and is moving softly about the garden, appraising each plant with love.
My mother enjoys the garden most in the early morning, or just at the close of day, but especially in the morning before the dew has evaporated, when the air is fresh and fragrant and all is quiet. Then, walking slowly about the garden, she is at her most gentle, as though the garden had imparted its own tranquility to her. Her appreciation of the flowering plants is almost ecstatic; she can hardly contain the joy she feels in their presence. She bends down to lift a flower head so that she can look into the upturned bloom, her eyes drink in the colour, shape, texture; her sensibilities are those of an artist, her wonder that of a child.
She remains a powerful force in my life. Now at a geographical distance from her, I miss her sorely, and grieve, for she is elderly and the years in which we shall have each other's company are numbered.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010


My Mother had cut wildflowers from the garden and placed them in a glass vase in my room when I came to stay, pink campion, bluebell, yellow poppy, and forget-me-not. The fragile posy is beautiful, and lasts for the three days of my visit, before the campion drops its head and the bluebell fades, yellow petals falling from the poppy. Wild flowers succumb swiftly when they are picked.
I cannot bear to discard the vanquished blooms, so remove them from the vase, and wrap them in foil to take with me when I leave. They will dry and shrivel, their colours fading, the petals becoming brittle. I should like to draw them, to explore their significance for me in a drawing, but find myself unable to do so, encumbered as I am by the weight of fear.

on drawing VII

Each week I attend individual sessions with an Art Psychotherapist. I have not yet been able to use the materials that she lays out for me, paper, pencils, pastels. Today I spoke of a recurrent impulse that I have to take a small piece of charcoal and crush it beneath my fingers onto a sheet of paper, thereby marking the surface with black dust, effectively ruining the stick of charcoal, and soiling the paper.
I am, however, held back, immobilised. I cannot ask for the piece of charcoal, I have rehearsed it so many times in my mind, that to do so now would seem mannered. Nor could I bring myself to take the material in my hand; I sit with my hands folded in my lap, as inert as if I were paralysed.
It is too great a step to take.
I cannot draw.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

floor text 1991

Another polaroid of the floor texts. The texts were made over a period of several days, and the polaroids taken on different days, and at different times of the day, as the work progressed. Therefore the changing levels and qualities of light influenced each photograph; some appear almost bleached, some much more intense, some are warmly coloured, some are cool. I stood in different places to photograph the texts, and took the photographs from different angles.
I used water sometimes to remove text, and then wrote over damp boards, the water enhancing the richness of the old boards, rather akin to moistening a pebble from the beach to intensify its colours.
The experience was pleasurable, I felt a certain frisson from writing on surfaces that normally one is forbidden to write on, and a simple enjoyment in transcribing words more usually contained within the pages of a sketchbook or notebook, on a much larger scale with a free flowing material. There was also a sense of liberation; writing on the floor enabled me to become expansive, not an experience I was familiar with.
The room echoed slightly, had very high ceilings, and in the evenings, when I often worked, was a calm sanctuary. Then few other students were working in the school, so that it felt as though one had the place to oneself. The writings were made in the Spring, the evenings in the North being long and light. I worked in the spirit of experimentation and discovery, rare companions whose presence I was grateful for.

on drawing VI

There is a home in my mind for the drawings of Louise Bourgeois. I feel that I must take inspiration from her practice of drawing daily. I have discovered that she also used words in much of her work. This I find intensely reassuring, as I do the uninhibited spirit in which she made drawings.
I am myself immensely inhibited, at present paralysed by fear and unable to work. It is therefore a relief to find that I can admit the drawings of Louise Bourgeois to my mind and not feel completely overwhelmed by them, but rather invigorated.
The impulse to write and the impulse to draw have become separated for me, and I have become confused regarding their status in my work. This is why I have retrieved the floor texts to look at, and returned to the polaroids taken of Patrick engaged in our chalk line game. I am trying to be aware of and respect these impulses, and not immediately crush them before they have an opportunity to register in my conscious mind, for I find that often the impulse to draw begins with what amounts to a desire in the fingertips to take up a particular instrument, and a resurfacing of the remembrance of the tactile qualities of particular papers. For example, I imagine and remember the feel of charcoal in my fingers, and the unique way it yields under the pressure of contact, and can hear in my mind the sound of its transference to the paper, yet I have not used charcoal for years.
I have not allowed myself the opportunity to explore the sensuous in terms of my drawing, at least not recently. I am deeply afraid, so afraid of failure, that I have become bound to using only one kind of paper, of only one set of dimensions, and to the practice of not drawing directly upon the surface of the paper, but of using an interface upon which there is drawn an image to be transferred. Confronted by the self sufficient beauty of a new sheet of watercolour paper, upon which it has become my practice to make a drawing, I panic, put away the sheet of paper, and turn in despair from a way of working that had been so important to me.
The process of persuading oneself that a drawing can be made on "any kind of paper and in any medium", (quoted from the current Arnolfini exhibition guide) despite countless successful examples of the work of others made by these principles, is slow and arduous. As such is the process of reintroducing oneself to the idea that written text can function as a drawing, and that words can themselves be incorporated into drawings.
I have never yet felt such a profound sense of crisis regarding my work and my practice as a visual artist, although I have experienced periods of utter sterility throughout the course of my life.

