Category Archives: 2016 – 2017 academic year

What’s happened to my Parachute?

Family photos, by their very nature, usually involve people.  I am not a figurative painter, so the work for the exhibition is like sky diving without the instructions for the parachute.

My strength lies in mood and emotion, not faces, hands and feet.  What is frustrating is that even when I do capture ‘that look’, my rational mind realises that it is the wrong place and has to be moved, not easy in watercolour.

Paintings 6-11 in the Family series are all at the ‘face’ stage.  A challenging day ahead.

Sisters, watercolour on paper 76x56cms

Kitty and Girls, watercolour on paper 76x56cms

Grandfather and Girls, watercolour on paper 76x56cms

At the Seaside, watercolour on paper 76x56cms

At the Inlaws, watercolour on paper 76x56cms

Final Day, watercolour on paper 76x56cms

Advertisements

Chaos? What Chaos?

The process of painting from family photos is proving interesting.  Anton Ehrenzweig references ‘the self-destructive attack of unconscious functions on the rational surface sensibilities.’, calling the tragic images of creativity ‘poemagogic’, because they describe the act of creating.’ 1 p xiii  He suggests that ‘creative work succeeds in coordinating the results of unconscious undifferentiation and conscious differentiation and so reveals the hidden order in the unconscious.’ p4  He explains that undifferentiation, as distinct from chaos, ‘corresponds to the primitive still undifferentiated structure of a child’s vision of the world.’, p5 what Piaget calls ‘syncretistic’ vision.  E H Gombrich 2, talking about ‘matching’ an image with reality implies that it is either analytic or syncretistic.

Pablo Picasso, 'Weeping Woman' 1937

The Weeping Woman 1937 Pablo Picasso, Oil paint on canvas, Support: 608 x 500 mm frame: 847 x 739 x 86 mm

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/picasso-weeping-woman-t05010

Picasso’s The Woman Weeping at first seems chaotic to the conscious mind.  The resemblance achieved by a syncretistic portrait relies on a subtle balance that defies conscious analysis.

img_3706

First Born l, watercolour on paper 56 x 76 cms

I am working on four images.  Progress is slow.  The scanning between undifferentiated and differentiated states seems to require distance with the work, as if whilst working I am ‘manipulating’ what I am seeing to being that which I want to see.  It is only by stepping back, and a photographic image of the work is particularly helpful for this, that I see the ‘reality’.

Looking at First Born l from this clinical distance, I do not ‘sense’ the essence of my father.  Yes the protectiveness, the awkwardness, the pride are all there, but the connection that I had with him isn’t, so I must return and rework the essence, working purely from memory.

img_3707

First Born l, watercolour on paper 76 x 56 cms

There is still some tidying work to do, (sleeve is too dark, the line leading off the left of the image is distracting), but the essence of the image captures our relationship.  It is interesting that there is a greater distance between my mother’s face and mine, than in the photo, and that area is particularly blurry.  This image ‘took off’ from the first line of my mother’s back, as if she was happy to step into the work, grateful for the attention.

Marion Milner when describing the process of free drawing, as she grappled with the complexities of learning to paint, acknowledges ‘in one part of the mind, there really could be a fear of losing all sense of separating boundaries; particularly the boundaries between the tangible realities of the external world and the imaginative realities of the inner world of feeling and idea; in fact a fear of being mad…..The same fear was to appear again with the imaginative perception of action in nature, the fear of letting go common sense appearances and letting in imagination meant letting in madness.’1 p17

Her work, reprinted many times over 40 years, approaches the creative process from a psychoanalytical practice led perspective, ‘free drawing’, then analysing the work, as if a Freudian dream.  Interestingly, writing in the second edition she noted that whenever she was able to break free of creating a ‘mechanical copy’, there was ‘a feeling that the ordinary sense of self had temporarily disappeared..’p154  Referring to Ehrenzweig’s three phases of creativity (projection, integration and re-introjection 2 p276), Milner posits that the analytical states of consciousness, described as elation, blankness and oceanic, could be viewed from a different perspective.  Mystical writings refer to ’emptiness’ as beneficial, as the central concept in Taoism.  ‘Is it not possible that the blankness is a necessary prelude to a new integration?.. there is some force or interplay of forces creating something new, and to suggest that the way we think about it affects the way it works… that a number of states of mind that are different from every day conscious awareness may be in part an expression of the unconscious or half conscious need to give this creativeness its freedom..’ 1 p154/p155

Perhaps there are moments when I share her fear.img_3731

Grandma and Me, watercolour on paper 56 x 76 cms

With this image I creep gingerly forward, spending time adjusting areas that jar.  The tissue texture is working particularly well on the apron, with the contrast between our skins evident.  I catch myself veering towards ‘likeness’ and walk away until I can get myself into the right space with a cup of tea or a change of music.  It is possible to feel my eyes scanning the image for details or areas that are not congruent with the whole.  Yesterday during the second phase of the large collaborative drawing we are producing at the drawing class (detailed in blog Peeling the Onion) we spent as much time scanning and consciously analysing, as we did mark making .  Working on such a large scale magnified the process and made it that much easier to see exactly how the conscious/unconscious dovetails.

As the four images approach resolution, where next?  As part of the research for the contextual study I have developed a heightened awareness of my intuition.  Yesterday I inquired in the drawing class how to approach bringing my drawing into my painting and I was directed to Kandinsky’s Point and Line to Plane.  Today leafing through my unread books I was drawn to Cottrell’s Critical Thinking Skills.  Neither book would have consciously been selected.

So where next?  I am returning to the comment I made in my Pecha Kucha.  Am I an abstract artist who has yet to let go of form?  The word ‘fragmentation’ is also appearing in a number of different contexts.  I will explore both through my practice and reflection, whilst not losing sight of my quest for ‘essence’ of form.

 

Pushing Against the Edge

The process continues.  Working from the collaged charcoal image, rather than the original photo, creating a visual detachment, rather than an emotional one.  Understanding the colour basis of grey, mixing the grey I really wanted, proved easier than I had expected, using Indigo (dark blue with a hint of yellow) and Alizarin Crimson.

All images are on watercolour paper paper 43 x 61 cms.

img_1318

Collaged and charcoal

The next step was  to draw a ‘ mark making’ outline, using a needle tip bottle to create the charcoal like marks, selectively washing the lines with a flat sponge brush.  The effect works, but has a sketchy quality.

img_3642

As part of the process of combining drawing with painting I applied tissue before approaching the image again as above.  Much as I favour this random result in our areas of my work, I don’t feel it works for people.

img_3641

I then decided to strip away the outline and just work with the illusory wash.  This is the first layer.  I have been revisiting the work of Paul Feiler, Kitty Sabatier, Roy Oxlade and Emily Ball, who each strip away in various ways.

img_3640

Mixing a grey with printing ink, I applied a background surface, overworked with watercolour needle bottle lines and brush wash.  The effect is pleasing, but wash areas look too contrived.

img_3677

Using coloured printing inks, I repeated above without the washes.  I like the effect and the colour adds vibrancy.  I am used to working slowly and this process was over in a heartbeat.  One to reflect on.

img_3676

I then repeated the printing process using watercolour for the printing.  Again pleasing and has possibilities.

img_3678

I am keen to embody the Giacometti approach of teasing out the image, rather than drawing an outline.  It doesn’t feel a natural way for me to work, but I do need to remember that it took him many years master this technique of losing oneself in the image, the most immediate evidence of the unconscious mind in action.  I am reminded that Hyunmee Lee produces around 300 drawings in preparation for a series of paintings.  This approach is also the slowest and most meditative of the processes that I have experimented with.

img_3680

Returning to  watercolour washes, using vegetation for mark making, I worked over the illusiary wash (image 4 above).  I am pleased with the effect of the woman’s face, which has an unconscious, abandoned energy, but less so with other areas, which feel more conscious..

img_3681

Abandoning the outline, I sponge printed with watercolour, adding minimal needle point details to bring the image together.  Whilst the image works surprisingly well, a series of works in this style would have an element of gimicry, that would detract from the emotional content of the image.

img_3682

I feel my progress is slow, as if I am sculpting to release the image within.  It is surprisingly exhausting.  Writing is a welcome reflective release.  Each step has been directed by my intuition, be it to other people’s work for inspiration or to familiar, but forgotten processes.  After each image is complete I wait silently for direction.  I have one more process that I want to try before considering my options, one that returns more closely to my ‘natural’ practice, one that includes more layering, less immediacy, a more meditative approach.

img_3683

This final image combines strategically placed tissue, texture printing, watercolour and emulsion layers.  The slow process of layering, the finger moulding of the paint, reflecting, the dialogue with the image, feels more connected, more meditative, more me.  The lower half of the work has echoes of Celia Paul’s work.  This was not by intention, but by ‘tuning in’ to the sensitivity required to produce this type of figurative work, the possibility will always be there.

Throughout this project I have been reflecting on my colour choice, particularly after Ben questioned it in my  tutorial.  I am reminded of Hyunmee Lee’s video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_S_hd_WgDI and her writings on her colour choice http://www.hyunmeelee.com/ , working with black and yellow for several years before moving consciously to blue and black.  Her methodical process of exploring ideas (several hundred in her case, a more realistic dozen for me), of limiting her palette, of layering, exploring gestures and surfaces, removing and leaving traces, of meditating and responding from the unconscious, her Eastern philosophical approach.  So much I have carried into my own work, much I was already doing, without understanding.  Someone has said that this is OK and that calms my confusion.

This project, (quite apart from the MA itself), has been an interesting and intense journey.  Each decision regarding direction has been directed by my intuition.  A methodical, conscious process which deliberately lacked  spontaneity, (although I feel that that will come as my confidence grows).  I am not sure I could have achieved this result without such a process.  The creative element is reflected in my dialogue with each individual image.  I am comfortable with the outcome.

I feel I have finally, finally made a real breakthrough in terms of who I am and where I am coming from.  Nothing has changed and yet everything has.  The next stage is to produce the work, which somehow seems less daunting, and be able to articulate what has happened and is happening.  The process has worked, the pain was worth it.

 

Eric & Andre

I have finally finished Pat Paxson’s densely packed, PhD thesis, Art & Intuition 1.  I am reminded of that classic sketch with Eric Morecombe and Andre Previn.  I know the information contained within is meaningful to me, I am just not quite sure which ideas matter.  I am reassured by Anton Ehrenzweig in The Hidden Order of Art 2, (a breeze to read by comparison), that it is necessary to take ‘flying leaps’ over the, at first, incomprehensible bits, in order to grow, much as a child uses its syncretistic ability to enjoy the whole, without necessarily understanding the detail.

I will use this blog to try to create some clarity.

Much of Paxson’s work makes sense in principle, the use of practice led research to support or disprove a particular idea, the exploration of the unthought stage of creativity (unconscious? intuition?) and looking beyond Freud to Jacques Lacan, for his concepts of the Gaze, the Gap (the door that opens between conscious and unconscious) and the Stain (the influence of unconscious energy on the psyche), to Bracha Ettinger for the Matrixial Gaze, and others, for a more expansive perspective.  What I am at odds with is what feels like slight manipulation.  In her conclusion she refers to the libidinal gaze as keeping her ‘attention wide and unfocused – in the sense of edges of perception, intuition and affect.’ p129  Why libidinal gaze, and not a trance-like or meditative state, is unclear, but seems convenient to Paxson’s argument.

The basis of the unconscious for Lacan is ‘lack’, which generates ‘desire’, a definition that Paxson disagrees with, using the ideas of Lyotard, Deleuze and Guattari to expand upon. Paxson is researching from a psychoanalytical perspective laced with studio research, and not a purely artistic perspective, which I think would have given a starting point of Jung rather than Freud, which in turn would have given a less sexually focused, and more expansive and perhaps spiritual, perspective.  At this point I know very little about Jung and will be seeking material for this line of inquiry.

