Monday, 23 June 2014

foam bath

As a child, I delighted in the glacial mounds of glittering bubbles at bath time, and find that my enthusiasm has not waned with the passing years, although I no longer pretend that I am piloting a fragile craft between castellated ice floes, in grievous peril of running aground.

The bath at my parental home is the original, cast iron, squat legged vessel, installed when the house was born, a little short of ninety years ago, deep, steep sided, bone white, a delicate mineral patina running from tap to drain. It is my pleasure, when visiting my mother, to take a cool, foaming bath on a  summer's evening, following a hot day of labour in the garden below, to shed soiled clothing and ease my weary body into scented, shimmering water, sinking below the brittle skinned froth until completely submerged, holding my breath for as long as I am able before rising in a flurry of bursting bubbles to the surface.

I prefer the bathroom to be unlit, the sole source of illumination the dimmed evening light seeping through the lowered blind, so that the ghostly bergs gleam softly, and the intervening straits shine like pewter. I recall other, noisier bathtimes, and, although often prey to a painful nostalgia, am grateful, nevertheless, for the mature tranquility of my mother's house, the silence in the bathroom broken only by the water rippling in response to my movements, and the sound of late birdsong drifting through the open window.

Monday, 9 June 2014

the close of a difficult day

An evening telephone conversation with a dear  friend does much to restore my equilibrium, sorely disrupted following a night of troubled, anguished dreams and a morning of unproductive drawing practise. She is an artist, and we speak, as always , of art, most particularly of drawing, her own principle area of practice. I confide to her my problematic return to the making of drawings, and the destruction of all but two of my most recent attempts, which two I have for now secreted at the bottom of one of the boxes in which I store unframed drawings, knowing that I will, in all probability,  destroy them also.

She likens the process of beginning to draw again after a long absence, to hill climbing after a protracted period of abstinence; one is out of breath at first, weary throughout one's entire body, defeated in spirit and perhaps unable to achieve the summit, but that, following several determined attempts, one regains a former fitness for the exercise, becoming more proficient, one's confidence improved.

With her wise and reassuring words resounding in my ears, I take my grateful leave of her, and, as the evening is wearing on, venture into the garden, from which I have absented myself for the greater part of a beautiful day, to water my collection of potted plants, which have withstood the heat and drying wind of the afternoon in silent fortitude. I hear the bees still in clamourous throng about a densely flowering shrub growing along the length of the wall enclosing our small garden, and realise with a sense of humble admiration that they have been hard at work throughout the day, going about the business of collecting nectar with an engaging fitness of purpose for the task and an unshakeable dedication to duty.

After watering, an undertaking made pleasant by the knowledge that I am supplying  the needs of my beloved miscellany of plants, and by the accompanying sonority of the bees, I repair to the kitchen for a glass of wine, and return to sit on one of the old wooden, garden benches from the lodge, beneath the bee busy shrub, my spirits eased by the melodious notes of a thrush  and the over- arching sky of softly and exquisitely layered cloud. Gazing upon the beauty of the cloudscape before my eyes, I arrive once more at the realisation that I do, after all, wish to return to the making of drawings of clouds, however difficult the first endeavours may be.

Dusk is falling. The clouds above me are dove grey, arranged in folds of exceeding delicacy, deckle edged, indescribably subtle. I determine to re-apply myself to the attempt of rendering this fragile world of vapourous forms with pencil, on paper.

Suddenly the bees are silent, for, as if at a signal, they have departed the garden. My wine glass is empty. I re-enter the house, strengthened in resolve, at least for the present, quietly satisfied with the written work I have accomplished during the course of the afternoon, and with a profound sense of gratitude towards the bees, the garden, the sky and the thrush, for it's generously uplifting evening song.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

blunt instrument

I discover, quite by chance, whilst writing a shopping list on a scrap of paper with a dulled, soft pencil, that I am far more comfortable using this blunted instrument than I am with a newly pointed pencil; a discovery that flies in the face of experience and previous preference. The graphite seems to flow more sweetly, the line is thicker and stronger, although still subtle and accurate enough. I find that the sweeping curves I am able to make with this less than needle tipped tool infinitely satisfying and pleasurable, the act of writing more akin to drawing; a distinctly sensuous experience.

I wonder, as one who loves lists, could I perhaps engage upon a series of handwritten lists as drawings? The thought is appealing, and familiar to me; an idea I revisit from time to time, but until now I have not been able to decide on a suitable writing implement, much less the surface upon which to write, having previously written in chalks on the stripped blonde pine of an old dressing table, and the worn receptiveness of a Victorian wooden boarded floor. Perhaps my discovery of the pleasure to be found in writing with a blunt pencil is a guide as to the direction I should follow, especially in the light of my recent abortive attempt to resume the drawing of cloud formations.

