Monday, 21 December 2015

Drawing and life

William Kentridge once stated, “I believe that in the indeterminacy of drawing—the
contingent way that images arrive in the work—lies some kind of model of how we live our lives. The activity of drawing is a way of trying to understand who we are and how we operate in the world.”

So how can drawing both reflect on and help negotiate the complexity of the human experience? Can the process of Drawing offer possibilities of negotiating the terrain that lies between personal and communal experience? Can the immediacy and accessibility of Drawing allow for an exploration of the physical as a bridge to the metaphysical? The experience of life is ephemeral, however the marks of a drawing made in response to that life are ‘frozen’ or fixed, thus making it possible to share an experience and in that sharing creating a community of interest, thus hopefully, adding to a meaningful experience.

I’m having to think about this in some detail as I have to give a conference presentation on my own practice, ‘Drawing as collective allegory’.
Michelangelo Crucifixion

I have mentioned the crucifixion drawings of Michelangelo before, however as an exploration of the physical as a bridge to the metaphysical I think these drawings are sublime. I've put the image above into this post at its largest possible size so that you can see the traces and marks of the artist's hand much more clearly. You can see the hand/eye thinking going on before your eyes, each time we look at these drawings they open themselves back out to us and reveal the shadows of their making.
These drawings inhabits the realm of the physical in three ways. The first is composed of the actual physical materials used to create the work. Michelangelo liked to use high grade cream or white paper on which to draw.This has however discoloured over the years and mould or stain marks have also changed the paper surface. The drawing is made out of black chalk. This is a soft carboniferous schist, usually mined at this time in Piedmont. It came in a variety of colours and densities, red and ochre as well as a range of blacks. This chalk is quite dense, with a fine grain that allows it to be sharpened to a point; it can therefore be used in technical drawing, the sharp ruled lines of the cross being a case in point. It is also strong enough to resist crumbling when pressed down hard, therefore artists can use it to create emphasis as they perhaps want to bring out muscle energy or hold on to an area of bone. It can also be used to create modulated hatching, which is often used to re-create tonal lighting effects. Chalk hatching can also be used alongside finger and stump work, areas of tonal change made even more subtle by blurring the edges between marks.
Black chalk can also be used wet, by dipping the point in water, an artist can make the chalk achieve a much darker tonal range. This together with an awareness of different densities and granular makeup of chalks from different mines, meant that an artist like Michelangelo had a high level of finesse available to him when using this material. If you compare his 'for sale' finished drawings which also use black chalk, you can appreciate the difference in approach, the drawing above is much more direct and the working methods of the artist are not hidden. A reasonably grainy paper with a certain tooth is needed to make a chalk drawing, however the tooth or grain of the paper also holds onto the grains of chalk as they are removed, therefore it is hard to remove marks, therefore as the artist begins to clarify an idea, he has to deal with the images left behind. Sometimes by working over the areas of previous adjustment with darker marks and sometimes by painting them out.
Michelangelo has used lead white to remove and change areas of drawing in the image below. This goes transparent over time and so we are given an 'unveiled' view of some of these drawings, they are not the same as they would have been when they left Michelangelo's hands.

Michelangelo Crucifixion

In the image above it is easy to see the areas that were painted over in lead white.

The second way that these drawings inhabit the realm of the physical is in their documentary nature. In order to depict the physical body of a man hanging from a cross, another physical body had to exert itself in making a series of marks that were designed to be read as an image.
These drawings are mainly constructed out of of a series of wrist bound arcs, which are a frozen document that in effect record the movement of Michelangelo's arm, wrist and hand.  There is a certain imprecision or almost shakeyness, as well as a changing of mind as the drawing arrives. The drawing is a 'tracing' of an old man's gestures. It is a physical embodyment of one man's actions, the record of his body movements made as he struggles to imagine another body struggling with a near death experince.