What is becoming clearer is that my research is seeking an answer to these questions: Are the unconscious mind and intuition one and the same, or two separate ‘states’?  What ‘drives’ them? How can we harness them in the creative process?  From that awareness and/or from my practice led research I am seeking to access what Sartre referred to as ‘pure presence’ and Bomberg as ‘spirit in the mass’.

Are intuition and the unconscious mind (UM) one and the same?

The books that I am reading and the ancillary reference sources (Wiki etc) use the words interchangeably, with the nuanced difference being the history, spiritual and enlightened connections associated with intuition, and  the relatively recent Freudian concept of UM.

But what if Freud was right and there is a tangible difference, what could it be?  I will start with my own experience.  Yesterday is a good example.  Having been house-bound since before Christmas with a minor ailment, I felt a need to be by the sea.  I live 5 minutes walk from the beach, so no big deal, but for some inexplicable reason I needed to walk on a sandy beach.  The nearest is Camber Sands, 12 miles away.  It was a gloriously sunny, crisp Winter’s day, and I was sure that this calming walk would breathe much needed energy back into my weakened lungs.

Wrong!  The scene on the beach was surreal.  Hundreds of people and dogs.  The beach felt more like a doggy toilet than an area of peace.  I felt badly let down by my intuition, that is until I left the beach.  The surrounding countryside is possibly the flattest in the county, more akin to Norfolk, than East Sussex.  I was struck by the enormity of the sky, how I felt almost enveloped by it, and I realised that this was why I had been directed to this area.

Later that day we walked to a pub in Hastings that had live music.  I find that some live music, and this band in particular, has the ability to connect directly to my creative energy, my UM, recharging like a drug.

Two very different connections, the first driven by the intuitive needs of my body, the second by a conscious intention to replenish my depleted creative UM.  For me, intuition feels like the accumulated wisdom of my lineage, a ‘fourth dimension’ that makes no rational sense, but with contemplative attention can be harnessed for good.  Whereas the UM is my personal font of creativity, what Ehrenzweig calls ‘intuitive scanning’ where the student shifts their attention from precise visualisation to lower mental levels.3  That isn’t to say that intuition doesn’t play its part in this particular process, it just doesn’t seem so evident for me, when compared to other actions prompted by intuition.

Perception:  to be aware through the senses; conscious mind.

Intuition:  to understand instinctively, without resorting to conscious reasoning.  Latin – intueri, consider, English – intuit, to contemplate. (wiki)  In Zen Buddhism, Satori refers to the experience of Kensho ‘seeing into one’s true nature or essence’, enlightenment through study of the Koans and meditation, used to develop intuitive capabilities.

Unconscious mind: appears to have been developed as a Freudian concept, not accessible to the conscious mind (Freud labelled the ego).  The UM was later developed into Superego (conscience) and id (instincts and drive)

1  Paxson, P, 2011 Xlibris Corp

2  Ehrenzweig, A, 1967 Pheonix Press, London

3 Ibid, p56

 

Herein Lies Madness

I am at a stage in the ‘process’ where words are somewhat lumpy when trying to describe what is happening, so I am going to ‘feel’ my way through the experience over some time, as I try to shape the words to fit the practice.

Pat Paxson in Art & Intuition 1 uses her own practice to evaluate Lacan’s theory of the Gaze.  The theory is still out of reach, but by working and recording the feelings and emotions I am feeling, I hope to illuminate my practice.

For this purpose in addition to working with a specifically mixed grey 2, I am also working with a single blurred family photo (9 x 11 cms) of my grandmother and myself in 1953 in Chatsworth Road market in the East End of London.

img_3637

I was the first grandchild to a matriarch, a survivor, who had no time for telephones and  the modern world.  For me this image summarises that period of life sandwiched between post war austerity, with its ration books and make do, and the swinging sixties.

