2017-05-27: folded pillow on mattress

photo 3

Pencil, 2B and 6B in A5 sketchbook. Not really happy with shading. Began with cross-hatching, shifted to blending with finger. Could do with greater contrast, gradients between light and dark. I began blocking out the background in black (last desperate act) but realised that actually casting a shadow onto the pillow beneath would serve this purpose better.

In any case, it was interesting to note how there lay in front of me an indiscernable mess of folds: only I knew that a folded pillow lay on top of another, because I had performed that act of positioning them. Perhaps a single pillow would have sufficed for what was intended to be a short drawing exercise before bedtime.

I had a look at Albrecht Dürer’s ‘six pillows’ in pen and brown ink, shown below (1493; The Metropolitan Museum of Art). There is fluidity (and movement – one can almost feel the act of folding taking place) and curvature lent by cross-hatching with very little blocking out. Reproducing this pillow series (or reproducing the style, or both) would be very helpful in my understanding and developing the cross-hatching technique.

Albrecht Dürer, six pillows (verso), pen and brown ink, 1493. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Albrecht Dürer, ‘six pillows’, pen and brown ink, 1493. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Notes on ‘Drawing now: Between the lines of contemporary art’ (Part 1)

“What do we mean by conceptual? Are conceptual drawings theoretical, abstract, intangible, or ambiguous?”  (Drawing Now: Between the Lines of Contemporary Art. Tracey, 2008)

Drawing Now is a book by the editors of TRACEY containing drawings by a number of contemporary artists, seemingly selected for their range of styles and concepts in order to demonstrate the potential of the discipline. The editors describe drawing today as a “positive, celebratory” – a simultaneous contemporary conceptual exploration with the self-conscious adoption of traditional materials and techniques, in an era where the notion of art being crafted by the hand of the artist, or any hand at all, is no longer necessarily true.

This is precisely what makes drawing so ever-new: the very process of creation can become a sort of performance in the contemporary context; this is fodder to be played with as much as the materials themselves. And because it remains the mainstay of the first stage of creation, it does not need to worry itself with pretensions of more complex modes of expression – it resists convention. As John Berger says, drawing is becoming. Or as Picasso says, it is thinking.

“Drawing is the primal means of symbolic communication”, continues the introduction. “It predates and embraces writing, and functions as a tool of conceptualisation parallel with language.”

The book’s discussion is divided into three themes, which I will summarise briefly (as much as I can given that many concepts are new to me) before talking about a few of the artists that leapt out at me (not literally although I would prefer that, please, in the next edition), because it so beautifully illustrates ideas about perception and reality that remain important questions in a number of fields, e.g. philosophy (Theory of Mind), neuroscience (visual processing) and physics – basically they are questions about the nature of reality and which parts of it we perceive – how we perceive. This is important because we can so easily make assumptions about reality and the way that we see, forgetting that we are trapped inside a limiting frame of reference (the body), that we build our ideas on assumed foundations that are not really there, and that we are – speaking on behalf of mankind – of rather limited mental capacity.

The first theme, ‘playing with appearance’ refers to Derrida’s ‘Memoirs of the Blind’, which I read then, but I will need to read again because I have not read anything by Derrida before and – well, just try. It is taxing. But: “The draftsman always sees himself to be prey to that which each time is universal and singular and would thus have to be called unbeseen“. Derrida writes about drawing kind of like language – the drawn image being not only akin to writing in that it is an imperfect visual code for what is happening in our mind (semiotics), but also in us looking at lines on paper and associating them with verbal signs (we can break down writing and drawing to the same element – the line). He also describes seeing as a type of blindness, in terms of the central role that vision has played in the development of the philosophies of the past centuries leading up to the present. Another idea is that self-portraiture is a blind act in terms of the artist never being able to truly see themselves. Derrida also talks about drawing as having to work against the way that our visual processing functions – to as quickly as possible contextualise light information entering the eye, even if that means skimming over information. Drawing is learning to see, however: an attempt to undo the assumptions and generalisations that allow us to go about our daily lives. But this is also a folly to think we could be representing some new object, because whatever it is that we express, we are doing so out of our conscious minds; in this way everything that we draw is a product of everything we have experienced and are. We have carefully spilled a little of our consciousness onto the paper itself. Indeed, from the neuroscientific perspectice, we have never experienced the world as it is: it can only occur through the ‘matrix’ of our hard- and software.

