Saturday, 28 February 2015

Richard McGuire’s ‘Here’

Richard McGuire’s ‘Here’ is the story of a corner of a room and of the past and future events that have occurred in the space the corner has 'occupied' over the course of millions of years.

‘Here’ was originally published in Raw* back in 1989 and was a short 8 page idea that when it came out was immediately recognized as being an important work that enabled complex layers of time to be reflected upon in a very condensed form.

Drawing is often seen as a meditation on time, usually because the time it takes in its construction, including the recording and translating of perceptions, is compacted into a simultaneity. I.e. that although a drawing will take time to do, all the marks and traces of actions that go into its making are seen by an observer immediately in one totality. This compaction has often been meditated upon. You can think about the marks that make up a drawing as frozen gestures, the traces of actions that have occurred can be seen as very like fossil footprints in the sand. However McGuire’s work allows us to think about composition and framing as another way to deal with time. Each frame can be read as an event, but when frames are inserted into other frames, events can ‘nest’ inside each other, a series of events seen at the same time, (the simultaneity of seeing) being brought together inside larger frames, so that past and present oscillate in the same space. This is reinforced by the comic book convention of frames, a convention that in Western comics encourages us to read time as moving from left to right, (if you read Japanese Manga it takes a while to get used to reading from right to left). As we look at each frame on the comic book page it suggests we are moving forward in time, (the left to right reading of the comic book), however inside each frame we see other frames popping backwards and forwards in time, and of course the image of the room remains constant, so that we become aware that although time is moving the space that is being meditated upon is fixed.

OK comics are selling a limited edition of a facsimile of the original 8 page ‘Here’ alongside the full-blown graphic novel that McGuire has now published. Although the full version is in colour and is hundreds of pages long, it believe it doesn't add anything to the initial idea. In my mind the original is better, but why not go and check them both out. There is a good review of McGuire’s new publication here

In my previous post on the work of Raymond Pettibon I pointed to the influence comic art has had on contemporary fine art drawing, but McGuire’s influence is a different one, one more to do with attitude and concept than style and appearance.

*Raw was a publication devoted to showcasing what was new and exciting in comics. For once the medium was being taken seriously as an art form in its own right. Raw was the first publication to serialise Art Spiegelman's 'Maus'. 

See also:

More thoughts on drawing and time
The Beano and Viz Hardeep Pandhal 

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Barthélémy Toguo

Every now and again I like to pick out a particular artist that I think is doing something exciting in drawing at the moment. Barthélémy Toguo is working in that gap between drawing and installation which seems to be an area of practice that is really taking off at the moment. He is also working within a global context, within that expanded field that we were made more aware of because of the 'Magicians of the Earth' exhibition. See posts Magicians of the Earth one and two 

Often making images of an architectural scale, he works on rolls of watercolour paper. 

Barthélémy Toguo is an artists from Mbalmayo, in Cameroon and as well as making drawings he is involved in performance, installation, sculpture, painting and printmaking. In particular his ink and watercolour drawings are often the starting point for explorations in the way the body can be mutated and developed as a narrative for the psychic exploration of global identity confusion and collision. He lives and works in both Europe and Africa, often exhibiting in the USA. Very aware of his own culture, he is also responsive to the cultures that he moves between and amongst as he makes and shows work within a global context.

By using watercolours and inks as wet stains, he is able to suggest the mutability of forms and their propensity for suggestion and deformation. He also likes to work directly onto the walls of galleries and often shows his framed drawings within specially constructed installations. This allows him to bring together several aspects of his practice into the same environment, layering imagery and being able to suggest a multiplicity of meanings.

He often works directly onto the gallery wall, constructing imagery that is designed to work against his 'framed' or exhibited work.

The relationship between thought forms and reality shifts and mutates, his stains flowing with images as they arrive within their own becoming. 