Louise Bourgeois drawings

Yesterday my partner and I visited the Arnolfini in Bristol where there is currently a show of drawing by Otto Zitko and Louise Bourgeois. I found myself unable to respond to the work by Otto Zitko; expansive drawings made in blue paint covering walls and ceilings, but able to engage with the sixty small drawings made by Louise Bourgeois. The drawings seemed to be made in paint and charcoal, and perhaps pastel, and were intimate in size. They represented a series of grids, spirals, shell forms and what appeared to be the edge of blue water, or perhaps an open hand. They were pared down to basic elements, yet were sensuous and lyrical. I found in myself a sense of wonder that drawing could be like this, and also a great sense of reassurance. The series is entitled Je T'aime and the exhibition guide quotes Louise Bourgeois's words regarding the drawings as being "about the marking of time while waiting for someone special to arrive".
On the opposite wall of the small gallery in which the drawings were shown, was a drawing from 1946, a line drawing in pencil, showing the consumption of one human figure by another.
The exhibition guide describes drawing as "being the most fundamental vehicle of creative expression"... and in relation to the work of Louise Bourgoise, as "an obsessive daily activity, done on any kind of paper and in any medium".

Friday, 7 May 2010

floor text 1991

This image is taken from one of the polaroids of the floor texts made in the classroom of the High School for Girls in Glasgow. The 35mm transparencies made from the polaroids were shown in the context of the slide projection installation that I made for my MA degree show, but I have never exhibited the polaroids themselves. It is only very recently that I have retrieved them from their boxes to look at, having been thinking, and writing about the chalk line drawings made with Patrick.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

whiteout II

During intervals between taking polaroids to document our activity, I helped in the creation of the whiteout. Patrick worked with total absorption, until the required effect had been achieved. Here he is putting the finishing touches to the work, determined that this should be the wildest, most dangerous snowstorm ever, one that would require a great deal of courage and endeavour to negotiate.
Beyond him, the path extends for a couple of feet before turning left across the garden. We would draw chalk lines along the length of this path, then turning right along the path that leads to the bottom of the garden, and right again until we reached the compost heap, the railway terminus. Wild animals lived in the forest behind the compost heap, a kind of wildebeast, so the end of the line was a dangerous place. One could never be sure that the animals would not attack, and overturn engines and carriages, running amok amongst fleeing passengers and railway engineers.
Patrick's railway also had goods sidings, and railway buildings, which were drawn onto the path. Goods to be transported were placed by the sidings; piles of leaves, little heaps of earth, fragments of real coal from the coal shed. We drew trees and lineside flowers as well as the chalk lines themselves. It was the lines that were the most beautiful, however, representing our greatest effort.


Here is Patrick, engrossed in covering paving stones with chalk, to represent a blizzard, or whiteout, through which the chalk railway lines would run, invisible except on entering and leaving the snow storm. One of his small engines can just be seen, marooned in difficult weather, whilst Patrick creates one of the most intense whiteouts in all of our chalk line games together.
This game was played in early Autumn; leaves from the cherry tree have begun to fall on the path, and something about the quality of the light indicates a dull day in the latter part of the year. Yet the greyness of some Autumn days causes the yellow of the leaves to sing out, almost as though they had absorbed all of the light from the day, and were themselves returning it.