I have to cut that short as I will never get down to any drawing at all if I continue to read and regurgitate. So I will continue in a couple of days with the second and third parts of the discussion discussion and an expansion of the source material – it will be necessary for me to explore the source material because without it, it is almost impossible for the unfamiliar to understand the concepts so very briefly touched upon in the discussion of Drawing Now. 

Project 0: warm-up exercises

Project 0.1: Drawing small and big

large circles
Drawing big, willow charcoal on A1 paper, alternating left and right hand

On small sheets of paper I drew rows of ovals.

This was written following the first sheet, right hand, HB pencil:

Ovals with the right hand are performed in an anti-clockwise fashion. Interestingly I began to cross out any circles I accidentally drew, before realising that these are probably ovals anyway. Another interesting facet was the poise of my arm: far too stiff at first, pressing down very hard with the pencil. Relaxing my arm made this much easier.

There was a distinct feeling of being cossetted within the series of ovals – safe in the knowledge that I knew exactly what was coming next.

The entire outer edge of my hand and forearm was in contact with the paper for most of the exercise, not even lifting off the paper but sweeping across the surface. As I draw, I am reminded of the exercise of writing, the emptiness of the ‘O’s, and the meanings this shape can possibly carry.

“This is not going to get done any faster if I hurry – it will only get done less satisfactorily”, was another thing that kept crossing my mind. After all, why am I here at all? Not to rush through, that is for sure.

Following the second sheet, left hand, HB pencil:

Circles travel in clockwise fashion. Much more uniform towards the end of the page. Much more variation in oval orientation, pressure and style.

I noticed that my forearm sweeps like a window-wiper from the centre of the page. My hand was rigid, while my wrist swivelled round in order to trace circular forms on the page.

Third and fourth sheets, fineliner pen

I am reminded of concrete poetry a little bit. Looking forward to the next exercise…

Drawing big

This second exercise involved larger circles with willow charcoal on A1 paper. My forearm remained static while my shoulder did all of the work rotating. I did not really perceive any difference between my left and right arm work, probably because no fine motor skills were involved.

Project 0.2: Drawing in short and long bursts

short bursts
Drawing in short bursts, sharpened willow charcoal, A1 paper

Drawing in short bursts using sharpened willow charcoal on A1 paper taped to the wall. This involved rather convulsive movements with my forearm while the rest of my body convulsed in sympathy… Yes, compared to the previous exercises, there is so much energy and movement on this paper – lent by the short stabbing zig-zag lines, the varying thickness of line (as the willow charcoal blunted and I didn’t want to ruin the momentum to stop and sharpen), the overlapping lines and varying amplitude of zig-zags. So I opted to intensify the movement with overlaid patterns, allowing the charcoal to crumble and lay alongside, avoiding smudging. Longer lines were then added and the area filled with muted grey. Interesting that previous layer of short bursts were still present behind the smooth grey. Some beautiful texture when charcoal turned on its side (perhaps from the wall underneath), as well as distinct marks on the edge of the paper where it had been ruffled during delivery.

Project 0.3: Using your fingers, wrists, elbow, shoulder

‘Fingers and wrists’ exercise was interesting, although ‘At arm’s length’ really was new for me: drawing freely on such a big scale. I taped two sheets of A1 together in order to really swing my arm around with the compressed charcoal stick for this and the last exercise, ‘Using your shoulder’.

A note on Tom Marioni

Tom Marioni, mentioned in the course notes, is a conceptual artist who has explored the act of drawing in the past.

Marioni is also famous for ‘The act of drinking beer is the highest form of art’, which he discusses in this video clip. The act of drinking beer with friends has also been mentioned as the best form of rebellion against encumbent political systems – i.e. removing oneself from that system of commodities, by becoming ‘unproductive’, i.e. simply being sociable with friends and nothing more. Still, interesting that Tom Marioni managed to (presumably) monetise this concept through his art! Perhaps he is laughing at people like me who try to intellectualise what he is doing…