Friday, 26 June 2015

Architectural perspectives

Alyssa Dennis often uses architectural perspectives to create a commentary on the way we inhabit architectural space. By leaving the underlying construction of her perspective drawings uncovered and revealing her receding grid framework she reminds us of how all pictorial spaces are artificial constructions and that architects design spaces by using technical drawing systems rather than the older methods employed by 'builders' who worked in a much more 'haptic' way, feeling for the materials and opening out the spaces in a manner that clearly recognised how humans operated. We now inhabit 'machines for living in' and machines are designed and patented using technical drawings. 

Perspective is a lot easier to do than many people think and when handled well can be a powerful emotive as well as formal tool. A perspective grid can be worked into and certain forms picked out and clarified, as is the shed above or the window frames below. In this way space begins to develop an interplay with mass. Objects seemingly becoming solid as the grid lines are filled in. 

Alyssa Dennis

Dennis is also concerned to reveal the illusion. The wall paper in the central image above acting to reinforce the flat picture plane, a trick learnt by no doubt looking at early Cubist collages. 
Her more recent work includes ways to think about eco systems, she is an interesting artist to follow if you are interested in developing more awareness of local plant life and its uses. 

Don't be afraid of using basic books on perspective they are fine learning tools and you can have the basics under your belt in an afternoon. Once grasped it's easy to play games with what to reveal and what to ghost out. Collage elements placed into your image suddenly have a concrete space which to inhabit and you can begin to bring in mark making techniques in order to enrich emotional intensity or develop ideas about texture. 

Two point perspective

Perspective can be sometimes used to give monumental scale to an image, the drawing below by Étienne-Louis Boullée demonstrating perspective drawing's potential as a framework around which very convincing illusions can be built. 

Leonardo loved the geometry and harmony of underlying perspectives, this drawing of his below demonstrating how you can begin to 'people' a space once it has been constructed. 

 Piero Della Francesca' s work has probably been the most analysed and influential in terms of using perspective. He was a mathematician as well as an artist, so was able to play with the relationship between geometrical figures and their symbolic meaning and how these could be integrated into perspectives and their proportional relationships. 
The Flagellation of Christ

Many hours have been spent by various people trying to unpick the meaning of the underlying geometry. For me the way that this low eye point perspective helps Piero ground his figures gives them a convincing weight, a visual gravity that gives authenticity to a moment of spiritual intensity. He freezes a moment to give it historical weight. This goes beyond the belief in any particular religion and heightens our awareness of art's ability to deal with transcendental issues. In this case the paintings are more like 'filled in' drawings, this literally being the case as painters at this time usually worked to cartoons; drawings that were prepared to help transfer images onto walls and other surfaces. 

The perspectives of large painting from this time were often laid out on the floor using chalk lines and this can be a wonderful way of reintroducing drawing into architectural environments. 

These builder's blue chalk lines (above) are very cheap and great for making huge line drawings.

The blue chalk line in this drawing is a builder's line which is used to determine level. No art was intended.

The blue chalk lines in this drawing (above) are by Sol Lewitt and are used by the artist to link particular points within a determined architectural space. I find the builder's line far more powerful, for me it makes a much clearer statement and in comparison I feel Lewitt's lines appear far too decorative. 

The main point about this post though is that an old technique, 'perspective' can be re-visited and re-engaged with, hopefully being something that can allow you to ask questions about contemporary drawing practices and continue to open out possibilities for drawing practice into more environmental and architectural approaches.

See  also: 

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Downloadable art catalogues

Drawings from a Brice Marden catalogue

Museums are beginning to offer online access to their exhibition catalogues. These are wonderful research materials and can help you enrich your Context of Practice work.
To read free books from the Guggenheim (free art books) you will just need to follow these simple instructions. 1.) Select a text from the collection. 2.) Click the “Read Catalogue Online” button. 3.) Start reading the book in the pop-up browser, and use the controls at the very bottom of the pop-up browser to move through the book. 4.) If you have any problems accessing these texts, you can find alternative versions on

You can find many more free art books from the Getty and the Met below.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Eric Ravilious At Dulwich

The Westbury Horse

I went to see the Eric Ravilious exhibition at Dulwich yesterday. Besides being a chance to catch up with a few Rembrandt portraits that I hadn’t seen for years, this was an opportunity to see a lot of Ravilious all in one place. It might look at first sight that this is an old fashioned, should have been forgotten, very conservative English watercolour artist. What you might ask, has his work to offer someone working today? After all he died during the Second World War, 8 years before I was born.
There is though something quietly powerful about his work. He has a very strong sense of design and organisation, this coupled with a sharp grasp of how perspective can be almost hallucinatory and a way of making marks in watercolour that shifts between the fluidity of a stain and the dynamic vibration of graduated mark making. His colour is refined and sensitive to atmospheric changes, in particular he can suffuse an image with light, which he controls with an often dry-brush technique, coupled with a scratching out process that he uses to bring back the white of the underlying paper.

He constructs his brush strokes very subtlety, combining changes in direction with graduations of colour. In particular his grasp of atmospheric perspective is coupled with a clear design sense, that allows him to use elements such as this post above, to frame his view of the Long Man of Wilmington. 

Ravilious uses perspective to create emotive spaces from interiors as well as landscapes. His use of pattern in the bedroom above creating a strong sense of claustrophobia, the sprung ironwork of the bed-heads, inhabiting the space as a substitute for the missing figures that would have inhabited this space. He is aware of the potential of pattern to be a powerful emotive force, thus being able to avoid the accusation of being a 'decorative' image maker, whilst being able to carry off the use of pattern to unify his images. This is a difficult tightrope to walk and it's his use of perspective that allows him to solve this conundrum. The interplay between structure, space and decoration is kept in balance, in this way the images stay 'alive' the eyes switching between the strong stabilising verticals, spacial mark making and rhythmic pattern. 

His grasp of underlying geometric form is perhaps at it clearest when he deals with engineering. The huge ship propeller sitting on a rail carriage in the image above is beautifully realised, the mark making following the propeller's curvature, taking the eyes into and around the space, the perspective rectangle of the carriage stabilising the torque of the propeller. At the same time the 'realism' is of course a construction, one that is so intense and stripped down that the image feels almost dreamlike. In writing this is sometimes called 'magic realism', images having an almost hallucinatory intensity. 

This exhibition was really useful for myself. Ravilious' work reminding me of how important it is to reconcile the various elements that make up a drawing. In particular I was reminded that drawing can work very powerfully on that edge between movement and vibration (gestural direction and mark making) and stillness, (structure and composition). By holding all these things within a simultaneity that our eyes 'see' all at once, drawing can be used to reflect on a deep inter-relationship between structure, pattern and process that in turn reflects a further  recognition of "autopoiesis". Autopoiesis is a system capable of reproducing and maintaining itself, such as an eco-system or a human being. Any life form depends on its survival by being able to reproduce and maintain itself and this means that its physical structure must be synthesised with its 'pattern' or shape and it has to be integrated into a process that links it successfully into its environment. 

In my mind I was left thinking about how Ravilious' marks weave themselves together in a similar way to what we could call the 'web of life'. His visual patterning integrating with muscular structures, his process being one of the sympathetic and embedded observer, whose perceptions were ordered in a manner that reflected a fully empathetic human being. 

The Ravilious exhibition is open until August: see

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Andrew Vass at the Arthouse

If you are down in London and looking to go and see some contemporary drawing, why not try and fit in Andrew Vass. Andrew Vass’s drawings start from a kinetic experience of landscape,  a landscape we move through and see around us, landscape as a perceptual environment. He is also interested in how we experience landscape in our own bodies; our physical sense of how we navigate the external world and the way it impresses itself on us.  
His drawings are perceptual journeys and bodily displacements as they are transmitted through the way his hand manipulates charcoal or pastel. Each mark is a trace of the shape an observed or remembered landscape takes in his mind. Different pressures applied as he is mark making transmit an emotional charge. The force that the mark thereby accrues joins the artist’s experience to what we ourselves bring to looking. 

He works both on paper and site specifically, the sites he works on linked to the points from where he observes, buildings or other surfaces then been used to record his perceptions on to. 

Andrew Vass 
Joint show with Nuala O'Donovan
Thursday 4 June
Open 5 - 27 June 2015

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Louise Bourgeois drawing and thinking

It was a relief to get the closing event of my exhibition at Assembly House over, even after all these years, the thought of standing up in front of an audience and trying to explain yourself daunts me. The final piece was as much about audience participation and performance. The show itself included ceramics and textiles and yet everyone always sees me as an artist who draws. 

From the closing event at Assembly House 

Drawings from the Assembly House exhibition

Perhaps the distinction shouldn't worry me because so many of my art heroes are also artists that thought through drawing. 

Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois was an artist who drew all her life and regarded her drawings as a form of diary. When questioned about why drawing was so important to her she replied that it was the fact that drawings were so immediate, they allowed her to get ideas down quickly.  The reason she gave for this was that drawings didn’t offer the physical resistance that making sculpture does.  She went on to state that for her, drawings didn’t involve the body in the way sculpture does. Some artists might disagree with her last point, but most would support her thoughts on drawing’s immediacy and its ability to therefore tap into the moments when ideas arrive.
Louise Bourgeois

She also stated that when she finished a drawing her anxiety levels decreased. I understand that really clearly, as I feel exactly the same. I have images in my head and have to get them out before they go again. If not I get fidgety and fractious, drawing can be very cathartic. Bourgeois also picked out the differences in approach to drawings that she took. Her realistic drawings were done in order to pin down ideas, I presume she was talking about something similar to what I meant when I said I have images in my head that I need to get down. But she also talks about her ‘abstract’ drawings, she stated that she did them when she was feeling ‘loose’, they allowed her to slip into the unconscious.
Louise Bourgeois

It’s always useful to look into why other artists draw. It helps clarify why you draw yourself. It’s also a useful way of thinking about what types of art making are available to artists that see drawing as central to their practice. In Bourgeois’ case we tend to think of her as a sculptor, but it could just as easily be argued that she was an artist who thought through drawing. Picasso was also a wonderful draftsman, and again he could be seen as essentially someone who drew. It was often argued at the time that it was Matisse who was the better painter, because essentially Picasso’s paintings were coloured in drawings. This is not an argument that interests me in terms of what is better or worse, but it is something that I’m concerned about, because sometimes artists are put into boxes. Just because a practice is drawing led, does not mean that you cant make sculpture, paint images or work in media. Being an artist that thinks through drawing just means that ideas arrive via that particular medium. Some great film makers think through drawn storyboards, some sculptors think through drawing and the same can be said of certain painters.
Louise Bourgeois
See also: