So what do you make drawings about? In the posts I’ve put up so far I’ve tried to make you all aware of drawing as a broad church, a wide area of investigation. But that’s very similar to putting up posts that demonstrate that writing covers many styles and formats. It is very obvious and shouldn’t really need stating, but you have to start somewhere and one of the things that I was very aware of was that people had a quite narrow view of what could constitute fine art practice within the drawing strand.
I believe that we all have experiences and that what artists do is reshape those experiences and process them through a medium, such as a book or play or a drawing. They use this process to communicate to others something that has been understood or felt about whatever the experience was. I am a strong believer that life is full of an infinite series of possibilities and that in order to make sense of these you need to focus and sift through them and only by constructing frameworks of meaning can we negotiate our way through the infinite number of possible choices that life throws our way.
My personal issues are centred on how media news affects me and how my everyday experiences of Leeds shape my day-to-day life. For instance this weekend I went foraging for mushrooms, I spent time walking through woodland corridors on the very edge of suburbia and found food to eat in the middle of January. Mushrooms and green leafed plants are thriving due to the warmer climate and as I walk and pick and draw, my mind drifts towards how I can make images of this experience and what these might mean. I get home and turn on the radio and I’m saturated with news and views surrounding the shootings in Paris. Both these experiences begin to fuse together and I’m aware that everyone else listening to the news will be forced to make decisions about how to think about fundamentalism and terrorism. I’m also still a lecturer in fine art. I spend a vast amount of my time thinking about drawing as a fine art practice and this too is part of my experience, this too will be part of what I’m trying to communicate, which is why I’m often looking at visual language and asking questions as to how and why it works as it does.
The hard thing for me as an artist is to shape and fuse together various experiences. When I was younger I used to privilege certain experiences over others, some I tended to use within my practice and others I kept separate because I felt they weren’t the stuff of artworks. As I get older I realise that all of life is open to being thought about and communicated about in an art-form of one sort or another. But some things are better communicated as a novel or a play and others as images or songs. Some things work best within a combination art form such as film or performance art. My mistake has often being to try and use one form when another one would have been better, this is why I would always recommend working in several ways at once so that even though you may be better at one form than another, you get a feeling for how the different possibilities for communication might work.
Perhaps the hardest question you can be asked is, “What is your work about?” but at some point you will need to become obsessed with something. When I was young I realised that I was obsessed with art and art and its processes became for several years the subject of my work. As I got older things changed but I would suggest that that is natural, the toys of youth are not the same as the things of old age.
So going back to my present dilemma. What do I draw, how do I make images relevant to today? My interest in plant and fungus life perhaps being something I can deal with using botanical illustrative forms, perhaps maps might help me identify where these things occur. But how to deal with the sense of impending doom I get when I turn on the news? This will take a lot more work.
I’ve mentioned before that drawing has many languages and I think that is its great richness and fascination. How these can be combined to create a unique voice or signature is something that only comes through in the making. But as you make, as you draw and work through its ranges of possibilities, perhaps it helps if you can accept the fact that it’s OK to include all and any of your experiences of life. So many students I have spoken to in the past have reserved certain areas of their lives as non-art territories and in reality it is often in those very territories that the richest materials for art making will be found.
Some of my recent walks have taken me past tower blocks, the drawings I did of them are now being processed and are going through an editing stage, whereby I assess how well or badly they communicate my feelings. I have to make work to find out what I am doing, but this isn’t enough, I also have to edit and make choices about directions to take the work into, and these responsibilities are of course common to everyone who wants to make fine art images.
The next stage will be to build these images into larger more complex visual narratives, ones that have an allegorical message that I want them to have. But that is my business and not necessarily yours, your job is to identify somewhere to start and this is often by focusing on something that you have noticed or come across already but just hadn't thought it worthwhile as an 'art' subject. My last word on this is to beware of art, looking at other artist's work has a way of taking you down certain paths that are pretty well worn, life is nearly always more interesting.