See also:

Venice biennale

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Paper sizes

A while ago I mentioned that I would put up a post on paper sizes.
Paper size and how to express it is a complex set of issues. For instance, when setting out sizes, in order to indicate the grain direction it is common to put the edge that goes alongside the direction of the grain last. E.g. 17×11 inches is short grain paper and 11×17 inches is long grain paper, alternatively the grain alignment can be indicated with an underline (11×17 is short grain) or the letter "M" for "machine" (11M×17 is short grain). Grain is important because paper will crack if folded across the grain: for example, if a sheet 17×11 inches is to be folded to divide the sheet into two 8.5×11 halves, then the grain will be along the 11-inch side. Paper intended to be fed into a machine that will bend the paper around rollers, such as a printing press or photocopier should be fed grain side first so that the axis of the rollers is along the grain. All good print companies will be able to advise on this, but you will sometimes want to use print machinery yourself and having an idea about how grain direction will effect the final outcome, allows you to have a better control over how you are working.
The Wikipedia entry on paper sizes is extensive and useful, so I will not go over the same ground. However it is perhaps useful for you to note how paper sizes change over time and that these changes are often to do with wider political or economic factors and that the changes made can subtly effect the way we think about size, shape and meaning. 
When I started art college in the late 60s the standard paper size for drawing was Imperial; 22 x 30 inches. Now we tend to use A1 which is 23.4 × 33.1, however the extra inch and a half on the width is important because it changes the way that we carry paper around. An Imperial portfolio would just fit under a man’s arm (and some women’s), your fingers could support the bottom of the portfolio, but now they are bigger, they have to be carried by a handle. A subtle difference, but one that reflects a deep divide between old and new units of measurement. Old units tend to be taken from the body and averaged out. You can measure a horse in hands or a length of cloth in feet. A cubit was the length from finger-tip to elbow, an inch was in many languages related to the thumb. E.g. Catalan: polzada inch, polze thumb; French: pouce inch/thumb; Italian: pollice inch/thumb; Spanish: pulgada inch, pulgar thumb; Portuguese: polegada inch, polegar thumb; Dutch: duim inch/thumb; Afrikaans: duim inch/thumb; Swedish: tum inch, Danish and Norwegian: tomme / tommer inch/inches and tommel thumb, tumme thumb; Czech: palec inch/thumb; Slovak: palec inch/thumb; Hungarian: hüvelyk inch/thumb. The Scottish inch was the width of an average man's thumb at the base of the nail.
An Anglo-Saxon unit of length was the barleycorn. After the Norman invasion in 1066, the inch was incorporated into law, it was defined as equal to 3 barleycorn, which continued to be its legal definition for several centuries, with the barleycorn being the base unit. One of the earliest such definitions is that of 1324, where the legal definition of the inch was set out in a statute of Edward II, defining it as "three grains of barley, dry and round, placed end to end, lengthwise".
The foot has been used in England for over a thousand years. The foot, a length of the human foot, was anything from 9 3/4 to 19 inches. However it was not until 1844 that the standard we now use was defined.
A yard is based on a single stride. Henry I (1100-1135) decreed the lawful yard to be the distance between the tip of his nose and the end of his thumb.

Fathoms measure depth of water. They have been in use in England since before 1600, and derived from faethm, the Anglo Saxon word for 'to embrace' because it is roughly the distance from one hand to the other if your arms are out-stretched.

Units of measurement always used to be related to things that common people would understand, this is very different to the metre. A commission organised by the French Academy of Sciences and charged with determining a single scale for all measures, advised the adoption of a decimal system and suggested a basic unit of length equal to one ten-millionth of the distance between the North Pole and the Equator to be called mètre ("measure") (19 March 1791). The first occurrence of metre in this sense in English dates to 1797. This rational system would gradually replace all others, but in doing so it would also sever the links between measurement and common experience.  
The reason Imperial had become the standard size for drawing was simply that it was the largest size that could be carried flat under the arm. A1 is slightly too big and A2 seems ‘mean’ in comparison to Imperial, so we adapt and work around something that no longer feels natural. I can no longer ‘embrace’ the paper under my arm.
The fact is that A1 dimensions are mathematically ‘perfect’, i.e. they are always half the size of a sheet of A0 paper when cut through the longer length. The base A0 size of paper is defined as having an area of 1 m2. Rounded to the nearest millimetre, the A0 paper size is 841 by 1,189 millimetres (33.1 in × 46.8 in).
The significant advantage of this system is its scaling: if a sheet with an aspect ratio of square root of 2 is divided into two equal halves parallel to its shortest sides, then the halves will again have an aspect ratio of square root of 2 . Good for business as printing companies will have much less waste, but perhaps not so good for artists who might want a more ‘personal’ relationship with paper size.
Working out weight to paper size, when using the metric system, is reasonably straightforward.  This calculator will help you. Grammage, is defined as weight in grams of one sheet of paper that is one square metre in area.  It is sometimes easy to forget how heavy paper is when you just use single sheets, but when deliveries are made we often take paper in by packs of 500 (a ream) and these are seriously heavy. For some reason when ordering printing papers reams are often 516. 

Another anomaly when looking at paper sizes is that of newspaper sizes. If you look at the table below, you will see that despite the introduction of ISO standards, the newspaper tabloid still maintains a size based on a particular nation's traditional measures.

It’s interesting that paper bags were first measured by how many pounds of sugar they could hold. 

In the USA paper grocery bags now come in a variety of paper weights from light (30 lb.) to heavy-duty (70 lb.) and 14 stock sizes, capable of holding 2 to 25 pounds. 
If you want to use paper bags to draw on, it costs only £3.49 for 1,000 5x5 inches white ones. (Price checked on the day of this post).

Perhaps you could begin to respond to these issues by building a set of personal measures. For instance a yard could be determined by measuring the distance from your nose to fingertip, with arm straight out to side, head facing front. This is a very useful way to measure rope and fabric.  The thumb could be measured or a finger or half finger. The palm of the hand or the hand span is another good place to start, lengths could then be used to calculate surface area. A body surface area calculator exists here: you might find it useful to think about how much area your skin would take up if unfurled and laid out flat like paper.

Once a paper size or shape is decided on you could think about how measures work in terms of other trades. Find a link here.
For instance Mohs scale of hardness could be used to check on your art materials relative hardness or softness. As it is basically a test done by rubbing one surface against another and seeing which one is ‘rubbed off’, you could think about testing your papers and drawing materials in this way too. Graphite rubs off on paper, so paper must be harder.

So what could you use to determine paper size? Could it relate to the room you make your work in, should its proportions echo those of a particular set of proportions you have researched and found belonging to an object or site that has a poetic significance? Should your paper size relate directly to your own body? What should it reference? Mathematical certainty, such as the Golden Section or found association, such as being exactly the same size and colour as a post-it note left on a fridge door that said 'WE NEED MILK'. One of the ways you can work as an artist is to find connections and significance between things and the more surprising these are the more intriguing the work can become. 

See also:

Mathematics and metaphor
Research into paper

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Swell Paper

We have been looking at the relationship between touch and sight in some of the level 4 sessions. I was doing some research into how people with sight impairment could read diagrams and discovered that there is such a thing as ‘swell paper’. Swell paper offers an interesting solution to the problem of making drawings in shallow relief so I thought it worth a post. 

Look carefully and you can see how the surface is raised underneath the black areas.

This technique was designed for drawing raised diagrams and probably works at its best when using clean sharp images and thick lines.
There are several different makes of swell-paper, sometimes called capsule paper, puff paper or fuser paper, available, the trade names include Tangible Magic Paper, Matsumoto, ZyTex and Flexi-Paper. Some need more heat than others to raise lines and like any other material you need to work with it to find out its full potential. Ask for free samples of paper from suppliers, and of course test, test, test. 

For papers that will work on a photocopier I have seen good recommendations for Tangible Magic Paper.

Because black photocopier and laser printer toner is carbon, these two devices can produce wonderful images for tactile graphics. However, they both have very hot internal parts, and it can cause a very bad paper jam if you attempt to print or copy onto swell paper without taking a few precautions first:

1: Always pass your swell-paper through the manual feed of the unit, one sheet at a time;

2: Try to use the copier or printer just after it has been switched on from cold, or after it has been idle for long enough to cool down. Never use it immediately after a large print or copy run, because the swell-paper can swell in the high-temperature environment inside the unit, and cause a very serious paper jam. I.e. keep it cool and don’t try and put several sheets through one after the other, because the machine will get too hot.
Zychem Ltd. supply specialist heaters for work with their swell paper, but you can also e mail files to them for printing on non standard sizes. From what I have seen the images made from their dedicated machines are very good. 

Web links

For Zytex swell paper and specialist heating machines from Zychem click here

A useful video here can help you to think about how an image should be simplified before being translated into a black and white line diagram. a collection of resources for people doing tactile graphics. There is an excellent Decision Tree linked from the front page. This might be for graphic designers, but it is also a useful guide for when thinking about whether or not a drawing would work as a shallow relief.
Lech Kolasiński has made five adaptations of paintings by Jacek Malczewski. The image below, ‘Tickled to Death’ is divided into two longitudinal halves, each of the re-interpretations is a reconstruction of the original, in the upper section we have a simplification of the composition, while in the lower part an interpretation of the meaning of the image, which is simplified and so clearer to the blind. Both images are raised using swell paper to provide a heightened tactile experience. 

See also: