Monday, 25 November 2019

Clouds

Clouds are vital to the imagination. My first imaginative experience of them was as a boy lying on my back in the long grass looking straight up into the sky and getting lost in looking for images as clouds passed over me on a hot summer's day in Dudley. Peering up past long stalks of grass uncoupled the clouds from any reference point beyond the now giant grass stalks that surrounded my head and this allowed my thoughts to drift and take me away from my home town and into somewhere else far more exciting.
A personally very significant cloud moment was watching the film 'The Agony and the Ecstasy' on the TV. This was the film version of Irving Stone's book based on the life of Michelangelo. There was a scene where Michelangelo, played by Charlton Heston, looks up at the clouds and sees for the first time a vision of his painted images covering the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and he now knows what he is going to paint.


Charlton Heston matted into the frame looking at the painted clouds

This is the image of clouds as painted by Emil Kosa jnr.

At the time I hadn't realised how the images were constructed and was convinced that if I looked long enough at the right cloud formation I would find fantastic images of all the things I wanted to draw. This was just about the time it was dawning on me that I wanted to be an artist and this film gave me a very unrealistic Romantic idea of what life as an artist was like but like many untruths, hidden inside was a truth that stuck with me. 


Godzilla?

I like the fact that this photograph of a cloud formation was seen by many as Godzilla. It suggested to me that things that are designed to appeal to our imaginations, like Godzilla, are much easier to read than objects based on reality. For instance a real dog is seen in all sorts of positions, but a cartoon dog is nearly always seen from the side. Like the dog, when Heston sees an image of God it is also from the side. 

Dog like cloud

I'm sort of drifting off the point, seeing things in clouds or similar amorphous suggestible things, such as blots and splurges of paint is a type of apophenia, or the tendency to perceive connections and meaning between unrelated things, technically the sub category is 'pareidolia', or a tendency for the incorrect perception of a stimulus as an object, pattern or meaning known to the observer, such as seeing shapes in clouds, seeing faces in inanimate objects or abstract patterns, or hearing hidden messages in music. Humans that are attuned to see other humans in everything perhaps though need a retuning, so that they see other possibilities in things and take at least one step away from a tendency to see human values as running through all eventualities. (This is an OOO objection, most psychologists would say that it is perfectly normal for people to see other people in random patterns, because that is what they are mainly interested in; which for me is where the root of certain problems might lie).





This tendency to see more than one thing at once is interesting as it creates action within a static image. It forces the mind to constantly question what is there, which is what normally happens when you see something in movement. It takes a few moments for the brain to sort out a collection of percepts. Add into that time of questioning a peculiarity of language, that for instance these percepts indicate that there is a 'rabbit' within the surrounding complexity, and you have a moment whereby 'chaos' is suddenly clarified and 'fixed' by a noun. The doing or perceiving becomes a thought. The drawings above echo that perceptual problem and show the potential of switch between one possibility and another to give energy and 'life' to a still image. 


If you didn't know what rabbit looked like you might miss it

The photographer has already drawn our attention to what is supposed to be interesting in the above image, which brings me to another issue about contemporary lens based culture. By constantly referring to photographic imagery, sometimes I wonder whether or not we are becoming more and more reliant on technologically mediated images and that we now feel more comfortable with these than we do with ones that are the result of confronting the world directly. For instance this shot of a rabbit was chosen because in profile the rabbit is more recognisable, a fact that allows us to pick it out from a very similar coloured and textured background, however the photographer would have chosen this image from several   possibilities, and would have picked out the one that was deemed to be the most clear or understandable by the audience. I.e. the photographer is doing all the work of picking out and defining what is of interest, so all the audience has to do is receive the image. I have worried about this issue before, so will park the thought for now. (But there is no escaping that rabbits, dogs and God have some profiles more recognisable than others)

If you are interested in clouds as a subject matter the artist most people would turn to first of all is John Constable, a man who lived through the period 1776 to1837. 



Constable was very much an artist of his time and was responding to a wider awareness of the romantic nature of landscape, as well as a growing belief in the power of science and objective reasoning. Clouds in particular suggested both something uncontrollable and indefinable and something that could be studied by close observation. Constable at one point below a drawing of clouds quoting Bloomfield’s lines from his poem 'Winter'.

As when retreating tempests we behold,
Whose skirts at length the azure sky unfold,
And full of murmurings and mingled wrath,
Slowly unshroud the smiling face of earth,
Bringing the bosom joy: so WINTER flies!...
And see the Source of Life and Light uprise!
A height'ning arch o'er southern hills he bends;
Warm on the cheek the slanting beam descends,
And gives the reeking mead a brighter hue,



Constable: A sunbeam descending through clouds

Nature is seen as a place of drama and romantic thrill, and in some ways an extension of the human, tempests have skirts, and murmur and the earth is un-shrouded, revealing its smiling face. So it could be argued that Constable was looking for other things in his cloud studies, things suggestive of human temperament as well as meteorological exactness. 
His tiny sketchbook studies are a lesson to us all in brevity and a reminder that when trying to make notes a conjunction of words and images is sometimes better that just one or the other. 




Constable cloud studies

Constable used the word 'skying' to describe this practice of drawing clouds, as in, ‘I have done a good deal of skying’. A description I would suggest links him to a phrase from our own times, 'blue sky thinking'. 

It is illuminating to compare Constable with Cozens, an artist I have referred to before




Cozens: cloud studies

Cozens was interested in how to turn the process of capturing cloud forms into something that could be a marketable teaching aid. His 'how to do it' approach reminding us that Capitalism was becoming the dominant economic force in England during this period. Cozens had already realised that ink blots and paint splodges could be used as marketable tools that could help the amateur painter come up with new ideas, the idea of the amateur being something that was also at the time new; like hobbies, these were activities only available to those rich enough and with spare time on their hands. 


Cozens: ‘A New Method of Assisting the Invention in Drawing Original Compositions of Landscape’ 1785

This was a time when workers were being forced to sell their labour in an increasingly competitive urban environment; because people who traditionally had made their living from the land in agricultural trades, were increasingly being dispossessed of their traditional cottages and rural homes, as land owners turned to new industrial means of production and removed no longer needed people from their lands. The powers that ruled wanted a disciplined obedient class of wage workers who would work for a pittance, and the idea that everything could be turned into a commodity had become more and more entrenched as a model idea. The problem of creating a disciplined and regimented workforce was though difficult. After living in the countryside and leading a life led by responding to the various changes in the conditions of nature, submitting to the routine of going to work daily, for a set number of hours, usually inside a dark noisy building, was an alien concept. The working day under a pre-capitalist agrarian system would have been shaped by hours of light and darkness, as most work took place out of doors. The intensity and length of labour being dictated by seasonal considerations, such as planting or harvest periods and the sky was the main indicator of these things. 
Here for me lies the paradox. As people were driven off the land, city living becomes the norm and the new industrial class of owners and managers become the people that can afford to buy Constable's paintings and who can take up Cozen's courses in art. Understanding the sky moves from being something everyone could do, to a specialist preoccupation only followed by artists and scientists. At the same time that Constable's 'Hay Wain' was receiving plaudits from the Parisian art critics, agricultural workers were being driven into the city only to find themselves homeless and starving because their skills (such as being attuned to the different cloud patterns and the weathers they foretold), were no longer needed. 
I have to be careful as I write because as the words emerge, like a drawing, what I find myself saying wasn't what I started off thinking about. But this economic divide does worry me because it still exists and fine art is often seen as only for the well heeled collector. 

So what use are these clouds? The fact that their forms are in constant metamorphosis is a wonderful stimulant for invention. At the core of image making is the fact that you don't know what you are going to do when you start. The reason you leave a drawing unfinished and in an amorphous state, is to let your unconscious take over. At some point all drawings on their way to becoming something pass through a 'cloud' of unknowing stage and that is why clouds are so important to our collective artistic imagination. This 'inventiveness' is useful for anyone, not just artists and is an essential part of how we respond to the rest of the world and accept the serendipity of interconnectedness. Clouds are also things that are 'undomesticated', they are nature at play and suggest a world other than the built forms that humans come up with. The more we live indoors, the more time spent typing on computers in dark rooms, the more clouds become a symbol for imaginative escape. Back in 1802, (click here) Luke Howard's 'Essay on the modification of clouds' had an enormous influence and created an appetite amongst the educated classes for images of clouds. In a similar way we can download from the Internet the latest advances in science and go beyond the clouds, out into space or down into the spaces of the quantum universe. However even in these 'sublime' territories Romantic clouds still exist. Images from the Large Magellanic Cloud and cloud chambers now inhabiting our visual vocabularies just as powerfully as storm clouds did in the romantic visions of the 18th and 19th centuries. 

Large Magellanic gas clouds 

Cloud chamber trajectories 

I've used cloud images myself in several different ways, sometimes as in the ceramic versions below to reverse expectations, in this case making light airy insubstantial things out of an earthy solid clay material and exhibiting them on the ground, so that they resemble coprolites. 

Ceramic clouds

Coprolites

In the two watercolour images below I used clouds as a device to obscure what would have been central to the image, as if those clouds that stopped you looking at the earth from your passenger plane window, had begun to follow you around and to always get in the way of your ability to see the world for what it is. 



Clouds as obscuring devices

Clouds are always with us and are fundamental to our visual vocabulary; different cultures will return to them over and over again, but each time with perhaps a slightly different intent.


Xia GUI: Mountain Market, Clouds, Clearing Mist (1127–1279)

Cory Arcangel: Super Mario Clouds


Gal Weinstein: ‘el al’, 2017, acrilan, styrofoam, graphite, felt and steel wool
 

Stains and blots Monoprint as a way of stimulating ideas
Seeing things for the first time
Clouds in the drawings of Patrick Hall
Drawing water
Drawing water part two

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

The Tattoo: drawing and the body

Some of the oldest drawings we have evidence of were done on human bodies. Tattoos have been central to the way humans communicate meaning through drawing for tens of thousands of years and have been used by cultures across the world. So perhaps it is about time this blog looked at such a fundamental area of drawing. It is interesting in terms of my own self-awareness that I have not posted on tattoos before. Perhaps I'm still at the back of my mind suffering from that old high/low culture divide and an art form that if I look around me is ubiquitous, has somehow been not taken as seriously as it should have been, because at some point in my past it was introduced to me as an art form only taken up by criminals and sailors. It is in fact one of the most vital and living art forms around; it supports the making of wonderful images and it clearly works as a communication tool.


Scythian mummy tattoo, Pazyryk, Russia. 200 to 400 BC

One of the oldest examples I am aware of is this Scythian mummy tattoo from Pazyryk in Russia from around 200 to 400 BC. It is a very rare thing to find a tattoo as old as this, and what interested me was how zoomorphic junctures, or the mixing of one animal with another is central to the design. I have been thinking a lot recently about our position in the world and if we see ourselves as another animal like others, perhaps we might be more sympathetic to our fellow creatures and less likely to treat them simply as things to do with as we may. One reading of this tattoo is that it represents the fluid nature of animal identities and that there were no clear distinctions between them and people in the mind of the person who had been tattooed. The world of the shaman, often dissolved the differences between people and animals or landscapes, moving beyond empathy into a positive energy giving relationship that gave people meaning. I would like to think that these tattoos were part of the communication to one's self and others of something of that nature. Animism and other early pre-organised religious ways of coming to terms with the world, seem to me to link these very early ideas of how we relate to the world and each other, with contemporary thinking in relation to how we are responding to an awareness of the Anthropocene. (The name we are all becoming more aware of for the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment)

I think it's fascinating that someone in Leeds can walk into a tattoo parlour and ask for a Maori tattoo design. These designs use 'Manawa' lines which represent your life, or life journey during your time spent on this Earth. This idea which seems so similar to the idea of the 'wyrd', a Northern European tradition from pre-Christian times, feels as if it is really needed in a society where so many people feel uncoupled from the world and anxious because their lives lack meaning. Branching out from the 'Manama' lines are 'Koru'  lines and these can represent both people and new growth. Their shapes originally deriving from the tiny spiral growth shoots of a New Zealand Fern plant. As 'Koru' or growth lines are added, important people are linked into your life journey, such as mothers, fathers, children, loved ones etc. 


A contemporary tattoo based on a 'koru' form

It could be argued that taking an idea from one culture and using it within another is a debased concept. But I'm not so sure. If something is needed in one culture and an answer for that need can be seen as part of another culture, I see no reason to argue against it. I would rather celebrate it and help to communicate a wider cultural awareness of what the symbolism might mean. For instance if a Fern type image represents new growth and new relationships, shouldn't this be part of a ritual that celebrates the fact? 

People that involve themselves in tattoo culture are part of a unique collaborative art form. The person that has their body tattooed will build a close relationship up between themselves and one or several tattoo artists. It is a relief to see that each image does not come associated with a tattooist's signature, there being some sort of recognition that this is a proper collaborative art form. 

A full body tattoo combining a variety of styles.

This full body tattoo combines eastern mysticism with western Op Art and old style symbolism. Bi-lateral symmetry gives overall compositional coherence to the imagery and the effect is very powerful. 

Eastern symbolism 

Eastern symbolism dominates this torso, but other images such as a picture of Big Ben are also used to give a global worldwide cultural expression to the projected image. 

The all over animal

The old animist urges are still around and I was surprised at how many tattoos are designed to create some form of metamorphosis between human and animal forms. 

I am only just beginning to research this area of drawing and the more I do so the more interesting I think it is. Especially in the cross fertilisation of tattoo images from various cultures. Homi K Bhabha's 'The Location of Culture' could be rewritten in relation to the way that various traditions have now been morphed into totally new forms (what Bhabha termed at the time, "hybridisation"), because of the need for contemporary cultures to find expressive forms that can do justice to the various needs that people have within them. I have been recently doing some work with a jewellery designer who has long been aware of the power of body decoration, so I have been making my own drawings for the body. I shall in the near future put up more posts on my growing awareness of body decoration as time goes on, but for now I just wanted to break through an old mental barrier, one that had me thinking that tattoos were something for other people; outsiders, not things that are central to nearly all world cultures, and which in some instances, seem to be the dominate form of inter-personal communication.