Finally, the third way that these images inhabit the realm of the physical is in the fact that the image itself is of a physical thing. These are images of human beings sufferring both mental and physical agony. The maker of these images is aware of this at one point writing,
"Oh! Flesh, Blood and Wood, supreme pain, Through you must I suffer my agony." Michelangelo has many years experience of the physical world, has seen bodies in action and felt his own body change and become suspect to aging. The physical nature of his drawing materials is something he knows he has to work with, he is sympathetic to their limits, whilst at the same time aware of what he is aiming to achieve. The struggle of the mind/eye relationship is clearly evidenced as Michelangelo adjusts and changes the image, each time finding a position for the figure that more readily fits the slowly emerging 'idea' of what it is to depict an image of a man who is also a God; of someone realised at that moment when their earthly flesh is at its most weighty, and yet it is also a moment when someone will pass through their humanity and attain the status of a God. All flesh being cast aside and only spirit remaining. The flutterring marks of adjustment, also become the marks of movement as arms become wings, the dead weight of the body about to be borne aloft by arms pushing themselves free of their cross.

As the three aspects of physicality combine to be read in their simultaneity, the physical readings become fused with a mental picture that is driven into being as the image arrives in the brain. The nature of the paper and its age, the black chalk searching out the forms of the body, the slightly shaky mark, the traces of the hand and the shaping of a body, constrained in its curvature by the geometry of a cross, all impact on and impact with our existing awareness of the Grand Narrative of Christianity. The audience may or may not be aware of this religion, but it is clear that the maker of this image is trying to shape it towards a purpose. The moment of transformation can only occur in the observers mind however and therefore no outside observer will really know if it did occur.

This final image from the same series of drawings, opens out one further issue in relation to this post. That is the importance of repetition, or trying to say the same thing over and over again until you get it right, or at least in a form that is communicable. By approaching this subject several times, we can ourselves begin to read Michelangelo’s intentions. Each image creates a variation on the form of a curved body set off against the geometrical hard shapes of the cross. The drawn bodies are made with arcs of gestures that are built up to form muscles and bodies, they vibrate between the solidity of modelling and the energy of mark-making. This is the language we are having to learn, and we can only learn it because Michelangelo has given us several examples of this language in use.
I would argue that as drawings they achieve something that all artists would aspire to, a form that fuses together a metaphysical concept with a physical reality. Reaching across the gap between one mind's construction of experience and another's is one of the hardest and yet most meaningful things to do, and only by imagination can we do this.
Happy Christmas

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Drawing using tape

As it's getting close to Christmas, I thought it perhaps time to think about drawings made with adhesive tape. You will no doubt use a lot of it over the next few weeks, but as always we need to ask the question what are its possibilities as a drawing material for artists? 
Tape as a medium appears amongst a variety of artists' practices and can serve a wide range of functions.  

Jim Lambie

Jim Lambie uses tape for its decorative qualities, as well as its ability to stretch across large areas of floor space. Tape is often used to traverse architectural space, its a lot easier to work with than paint, there are no drying times and when worked with carefully the thin lines can have an almost mesmeric effect. The hallucinatory quality of the zig zag pattern has been recognised by many cultures, Lambie's use being not that dissimilar to the way Australian Aboriginal peoples used this pattern. Dance cultures can range from hip-hop to the 10,000 year old dances performed at the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival, the zig zag often accompanying these dances as their visual cousin.

Aboriginal Wunda Shield

The Polish artist Monika Grzymala uses tape to explore architectural space in a variety of ways. Sometimes she is using tape to create barriers, at other times to wrap surfaces or to join elements, then at other times she is using it to make a more decorative surface and at others to create a narrative. Look at the way she cuts tiny shards out of the tape to create an explosive effect.

Monika Grzymala 

The Korean artist Sun K. Kwak, uses a scalpel to cut more organic shapes and lines through her taped wall surfaces. She will have researched different tapes and produced several trials and tests before deciding on the tape used. Tape comes in a wide variety of thicknesses and in particular some industrial tapes are worth researching for their colour and surface qualities alongside their availability in large amounts and wide formats.

Sun K. Kwak

Edward A Burke

Edward A Burke uses tape more like a traditional painting medium, each piece of tape operating as if it is a brush stroke of paint, whilst Alex Menocal creates wall drawings in a similar way to Michael Craig-Martin. His half taken down image below is of particular interest because of the way it reveals the process of its making. The hanging tape becomes the drawing, so we switch our reading from tape as something to help us paint straight edges to something that can be used much more directly to make the artwork.

Alex Menocal 

Bernardino Rakos

Bernardino Rakos creates domestic interiors out of tape.  All the furniture reduced to flat signs. 
However making wall drawings with masking tape only touches the surface of how we can think about tape as a medium to work with. If we begin to think about the material properties of tape we can begin to tap into ideas that could be developed in relation to its 'ur' history (using the Benjamin term) as well as open out ideas associated with each tape's actual use and the ways in which these uses could be subverted or revealed as part of the way we could ‘read’ or ‘engage’ with drawings made from tape.

Below is a list of tapes, some I have simply defined by their physical makeup, others by their function. As you will quickly see a rich contextual playing field opens out as soon as you do some basic research. . 

Barbed tape: Barbed tape is characterized by the shape of the barbs: typically short barb barbed tape has barbs from 10 mm to 15 mm long, medium barb tape has barbs 20 mm to 25 mm long, and long barb tape has barbs from 60 to 66 mm long. It was first of all used to keep people in places such as mental asylums, now often used by gated communities to keep people out. 
Barricade tape: Brightly coloured tape (often incorporating a two-tone pattern of alternating yellow-black or red-white stripes or the words "Caution" or "Danger" in prominent lettering) that is used to warn or catch the attention of passersby of an area or situation containing a possible hazard.
Binding tape: Linen binding tape for handmade book manufacture. 
Bondage tape: A strip of thin plastic material, often made of latex,  that adheres only to itself, without any adhesive; it is typically intended to be used in erotic bondage as it does not stick to the hair or skin.
Book repair tape: A linen tape, using a natural adhesive with low PH designed for archival purposes.
Cable path tape: This has adhesive that runs only along its edges, similar to gaffer tape, it's designed to route cables across rooms, its adhesive-free center sits over the cables, so they can move whilst still being safely attached to the floor.
Copper tape: Some copper tapes are used as slug or snail barriers, because their mucus has an adverse reaction to copper. Copper foil tape is used in stained glass manufacture.
Double sided tape: This tape has adhesive on both sides, and is used to stick two surfaces together.
Duct tape: a composite make-up of woven cotton cloth that's been backed with polyethylene, and then coated with a high-tack adhesive.
Elastic therapeutic tape: A sports injury tape that now comes in a wide variety of colours. 
Electrical tape: Made of PVC vinyl, and is backed with a pressure sensitive rubber-type adhesive. Comes in a variety of colours (black, red, green, yellow, green, and white) that can be used for colour-coding.
Fibreglass tape: Made up of a fiberglass mesh/aluminum foil composite, and backed with a strong, durable adhesive. Usually has a shiny silver surface.
Filament tape: A pressure sensitive adhesive, coated onto a backing material of polypropylene or polyester film with fibreglass filaments embedded within it for high tensile strength.
Fire tape: Used to close the seams between drywall panels with a fire-stopping joint; Fire Tape is rated for 1 and 2 hours of fire protection.
Floor marking tape: PVC film-based tape contains a solvent or acrylic adhesive, used for marking of areas on a floor.
Friction tape: Made to wrap around things such as tennis racquet handles. A tape made of cloth which has been impregnated with a rubber-based adhesive.
Gaffer tape: Originally developed for the entertainment industry, this flexible matte-finish tape is ideal for holding down cables and marking positions, and its matte finish won't create an annoying glare by reflecting stage or set lighting.
Gecko tape: A tape surface covered with nanoscopic hairs intended to maximize surface area.
Gorilla tape: A heavy duty duct tape.
Gum tape: Brown paper gum strip is used by artists to stretch watercolour paper. Water activated tapes are also used for closing and sealing boxes.
Heat shrink tape: Heat shrink is a polyolefin sleeving that contracts when heated, conforming to whatever surface it's wrapped around.
Hockey tape: You can get both stick tape and shin tape. These come in a wide variety of colours, shin tape being elasticated and new stick tapes are now rubberised.
Lingerie tape: Used to secure bra straps and stop them from slipping, similar to wig tape which is used to stop toupees slipping.
Magic tape: It appears frosty on the roll, yet is invisible on paper. Easy to write on and therefore often used for wrapping presents.
Masking tape: The adhesive is the key element to its usefulness, as it allows the tape to be easily removed without leaving residue or damaging the surface to which it is applied. The tape is available in several strengths, rated on a 1–100 scale based on the strength of the adhesive. Most painting operations will require a tape in the 50 range. Household masking tape is made of an even weaker paper and lower-grade adhesive.
Paper repair tape: Comes as a very thin tissue, this is almost invisible when burnished.
Parcel tape: Also called box sealing tape: This usually brown tape has also been used by artists as a way to create molds of objects as well as to create a brand.  See Mark Jenkins’ and Thomas Hirschhorn’s work. (It's interesting to note that the article on Hirschorn mentions his signature style as using 'duct-tape' but its actually 'parcel tape', poor research on the part of the writer.
Police tape: Used by police forces to mark out a crime or accident area. 
Road marking tape: Preformed polymer tapes that can be applied permanently or temporary to the pavements to create road markings.
Sellotape: A British brand name, a general-purpose clear home and office tape. The name is often used as a generic term for this type of tape in the UK.
Spike tape:  Specifically for placing spikes. I.e. places where actors need to be when acting on stage or for a film. When used to indicate locations under dark conditions florescent spike tapes are used.
Silicone tape: Made out of a single self-fusing compound that bonds to itself. Used to provide waterproof seals and electrical insulation in wrap-style applications on cables, hoses, and electrical components. During application, it's simply stretched and wrapped (with slight overlapping) to create a seal, and after a curing period (usually 24 hours), the silicone forms an unbreakable bond.
Steri-strip medical tape:  These tapes used to be called butterfly stitches. A butterfly closure is one that can be done without stitches. Usually used to close small cuts in sensitive areas of the body.
Velcro tape: Consists of two components: a lineal fabric strip with tiny hooks that can "mate" with another fabric strip with smaller loops, attaching temporarily, until pulled apart.
Washi tape: Japanese self adhesive decorative tapes now widely available in card shops and other commercial outlets. Historically ‘Washi’ is the term used for hand made Japanese papers, these tapes are semi-transparent and I think it’s this quality that leads them to be called ‘washi’.

You could now go on to research who made the ingredients that make up the adhesives for these tapes, what are their working conditions like? How is PVC vinyl made? Who extracts the raw materials for these products out of the ground? Does their manufacture cause environmental damage? There will be environmental, political and sociological factors involved in adhesive tape production and above all individual human beings have been involved in every stage of their production and distribution.

However as an artist you don’t have to take these things into account, you might begin by simply turning a tape around in your hands and thinking about what you could do with it. Even the fact that tape creates layers as it is wound around the central spool can be used. 

Topographical maps carved from electrical tape.Takahiro Iwasaki.

Wes Naman and Douglas Gordon have both used sellotape to distort faces. You might want to look at how different tapes could be used to create a dialogue with the body, think of how many scenes from films involve people and tape. 

Douglas Gordon: Monster

Wes Naman

Sports injury tape

These body parts with applied sports injury tape begin to open out a fascinating dialogue between the diagram, abstraction and fashion. The important issue is as always looking for the potential in any medium to carry ideas. In this case the humble tape has become something wonderful, a material that has a powerful signifying power and one that is woven deeply into our contemporary life. 

What is the relationship between the black bar of censorship and the black tape of the terrorist who tapes his victim’s mouths shut? To tape your mouth shut is to stop you acting as a human with any agency. We use tape both physically and metaphorically and as you tear open your Xmas presents this year perhaps you might give some thought to how as an artist you could take that tape and give it a new life within an extended drawing practice.

Of course you could always draw directly onto the tape. See

See also: