Saturday, 30 August 2014

Eye Music

Eye music is a term taken from the title of an exhibition of that name a few years ago. The image (above) of a love song by Baude Cordier, was included in that exhibition. Cordier was a Renaissance song writer, the image forming this love chanson 'Belle, bonne, sage' constructed in a heart shape, with red notes to indicate rhythmic change. This is a very basic idea, touching on some aspects of Islamic calligraphy and relates to Appolinaire's visual poetry. (Below)

However interesting as these overlaps between drawing and writing may be, there is another very close relationship between drawing and sound that I would like to open out. You could think of musical or sound notation as a form of drawing. Just as a map is a drawing that enables us to ‘read’ a landscape and travel around a country, a musical score allows us to play and engage with music. This relationship is a very old one. The first musical representations using images based on all ten fingers and thumbs to illustrate how the sounds could be represented visually.  My own feeling is that as new technologies become more central to the way we make drawings, animation, sound tracks, visual scores and the return of Chinese scroll type drawings will all begin to merge. We will naturally step between old and new technologies and the divide between the arts will begin to disappear. Sound is not the only area to have its own visual language. Dancers have developed a familiarity with visual notation as well. Chorographic notation, such as Laban, now becoming almost as familiar as the visual score and you can image it being in the future linked into timelines that will sit alongside scrolling images.  The familiar layout of editing software such as ‘Final Cut’ or ‘Premiere’  already points towards some form of future visual synthesis of these things.
Basic Laban Notation

Adverbial Laban i.e. actions with annotations as to their quality

The visual abstract pattern of sound being edited

However it is also useful to think about how each of these elements can drive quite separate ideas. Drawing from the moving figure is a very challenging activity and often can result in a mess of lose mark-making. However when you try and compress the information down and combine this with some form of structured annotation, such as Laban, perhaps new structures will arrive. The moment of Cubism could be seen as a first attempt to compress visual movements into compact wholes, Futurism then opening these out into more rhythmic structures. Neither movement however went on to fully synthesise their findings, probably because of the fast rise of the camera as a recording tool and the pioneering work of Eadweard Muybridge.  I’ve no answer to this, simply a gut feeling that there is still much work that could be done in this area by someone wanting to invest time and energy on something that is fundamental to an understanding of life.
Above, a Braque drawing, demonstrating how time can be compressed by building a construction based on several viewpoints at once. In his case the observer's movements are frozen within a record of perceptions. 

Duchamp's 'Nude Descending a staircase' (above) attempts to both capture the movement of a figure as well as embed within this some awareness of the observer's interaction with the event. 
Balla's drawing starts to work in a territory between that of the new information coming from photographs and a sort of stylised notation of movement. 


Time lapse photography

Just as drawing has a lot to offer to the exploration of movement, it can also be used to establish a relationship between sound and image. Several early 20th Century artists such as Kandinsky believed that there was a direct relationship between sound and image. A particular note could it was believed be represented by a certain colour or shape. There was a rise in interest in synesthesia and as more and more information was gathered about how the brain worked, we began to realise that our senses are wired up in such a way that what we read as sensations are in fact products of an interpretative process that can at times become mixed up.  A really interesting read that touches on this issue is The Mind of a Mnemonist by Luria, a fascinating book that introduces us to the problems that can occur when senses are ‘wired up’ differently. 
Of course many early 20th Century artists were also influenced by the writings of Madam Blavatsky, in particular the Theosophical ‘Law of correspondences’; adherents seeking some sort of shared essence of ideas, as a way of being able to develop general  principles from particular events. Abstraction at that time for many artists, such as Mondrian, pointed to the existence of a reality higher than the merely material. Therefore a correspondence between colour, shape and music, seemed to them to be a higher order of reality, a synthetic vision that transcended everyday perceptions.  

For more information download  Colour shape and music: Thought forms in abstract art. This an academic text that introduces the ideas behind Theosophy and how they relate to the art of the time.  
Thought-Forms, by Annie Besant and C.W.Leadbeater is the text that brings all these issues together. The text reads like a manual for making abstract paintings. 

Above, illustrations from Besant and Leadbeater

See also:

Drawing sound

To compare with other uses of similar notation see the work of Jorinde Voigt. 

For those of you interested in developing drawing machines, you could explore harmonic motion using home made pendulums. 

Using sand pendulums to explore harmonic motion

Although I seem to have wondered somewhat off track, I think you can see where this diversion could take you. However, going back to sound scores within contemporary art practice, you could look at the work of Caroline Bergvall, an artist I’m particularly interested in because she looks back at old narrative forms, such as Norse Sagas and has developed a practice using her voice to draw with. See and hear her work here.

Radio 4 has a very interesting programme on artists and music here.

Finally those of you who are into Flash animation might be interested in blending abstract representation with animation. 

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

D’Arcy Thompson’s ‘On Growth and Form’

My last post about the Leeds City Art Gallery reminded me of one small exhibition from Gallery 4 that was of great significance for old art educators such as myself. It has just closed. but if you didn't see it you can always check out the original book. 
‘Growth and form’ was published in 1917, it was an investigation of mathematical scale, order and process in relation to organic growth and tried to establish why forms become the type of forms they were. It was hugely influential and up until the late 1970s was essential reading  for all art and design Foundation students. (In the case of most students like myself this meant looking at the pictures)  Artists from Richard Hamilton to Gego (see post on Gego) were deeply influenced by his theories, as they added scientific weight to the poetry of formal investigation. The book is available here
Illustration from D'Arcy's 'On Growth and Form'

One of the most powerful tools that artists and designers took from D’Arcy was the proportional grid. This allowed you to distort any form into another and yet preserve a formal link back to the original. It was logical and unpredictable at the same time, all you had to do was overlay one form with a regular grid and then as long as there were the same number of squares, produce any distorted grid by squashing or opening out distances between co-ordinates and then copy what was in each corresponding numbered reference onto the new distorted grid. You could produce endless variations of form and yet they all looked purposeful, because there was always a logical system laying underneath each drawing.

A typical exercise in changing the dynamic of a set of regular squares. 

You can use grids to change the characteristics of any image.

D'Arcy Thompson's transformation grids aimed to show how a simple mathematical operation could turn a parrotfish (top left) into an angelfish (top right), in doing so he was also able to identify the essential relationships between forms that had a similar evolutionary history. 
Perhaps these grids are so familiar to artists because Thompson took the idea from an artist in the first place. Durer had long ago realised the importance of grids when investigating form. They were essential when trying to draw objectively (see drawing of drawing from below) and when developing perspectives and if all the elements in an image were to fit together logically Durer further realised that similar mathematical principles were required to inform all the elements in his work. 

Durer gridded heads

The moral is, never dismiss artists from the past, they are always worth revisiting and they can become a rich resource that can re-energise your ideas over and over again. 

Leonardo: Perspective drawing

If you want to locate objects in space, the classic method is to produce a perspective first, this perspective can also be seen as a distorted grid, once seen in this way you can 'people' this grid with whatever you are working with and establish a 'reality' or conviction that can support your idea's visualisation. 

See also:

Friday, 22 August 2014

Leeds City Art Gallery

As a resource that you can return to over and over again the city art gallery is amazing and it’s easy to forget how good it is. I popped in to have a good look at the Gego exhibition in the Henry Moore Institute, (See earlier post) and as the exhibition goes on over the bridge into the City Art Gallery I came across the ‘Narrative Objects’ display. As you might guess from my interest in narrative and allegorical approaches to drawing I was fascinated to see how the theme would be curated.
One thing about sculptors’ drawings is that they are often focused on what might be. They are visualisations that like all narratives give you a picture of an idea. In order to build the idea sculptors often rely on certain visual conventions that enable solid 3D visualisations, these are often perspective or technical drawing systems.

See drawing exercises ‘Technical Approaches’ as a reminder of different approaches to technical drawing.
The show has quite a few sculptors’ drawings on display and the various approaches were fascinating. Downstairs in the basement there are some interesting juxtapositions. Three Carl Plackman drawings are hung on the left hand wall and a Rick Oginz on the back wall under the stairs.  Both rely on clear technical drawing conventions to organise their imagery. Plackman uses a basic perspective, look close and you will see his rubbed out pencil perspective grids, each object locked into a coherent space that is built from 2 point perspective. He uses a viewpoint that looks down on the events, one that is very similar to drawing a stage and because of this the images look like props set out on a stage, his sculptures being as much installations as sculptures, this method of drawing highlights the importance of the overall spatial understanding of the relationships between objects. He tends to start with pencil, using sharp measured lines as a base and then on some drawings goes on to ‘paint’ in acrylic, developing the dark/light shadows that will give even more conviction to the objects and how they inhabit the stage like space. Plackman is sensitive to the marks made within his drawings and adjusts them as he feels for their position in space, as he does this he overcomes the technical ‘feel’ of the chosen perspective and gives the drawings their ‘Plackman’ signature.  In contrast Oginz, who is also visualizing a sculptural/installation type situation is much more technical. He uses a perspective projection as a clarifier for his 3D forms (actually it’s a sort of cross between perspective and axonometric drawing) and by using technical drawing pens visualises the situation in a much more cool way than the personalized private language that Plackman uses.  
Above: Carl Plackman

 These two Rick Ogniz drawings (above and below) are much later than the one on show, but they illustrate the point about using a technical projection to develop ideas.

Rick Oginz

However if you then compare Plackman with Martin Naylor’s 2D images, (there is one in the centre of the basement space, attached to one of the pillars, called ‘Between 2 mad dogs’.) you will see that Plackman is actually quite restrained, Naylor’s much more expressive drawings also going into print, which is a sign that he sees his drawings as a language in their own right and not necessarily as visualisations for potential future sculptures. He embosses a chair in one print and surrounds it by energy marks, in an attempt the describe not just an object, but the type of space it sits in.
I don't have an illustration of the ‘Between 2 mad dogs’ image but the two images below of Naylor's work will perhaps give an idea of his range of approaches, as you can see he is just as interested in 3D as 2D solutions to problems. Naylor is quite well represented in the City Art Gallery collection and is an interesting artist to research. 

Martin Naylor

There are also more conceptual approaches to drawing in the show. Simon Patterson, probably most famous for his ‘Great Bear’ print, continues exploring systems of classification, this time using old mariners’ charts and maps but mixing in texts taken from contemporary situations.  

Simon Patterson

Back up the stairs, Sol Lewitt has a small piece, ‘Schematic Drawing for Muybridge’ on the ground floor landing and his tiny images ask us questions about voyeurism, and also at the same time question where the boundaries are between drawing and photography. As drawing students it is perhaps always going to be useful to push at the edges and question the boundaries between disciplines, in particular print and collage are both areas that seem to flow seamlessly in and out of the drawing canon. Lewitt's piece can also be seen as a type of artist's book, another area really worth exploring, especially as the College has a very good collection of artists' books down in the Vernon Street Library. 

Sol Lewitt: ‘Schematic Drawing for Muybridge’

Helen Chadwick’s ‘Documentation of the Kitchen’ is perhaps the best illustration of someone working right on that edge between disciplines. (This work is also on the ground floor landing) Chadwick’s photographs are a series of stills that document a performance. However the linear framework she is working with is clearly a 3D drawing and the flexible harness she uses can also be seen as an organic counter to the geometric metal frame. The flat photographs taken from a very frontal angle emphasise the 2D feel of the piece, each ‘frame’ can be read as 3D drawing, as a photographic document or as a record of a sculptural performance.

Helen Chadwick

All of these artists are in one way or another trying to ‘narrate’ an idea and in order to do this they rely on different conventions. Try and think about your own ‘story’ and how you have tried to visualize it in the past. Can you use any of the methods suggested by these artists to help you further your ideas? Are there any other sculptor’s drawings that you think  might be used as signposts towards possible ways of visualising ideas? Edward Allington, Anthony Gormley and of course Moore and Hepworth are all well represented in the City Art Gallery and all have made significant bodies of drawing that are well worth studying.

Edward Allington