Auschwitz number tattoo

Tattooing was introduced at Auschwitz in the autumn of 1941, and this may be why I have avoided looking at tattoos before now. I had long associated tattooing with branding, with a way of numbering people, so that they were demeaned and reduced to a disposable thing. I need to both never forget this and yet at the same time respond to the fact that many people  find the tattoo a way of deepening their ability to make meaningful inter-personal communication. 

I have been working on ideas myself but they are not yet properly realised.






See also:

Paper and skin

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Drawing at Art School Symposium UWE

On Friday I was at the 'Drawing at Art School' Symposium at the University of the West of England in Bristol and as usual I made notes so that I could remember what want on. 

Notes from November 8th

Session 1

Andrew Hall: Drawing as a democratic space within the fine and applied arts: Categorisation, Process, Outcome.

Andrew's talk was focused on process.
We were reminded of the time before the Coldstream report when life drawing was central to all art school teaching. The reason I have a DipAD is because of that report and There is a very good history of that time here. there has been a lot of research done looking back and analysing the pros and cons of life drawing as a central plank of art education and I'm not about to revisit the arguments here. 


Stephen Farthing on what art students need to look at now

Stephen Farthing's illustration of the taxonomy of drawing was shown and Andrew articulated how Farthing's image illustrated the heavy load that drawing carried on its collective back. Drawing in our society and therefore within our education system, was often seen as a mountain to climb, with the drawings of Rembrandt at its pinnacle, and with drawings done by jobbing practitioners such as tattoo artists at the bottom. I.e. there was a particular hierarchy, the top of which was seen as the work of genius, a genius that few of us will ever aspire to, so we collectively all give up and decide we cant draw because we will never be as good as Rembrandt. Farthing sets out to find another way to illustrate the field of drawing and looks for a much flatter series of relationships.


Stephen Farthing: painting as a map of relationships

Farthing had previously made a map of painting using Harry Beck's underground design as the blueprint. Farthing used the same idea to show how drawing could be seen as a series of interconnected approaches to visualisation, he was trying to show that drawing was effectively a tool with which to undertake a whole series of different but interconnected jobs.
Farthing's own history as head of the Ruskin School was linked in to remind us of how seminal Ruskin's work was to the way we think about drawing now. Ruskin described himself as a polymath, being interested in everything from geology to ornithology and he saw drawing as a democratic tool that could be used by anybody to help understand any and all of the different disciplines he had looked at. In some ways Ruskin's 'The elements of drawing' could be seen as the first virtual learning course on drawing. A blend of technical tips and moral philosophy, 'The elements of drawing' was what I was thinking about when I started this blog, and if at any time you were to judge this blog as an educational learning tool, I would cite Ruskin's work as being the first thing to measure it against. Ruskin taught that drawing was not just about accomplishment, it was also about learning a useful skill that allows you to record the world as well as understand it.
Hall them moved on to cite John Berger as a product of the way drawing was taught at the Central School of Art before the Coldstream Report. He reminded us that drawing is both a private and public experience and that the public or performative aspect of this was becoming more important. Maryclare Foá's 'Line down Manhattan' and Richard Long's 'A line made by walking' were cited. 
Hall went on to state that 'process' was the new focus for contemporary practice, the 'act' of drawing becoming more and more important. This also moves drawing into the third dimension and the performance pieces begin to include more and more objects, such as Rebecca Horn's pencil mask construction. 


Rebecca Horn

As performance becomes more important documentation becomes vital to its recording, and as this happens sound and orchestrated filmed movement become integral to what is now becoming a well established practice. Hall also mentioned 'location' drawing as leading to performance, but this caused a bit of a confused set of relationships in my head. Because I sometimes work helping local people describe their property, I have used location drawing to show property lines and to locate any improvements made as well as illustrate any right of ways, and other specific property features. This is done so that you don't have to have an expensive boundary survey made. I presumed that what he was referring to was the old practice of drawing on location, and how it was itself always teetering on the edge of performance, as I know full well because of my own time spent drawing in Chapeltown. 
Andrew introduced his work with others on 'mindfulness' drawing and I was reminded that I had participated in a session with him in Loughborough at an earlier drawing conference.  
Mindfullness is becoming more and more important as a tool to help art students take responsibility for their own personal development and it has been shown to be an excellent tool in the battle against high levels of anxiety and depression amongst young people. This is something that I have already put up a series of posts about specifically in response to a request from students on the Fine Art course here at Leeds Arts University. See: Drawing and mindfulness
Finally Andrew introduced the work of Shantell Martin, as an example of an ex-student from the UAL who had integrated performance into her practice as a street artist and who was now working with the New York ballet. 


Shantell Martin at work

Chloe Regan: Drawing as a learning tool: An exploratory study

Chloe began by citing the "I can't draw." problem and the fact that as educators we need to be clear about being able to give answers as to how it is useful. Although there has been a resurgence in drawing across the sector there has not been much clarity as to what drawing actually does. Therefore she has proposed using Bloom's taxonomy as a way of breaking down the various elements that drawing covers.
Bloom's Taxonomy


If you decide to go into education Bloom's taxonomy along with Maslow's hierarchy will be one of the key areas of thinking introduced as to how learning works. His taxonomy is used to classify educational learning objectives into rising levels of complexity. 
Remembering was linked to time spent drawing, a photograph doesn't allow the taker to spend any time looking and therefore fixing an image in the mind was something drawing does much better. 
Understanding was linked to drawing's ability to abstract and simplify things. You can use it to extract information, decide what is important, and it allows you to leave things out as well as collect other things together. 
Applying was linked to drawing's ability to communicate and reinterpret information. For instance by mapping, grouping or clustering information together so that it can be presented in a much clearer way. 
Analysing was linked to drawing's ability to make new connections between things and to look at how different techniques told different narratives about what was being looked at. It allows for the use of intuition and imagination in the thought processes associated with analysis, processes that in the sciences are kept out of the analytic toolkit. 
Evaluating was seen as analysing in action and about self reflection. For instance you might make very large drawings so that you can see how the mark quality works. You might build a critique team in the life studio. Basically what did you see and what did you understand?
Creating, thinking made visual, by perhaps combining layers of information. Making the connection between external reality and internal impulses. The mixing of objective and subjective modes of thinking. 
I noticed that there was a reference to Moses at the bottom of the slide on creating, and wondered if Chloe had used his 5 steps to think about how students could take control of their own learning. These are:
Students participate in a common physical experience. 
Students draw pictorial representations of what they have experienced. 
Students discuss and write about the event in their everyday language.
Students learn the academic jargon. 
Finally, students develop symbolic representations that describe what they have learned.
As students sometimes it is useful to look at the various education theories around and think about how they have been applied to your own learning. 

Paul Fleidsend Danks: Drawing learning/learning drawing: A personal view

Whilst showing the work of a 5 year old Paul reminded us of Richard Serra's statement that, "There is no way to make a drawing, there is only drawing." 
Paul introduced the idea of drawing as self determined learning and asserted that drawing was a fundamental human attribute. 
We were reminded of how drawing is being stripped from the school curriculum. Even when it has been proven that drawing leads to sticky knowledge. 
Drawing as a speculative strategy was explored, in particular how a child could use it to illustrate a proposition in a much more sophisticated way than verbal language. 
He used an example of a child building a stair installation with an idea needing a 'floodlit' extra stair to realise it, so she had constructed a drawing of an imaginary spotlit image to replace the extra step. A very sophisticated idea, that had been handled beautifully, mainly because drawing can be so flexible and open to intuitive thinking. 
Paul suggested that new technology opened new opportunities for drawing and helped create a bridge between the virtual and the real. 


Ralph Macartney pencil suit 

He introduced Ralph Macartney and his pencil suit to remind us of how performative drawing had become and reasserted Ruskin's support for the use of sketchbooks and revisited Turner's sketchbooks. Each one of which when looked at reminds us of the present tense, as each time we look at them we are present in the moment of their making. 
Anna Barriball's fireplace piece video was also cited as being seminal and again we are present in the moment of its making every time the video is shown. 


Anna Barriball

Anna Barriball's work reminded me of being a boy and having to put a newspaper over the front of the fire to get a draft through to start it. The draft comes in phases and as it does the paper pushes and pulls against the fire's various structural elements, which reveal themselves as dark ghosts as the air sucks the paper into the cavity of the fireplace. It is a very interesting work and sits beautifully into her oeuvre whereby she has made rubbings in such a way that the paper becomes sculptural, her use of graphite becoming a shallow casting process. 
The fact that drawing is everywhere and done by everyone was celebrated and we were informed of the importance of and the existence of the anonymous drawing archive set up by Anke Becker. 
Finally we were left with another Richard Serra quote: 
"Drawing is a way into seeing into your own nature. Nothing more". 

Session 2


Howard Riley: The case for the primacy of visualcy within a Neoliberal Artschool curriculum

Howard began by reminding us of "The docile acceptance of managerial manipulation and how it was eroding visual literacy". 
Drawing was a curriculum without a cause. An intelligence of seeing was something even recognised in an OFSTEAD report. 
Jacob Willer's 'What happened to the art schools?' was cited as being an important document if we were to understand what had happened.  

Therefore, Howard argued we need to state our case much more clearly as educators and in order to do this he set out 5 pedagogical premises. 

1. Levels of perception; an enquiry into distal and proxima values, i.e. research into how we see. (I read distal and proxima to be research into how the eyes become aware of things on the edge of vision and how we assess depth by using two eyes to check differences on proximity as things move closer or further away) See for instance drawing a straight line.

2. Seeing and believing. This was about representation systems, such as perspective, various projection systems, mixed forms of representation responding to how we walk through spaces and the spaces found in Australian aboriginal images.
He showed us the Shinto drawing below to illustrate non perspectival space.


Notice how each doorway had aligned itself to someone approaching it.
(I have pointed to these types of issues several times, see this typical post)


3. Functions of art. This was looking at how composition carries meaning or how mood can be changed by shifting language or creating different tonal values. (Again we have looked at these types of issues before, see for instance this post on tone.)

4. Visual communication. This was concerned with rhetorical tropes. (See posts such as this one on communication theory)


5. Processes of transformation. This was about how for instance a concept could be transformed into a percept. How languages are constructed and how they themselves shape the world. (We have looked at ideas that overlap with Howard's in several posts, see for example this one on beginnings)

Howard told us that language is like glass, you can see through it but at the same time it also reflects other things.

Tania Kovats: Communities of practice: Drawing

Tania spoke of her time working to develop the drawing course at Wimbledon. I was particularly excited to hear her talk as I have referred to her work before in blog posts, in particular her book drawing water and seen a lot of her work over the years in various exhibitions.


This is in the library

Tania was particularly focused on reminding us of the benefits of being part of a community of practice. This was something I hadn't really thought about before, but I was quickly made aware that a lot of people in the room already knew each other and there was a feeling of considerable synergy between the various people and approaches to thinking about drawing that I came across.
As well as outlining the various benefits of being part of a drawing community, she also gave a short presentation about her own relationship with drawing. What was particularly interesting was that she used a wide variety of approaches, each one chosen for its effectiveness in dealing with the issues that she was working with. For instance if she needed to communicate with technicians she might make very technical drawings, but for another audience and idea the drawings might be very fluid and gestural.
She also pointed out that other groups besides herself were communicating via drawing, her interest in drawing ecologies leading her to look at various diagrams that were being produced to clarify what is happening with regards to the Earth's ecosystems and how we could possibly monitor them.
From proposals for installations, fountains and exhibitions, via the making of actual art that goes on a wall, she was using drawing drawing as a central resource for her various practices.
Finally she reminded us that drawing was also something that took place outside the art world and that she had recently been involved in drawing and meditation, something that does appear to be a vital issue for many artists, both at student level and for long established practitioners. (See earlier posts on drawing and mindfulness exercises)
Drawing was seen as a tool for life, and it was something that could be attuned to one's breathing, and as such a doorway into meditation.

Anouk Mercier: Her role at UWE as lead technical instructor for drawing


Anouk gave a talk after dinner on her role at UWE and how it had expanded over the few years she had been in position. She delivers 3 life class sessions a week and these are rotated around different areas, so that one week students might be able to make a print and on another perhaps make an enamelled object. Students come from various areas and this allows for cultural mixing, illustrators alongside fine artists, craftspeople and designers. She pointed to the importance of  dedicated space for drawing and again how wellbeing is central to the activity. Various workshops covering different aspects of drawing are now being put on in response to the various demands coming from UWE courses. Having something like this also fosters interest in drawing and research, hence the symposium been held at UWE.

Session 3

Kelly Chorpening: Drawing's agency: where less can be more

Kelly gave a presentation based on her work with first year students at Camberwell. I was particularly interested in the fact that she focused on several practices that had emerged out of political necessity and were designed to operate as political actions or to raise awareness of real life issues.
She raised the question as to how are we making drawings for and for what purpose. By not using as examples the normal GB/USA centred practices, she was also able to try and decentre the western hegemony and would focus on for example artists from Russia working in a post-soviet tradition.
I was particularly interested in Mujeres Creando a Bolivian anarcha-feminist collective. Their work straddles performance, direct action, zines and installation art. We were shown an image of translations from the Karma Sutra written as slogans on women's underwear. Being a feminist activist in Bolivia would take a pretty high level of commitment and courage.

Nedko Solakov's 'Amadoodles' were presented as an example of an artist working in public spaces.
From: Nedko Solakov's 'Amadoodles'

Jose Leonilson as an artist confronting aids in Brazil.



Jose Leonilson

Truong Tan as the first 'out' Vietnamese artist.

Truong Tan

When Czechoslovakia was invaded by Soviet army in 1968, people resisted through creative means. After people were forbidden to listen to radio broadcasts, they started attaching antennas to bricks as a sign of protest.




A Czechoslovakian radio


An early example of marriage between media and activism, these “devices” represented for Tamás St. Turba, “the mutation of socialist realism into neo-socialist realism: a non-art art for and by all”.


Mounira al Solh a Lebanese artist uses yellow legal pads to draw on. These pads are being used all the time because so many people are stateless or in a position where only by getting legal counsel can they survive the vicissitudes of war and global unrest.


Mounira al Solh: drawings on legal pads

Kelly went on to introduce a range of practices and as you can see she was making a determined effort to give an insight into the often politically sensitive drawing practices that were emerging in various parts of the world, mainly because drawing can be done anywhere and it doesn't involve lots of expensive equipment.

We were then told about some fundamental questions that students were asked. Including 'what makes a drawing good?' Is it for instance important that the artist makes the work?
Issues seen as central to the making of practice were: Time; Money; Space: Opportunity and Health.
Finally students were reminded that some of the best work was of quality because it was coming out of situations that meant the artist was having to operate in precarious conditions. Out of necessity invention will come and the work will often have an edge to it that would be impossible if only aesthetic considerations were engaged with.

Myself talking about this blog

I then gave a talk about this blog. Why it exists in the way it does and what its purpose is. I tried to clarify the fact that the issues dealt with come from conversations I have with various students during the week. At least one conversation will 'stick' with me and become a kernel around which my thoughts will grow. For instance this week I had an interesting conversation with someone about clouds. I can feel a post growing in my head about it, on the other hand today I had two conversations about Edward Allington who's work is on exhibition at the Henry Moore centre at the moment, so will no doubt put something up about that soon.

Stefan Gant: Ruminating the physical, digital and Phygital in a contemporary drawing programme.

Stephen was looking at the use of blended technologies around drawing. He was concerned to respond to changes in generational approaches to computers, how do generation 'Z' students deal with time for instance?
We need to be responding to technology that is happening now, and Stephan reminded us of what Pollock had to say back in 1951, “It seems to me that the modern painter cannot express his age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or any other past culture. Each age finds its own technique.”
Digital fluency is just part of the expanded field of drawing.
He explained how his 24 week course works, starting with 6 weeks of life drawing, going into animation (looking at Robin Rhode and William Kentridge as models);


Robin Rhode

then using Premier Pro in a media suite, and finally making a digital video for two weeks.
I was not taking notes with any clarity during this session as I was sort of coming down from my own talk, but right at the end Stephen mentioned Lucy Gunning, an artist I have cited on this blog before as being well worth looking at.

Session 4


Simon Packard: Making room for a drawing room: Naked Tuesdays, Weird Wednesdays, ballerinas and baptisms 

Simon Packard introduced us to his redesigned drawing studio for Foundation students in Stroud. He had had the previous space rebuilt (mainly by using labour from the Glastonbury festival it seemed) and now it can host a variety of activities, many of which are designed to stimulate the drawn imagination. In particular he has made environments consisting of pigs heads and offal, had dancers moving through spaces, introduced live music, used a lot of projections to animate the space and generally make the environment into a stimulating space for practice.
I was fascinated by what he was doing because for 20 years I taught drawing on the foundation course at Leeds and his tactics were very similar to those I encountered when I arrived at Leeds to teach a post-Thubron curriculum that also had moving models, immersive drawing environments, the occasional skeleton and whatever else the staff could conjure up at the time. The difference was that he seems to be able to keep his drawing studio going all year, we had to dismantle these environments and set up new studio spaces as students began to break down into their various specialisations.
A great pedagogic energy came across and the fact he had had the walls painted black seemed to make the space more magical and immersive, conducive I would have thought to letting go and perhaps sensing an almost shamanistic possibility to working in this small arena. Having a lot of tea lights about was a good thing too as it encouraged the building of light structures within the space, at one point surrounding the model with them and creating a very interesting series of photographs of a glowing image.
Student feedback was that it was a fantastic experience and they had created actions to stop the room being removed by management. Peter Kardia's 'locked room' was cited as being part of the pedagogical history of this way of working. This was I presumed the St Martin's 'Locked Room' whereby students were locked in with a basic set of materials and told to respond. I think this was back in about 1970 because I remember working with someone from St Martins at the local steelworks in Brierley Hill and he told me all about this weird and wonderful experience he had had, and at the time I wanted some of that too. Packard described one of his set-ups as Led Zeppelin meets Frances Bacon, and I hope he is given the managerial dispensation to carry on working in this way. (Thinking of Howard Riley's opening statement)
Working with Foundation students means that you are creating something applicable to both fine art and design disciplines and I thought the work being done with stacks of coloured boxes was particularly interesting. These boxes were strategically placed at the top of a stairway and filmed as a wall of boxes can crashing down onto the stairs. It was wonderful opportunity to study movement in action if you were going into animation or games design. 

Lucy Algar: Drawing performance: Creating confident collaborators through movement, mark making, dance and dialogue. 

Lucy Algar teaches on the theatre design course at Wimbledon and she introduced us to the work she had been doing bringing dancers into the course, so that students had experience of real live performers making art in real spaces. This was a way of giving the students an embodied understanding of the discipline they were engaged in. These students often use models to communicate their ideas but Lucy wanted her students to get an understanding of how the performers that would inhabit stage designs embody the spaces that they need in order to communicate. 
I had been to a contact improvisation session at the Leeds College of Dance and had heard Tim Ingold speak at the end of a dance session, so was very aware of how drawing and dance could be both physically linked and conceptually bound so that as Lucy Algar put it "the line acts and reacts". Or as Tim Ingold put it, "The line we cut through existence is open ended".
Alison Chitty had commented, "Drawing is my way out of the black hole". Chitty had at one point quoted Rae Smith as stating that "drawing was a collaboration with self and others". 

It was interesting to think about how a gesture in dance could be translated into a gesture in drawing. I was reminded of the close association of visual art and dance in Indian culture, and the importance of gesture in many Indian stone carvings. 
Her point that the warm up is for everyone, was again interesting and the more drawing gets performative, the more art schools will need to look at the exercises that have been developed over the years in dance schools. 
Improvisation and negotiation were presented as key tools and it was easy to see how these straddled and united both disciplines. 
Leap Into Action: Critical Performative Pedagogies in Art & Design Education by Lee Campbell was cited as a seminal text.

Sophia Banou: Architectures of drawing:Critical drawing as spatial practice


As the day had gone on the light in the room was darkening because no more light was entering it from the side windows, this meant it was getting harder and harder to make notes. So I was effectively by now writing in the dark, an interesting activity, but one very hard to make sense of after the event. 
Sophia was concerned to explore how architectural drawing could be much more about the reality of exploring space than using CAD programs to visualise architectural propositions. 
She pointed to a history of using, plans, elevations, axonometric projections, parallel and orthographic conventions and demonstrated that these systems were rooted in an inheritance of proprietary (ownership) and reason. 
Cartesian geometry whereby we define area by using x, y and z coordinates lies behind most computer graphics programs and lies at the core of the translation of 2D drawing into 3D visualisations. The work of Robin Evans was cited as being of influence in the way these translations between different types of thinking could be seen as generating ideas.


A Robin Evans lecture

In order to contextualise the historical issues surrounding two and tree dimensional translations in architectural history we were shown an image of the tracing floor at York Minster. 


The tracing floor at York Minster

The tracing floor is perhaps one of the most evocative drawings I know. I also seems to sit in that gap between drawing and sculpture where the world and graphic invention merge. The drawings etched into the surfaces of the Temple of Apollo at Didyma were also cited as early examples of the need to draw in order to think about architectural space and these too are wonderfully evocative images. 


Drawing etched into the floor of the Temple of Apollo at Didyma 

Sophia had linked these early representations with contemporary works such as Walter de Mara's 'Mile Long Drawing', whereby the drawing and the space it occupies become one. 


Walter de Mara: 'Mile Long Drawing'

El Lissitzky's 'Proun room' was cited as another example of someone working in the gap between architectural space and real space. 


El Lissitzky's 'Proun room' 


Monika Grzymala's tape drawings were presented as examples of the drawing becoming the space itself. 
Monika Grzymala

The gap between drawing and fabrication is what interests Sophia and she had organised a range of experiences for her architectural students to enable them to fully grasp the interplay between the two. 
Building drawings and the lines of surface and fabrication were then shown to be behind the conceptions she had for her own work.


Sophia Banou: Kaleidoscope

I was very interested in the interplay between construction materials, architectural drawing, performance and construction in her work. However by now it had become too dark to make notes. From what I remember though the connection was made between weaving and spatial depiction, (another thread that we have looked at before, see and also) as well as filmic space and the history of devices for looking and measuring

As always with these events it made me think about how people coming from other disciplines always had very interesting insights into the business of drawing. It makes me even more determined to keep looking at how approaches to drawing can come from almost anywhere and that as fine art students you need to yourselves be constantly open to ideas and concepts coming from other disciplines, this will help you overcome the traps and pitfalls of being too immersed in your own interests. 

You can now find recordings of all the presentations here 


Notes from previous drawing conferences