I am, however, immediately cast into a flurry of indecision regarding the possible size and shape of the letters, the format of the lists upon the surface of the support, and question deeply my abilities to attain and sustain the freedom with which I wrote texts on dressing table and floor, whilst writing with pencil on paper. I feel my neck and shoulders, my entire torso become rigid with apprehensive tension, my heart begins to race, and my hands dampen with the sweat of fear. I am unconvinced about whether I can justifiably assume the status of visual artist, and my most recent drawing experience has done nothing to disabuse me of my uncertainty.

Feverishly, I comb the internet for examples of lists written by visual artists, and am delighted by John Baldessari and Pablo Picasso, although disheartened when I begin to compare myself with those illustrious others. As before, I should exercise a strict moratorium upon research, if it is to prove not a help, but rather occasions despair.

I must bring myself gently to the point of experimentation; allow myself to blunder, think carefully about how I wish the lists to appear, the scale of the letters, and indeed the size of the paper with relation to the texts, their layout and articulation. I am unsure whether I am equal to the task, not having had a great deal of success in formatting written work when attempting to write essays, for instance, and having a distinct tendency, unless governed by a ruled feint, for my sentences to dip, sag and slant. I have not the eye, or the skills of a graphic designer. I cannot, at present, visualise the texts, although I eagerly nurse the idea like a cherished possession; it has a hold on my imagination, and perhaps will shape my future actions, although it is easier to dream of works to be made, than to undergo the perilous journey of attempting to make them. I am eager for successful arrival; I do not desire the discomfort and possible disappointment of travel.

the search for a voice

I think that, in terms of drawing, and certainly not in line with my desires, I have yet to find a voice, although I seem to have discovered one as far as writing is concerned. I feel that I have greater strength as a writer than as a visual artist. For instance; I recall, that, as a graduating student, I did not gain a first class degree for my visual work, but that I did for the piece of theoretical work  submitted (on the deadline), being a short essay upon a particular state of mind, and an exploration into the extreme difficulties I experienced in the production of an academic thesis. I contravened the terms of the requirements, and took a personal, self revelatory stance which served me well, and resulted in a brief, spare document, nevertheless almost approaching the poetic in some passages.

Looking back, I recollect certain shortcomings, especially with regard to the title, and the piece is haunted by my own immaturity, yet, although the article is no longer in my possession, but has been lost, it still remains significant in my eyes, and is a work of which I am able to write with something of a sense of retrospective accomplishment.

Despite my best efforts, I am experiencing grave difficulty with regard to effecting a return to the practice of drawing, the imminent arrival of lovely new papers, ordered for me by my partner,  notwithstanding, and am not at all sure of the direction which I should pursue. It would appear that with the rainbow, volcano and tree drawings, made several years ago, now, I had indeed found the voice of which I write with such yearning, but the powerful imperative which enabled those drawings no longer exists, and I am finding the resumption of drawing clouds all but impossible. I have made some preparatory sketches, and several attempts at making drawings of smoke, but they fail to satisfy me; I can see that they are painfully inadequate.

Perhaps I shall not ever possess a true, consistent and  identifiable voice as a visual artist, despite the unflagging and loyal belief of my partner in this regard, and I speak instead through the words that I commit to this online diary, words of longing for the rightful designation of artist, rather as Susan Sontag wrote of her own longing for the designation of writer. Perhaps my way lies not in the production of drawings of clouds, but in the making of text based pieces, if I am set on pursuing a path in the visual arts. I simply do not know. I recognise that I am compelled to make work that is, as noted above, in some way self revelatory, usually dealing with psychological states,  but I seem better able to articulate doubt and fear, for example, in the form of diary entires, than I am at fashioning drawings.

Why drawings anyway? Why not a different form? Formerly I articulated my concerns through the medium of photography, specifically slide projection pieces, and polaroids, and, until, making drawings in chalk on the garden paths of my parental home, with my then infant nephew, had not drawn for years, believing that I possessed insufficient skills as a draughtwoman. I only made a dedicated return to drawing on paper, when I made a return to art education as a PhD student, and began, in the face of difficulty concerning the " straightforward path", to draw cloud formations. I discovered that I loved paper, especially soft textured printmaking paper, that I loved pencils in equal measure, and overall, that I loved the process of making a drawing.

This afternoon, a bright, windswept afternoon in early summer,  many years hence, it is  however with the greatest reluctance that I contemplate a resumption of the attempt to make drawings of clouds; that I consider returning to the table at which I have been trying to work for the last fortnight, and take up pencil and powder once more. I would rather sit in the cloistered, shuttered cool of the upstairs room which houses the computer, the shining, perfect afternoon lost to me beyond the drawn blinds, and write. I cannot draw as I would wish, and am already sensitive to the feelings of my partner when I confess to him the destruction of all the recently created drawings except two, neither of which shall I show to anyone, much less publish online. Perhaps, in order to save my partner from hurt, I need not confess their loss, although I shall find it difficult to refrain from communicating my sense of despair and disappointment, my desperation to find a voice that is my own, and is, furthermore, a voice for which I can feel a measure of justifiable pride.