Sunday, 17 March 2013

the gift

A close friend makes me the gift of an idea, luminous in its simplicity, an idea that involves the pencils with which drawings are made, yet does not involve touching pencil to paper.

She proposes that I inscribe, or have inscribed into the shafts of new pencils, texts or words of my own, thus replacing the names of colours, the mark of the manufacturer, number and grade with which pencils are printed before being offered for sale. The idea seems to me to be about drawing, and also about text; it is literary, and yet very much concerned with the act of drawing. Why could I have not thought of it myself?

Anxiously, I contact my friend to ask her permission to use the idea; it is, after all, hers and not mine. I find that the idea has been freely given to me, to use, or not, as I will.

I am immediately cast into a grateful quandry. Which pencils could I use? How would I suggest the idea to a manufacturer, whose pencils would be inscribed? What text should I use? Should I use the names of colours, perhaps those of different greys, which I have researched, and of which I have already made a list, or should the texts be more emotive, more personal, so that the collection of pencils thus inscribed becomes as a journal, perhaps a journal of drawing? I find myself much more inclined to consider the latter.

I feel a flutter of tremulous excitement at the idea , a kind of visceral reaction. It is difficult to refrain from jumping up and down with amazed pleasure, as a child does and as I may well have done when a little girl.

Perhaps this gift is, or could be, the guiding light by which I may find the "straight foreward pathway", and so begin my journey to the brink of the "forest dark". I am all gratitude.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

the forest

Could I perhaps come to know the forest as a place of redemption, the site of possible rebirth, so that instead of longing to find a way forth, I find myself re awakened in amongst the trees, the darkness giving way to an inner light, so that I long to stay, and enjoy the whisper of foliage overhead, the possibility of catching sight of a reticent hind, the flash of a jay's brilliant blue wing?

Certainly the endless cycle of birth and death is evident all around, the fallen tree yielding up stored nutrient to a host of miniscule life, the tender sapling springing from a cleared glade. May I not perish here, but instead becomed renewed, healed of my psychic disarray? May I indeed find myself, and become not as one lost?

Or should I hold fast to the dark forest as a symbol of despair and loss, the emergence from which heralds a return to the world of hope and lightness of mind? It is a powerful symbol, that of a tractless expanse of trees growing so closely together that light is obliterated and day and night become as one, the "straight foreward pathway" hidden in the gloom.

Perhaps I should have charted my progress by means of marking the trees in some way, tying a bright ribbon to a bough, carving an arrow in the bark of a trunk. However the way lies not behind, but ever onwards, and one ploughs forth, navigating by  means of a sorely blunted intuition, for the most part one's mind being as dull to stimuli, as the eye is eclipsed by a blindfold.

I should like to make a drawing of  the forest, having a vision in my mind of a regiment of densely foliaged conifers stretching as far as the eye can see, appearing to stand one atop the other, as in a child's drawing, yet I do not know how to begin, and am certain that my skills as a draughtswoman are not equal to the task. It is difficult even to write of the forest; I am aware that my literary gifts are modest in scope, I do not write with ease, my sentences jar and falter where I would they were smoothly flowing. The symbol of the forest as a place of profound crisis has been much better treated by other pens than my own. One must do as one can, improving on one's talents where possible, learning one's limitations, celebrating the ocassional rush of lyricism, the well turned phrase, the sudden insight which illuminates one's text.

I cannot, for the time being, bring myself to take action in terms of drawing; it is beyond my capabilites to pick up a pencil, I am far too subject to dismay, yet I am conscious, with a kind of frantic intensity, of the passing of the days, years in which I have made no drawings. The image of the forest haunts my mind, I tussle with it, visit it frequently during my waking hours, imagine touching pencil to paper, but hold back. How to portray it? How to convey the weight of dark timber, the sense of isolation and remotemess, the dense mass of heavy foliage, the dank airlessness? I am at a loss.


I wonder if I do not need to revise the terms of my sabbatical and refrain from any research concerning the works of other artists, particularly those for whom drawing is their principle area of practice. I am faced with a dilemma; if I continue my researches I know that I will become dazzled and confused by the display of beautiful works set before me, and would be more than likely to lose all sense of purpose with regard to making any work of my own. Yet If I abstain, no longer allowing myself the somewhat double edged pleasure of viewing the works of others on line, then I deny myself any source of inspiration, or encouragement and confine myself thus to solitude once more. I must weigh up carefully. I know from previous and ongoing experience that I am most susceptible to a profound self doubt regarding my own practice, and that this self doubt is painfully deepened when I view the drawings of others; I am always astounded by ideas that I had not had myself, by evidence of materials used in drawing that I would never have thought of, and so I suffer very much by comparison, finding my own attempts paltry indeed. I also find myself easily confused by the proliferation of practices, and much cast down when I consider my own practice in the light of those of other artists.

Perhaps psychological solitude would be helpful, perhaps I need to travel inward rather than outward; there are appropriate times for either approach. Sometimes one needs, and thirsts after contact with others, even if that contact is limited to the viewing of other's work online, a poor substitute for engaging with works presented in a book or catalogue, and certainly no substitute for gazing upon a work displayed in a gallery, or studio. Yet without the facility for online research, my evenings alone would be lonely indeed, and I would have little idea of contemporary practice. Still, I feel that a period of self imposed abstinence is called for; I have recently been very active in my researches, now the need is for a time of reflection on what I have seen, and an in depth consideration of my own practice in relation to the wider context of contemporary practice.

Hanging upon the walls in the back bedroom are two of my framed drawings,  mensis Ianarius I, and mons quies or  calm mountain. I have forsaken the habit of removing earlier drawings, like the nimbostratus drawings, from their boxes in order to contemplate them, and in an attempt to find a way forward; the way forward is not to be found in previous works. Yet I still gaze upon the two drawings hanging on the walls, having chosen them carefully to be companions in my solitude. I now understand that the way ahead does not lie in attempting to repeat existing drawings, but as yet, I do not know the way ahead, it has not been made known to me. I am, for the time being bereft of idea and inclination, though possessed of a powerful anxiety to be making work, for how can I consider myself an artist if I do not, or cannot work?

It is lightless in the forest. The way is  deeply mired, the undergrowth clings to one's clothing, and entraps one's limbs, the trees mesh overhead in a impenetrable canopied darkness.The forest is a place of profound disorientation, difficult to write of and almost impossible to speak of, it is a place both contained within and yet containing one's psyche, where the demons of self doubt and self loathing do their work silently, laying waste to one's sense of self.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

on naming oneself as an artist

"As a child, I'd even put the date and my name on my drawings, whereas when I thought of becoming an artist as an adult, at first I wouldn't put my name on them because I dared not think I was really an artist. I was afraid to call myself an artist until August 15, 1960. Thats when, as an adult, I first put the date and my name on a drawing. It was like jumping off a building"

William Anastasi, American artist, in conversation with Rachel Nackman.

March 2012, New York.