By focusing on one image in monochrome, I am attempting to strip away all external influences of colour association, of working with the unknown, to access what I am experiencing when I look at and work with this image.

I am looking to reveal Bomberg’s ‘spirit in the mass’3, Lacan’s gaze 4, Giacometti’s ‘pure presence’5, something that ‘precedes perception’6, the stripping back and familiarity of Celia Paul’s portraits.  As I have said before, herein lies madness, but if not now, when?  James Lord revealed 7 that this task did not come easy for Giacometti.  This revealation has allowed me to be kind to myself.

Working intuitively, and having made a number of watercolour and charcoal small works of the subject, I decided to produce a large charcoal drawing (112 x 112 cms) as my starting point

img_1302

Charcoal on Somerset Velvet Enhanced 330gsm white paper

Working with charcoal, or chalk, allows me to work virtically and to be able to step back continually, something that just cannot happen with a watercolour.

With this work I am aiming for a likeness with traditional drawing before tackling the subject again with looser indicative marks that I have been working on at life drawing.  I want to experience the little girl, me, looking back at me while I am absorbed in the process, a process that actually represents the whole of my life.

The action of applying charcoal, smudging, removing, is mediatative, almost like working with clay to mould the figures, so deep is the desire to capture the very being and never let it go.

img_3636

The little girl’s gaze is intense, it follows me round the room, as if reassuring herself that I am there.  She is not yet finished, but I can feel her presence, I can sense what she is thinking, her ease with her grandmother is evident.

There is much to do, and it is a slow process, working in bursts of no more than 30 minutes, it is almost like holding my breath for each session.

img_1320

Still not there, problems with my grandmother’s face, but I need to move on and discover what other problems await.  I will keep the work pinned on the wall to work on as I become aware of the adjustments necessary.

img_1318

Torn photocopied mark making collaged with charcoal on paper 61 x 43 cms

Here I am trying to use my life drawing process applied to my family photo.  The next stage is to replicate in grey watercolour.  My aim at this stage is to combine the accidental mark making with the accidental watercolour marks to create an image that is driven by intuition and not logic.

Now I will return to painting alongside the charcoal.

I have experimented with painting over charcoal, but that isn’t going to work, even if I stabalise the charcoal, because the charcoal seems to lose it’s sensitivity.  I have also experimented with a pin hole drawing bottle, which requires a certain skill to avoid the paint blobbing.  Could be useful for the detail.

img_1319

Watercolour on paper 43 x 61 cms

The grey I have mixed isn’t stable enough, separating as soon as it touches the paper.  This may prove to be ok, but I will mix the grey again to see if I can produce a stable grey.  Painting from the collaged work I am removing the detail and leaving only mark making.  Not easy.  I have looked into creating a projector to project the collaged work onto the wall.  Not sure if that will just recreate the detail issue of working from the original photo.  I feel a bit of a blockage with regard to the speed with which I need to work for this type of painting and the meditative process that feels essential to get to the spirit of the subject.  Hum.

1  Paxson, P  2011, Art and Intuition, Xlibris Corporation

2  Grey, based on alizarin crimson and cerulean.

3  Oxlade, R 2010, Art & Instinct, Ziggurat Books p118

4  Paxson, P 2011, Art and Intuition, Xlibris Corporation p17

5  Moorhouse, P 2015 Pure Presence, National Portrait Gallery

6  Waters, F 2015, Christies Catalogue http://www.christies.com/features/The-double-life-of-Alberto-Giacometti-6568-1.aspx

 

A Tea Ceremony

When I applied for the MA I was asked what I was trying to say with my work.  I am sure I waffled incoherently, and thought, there goes that avenue.  Two years later I would still struggle to articulate a coherent response, but now I appreciate that it isn’t always possible or necessary to find the language to describe a work, it can be enough just to experience the work emotionally.  I am currently reading Art and Intuition by Pat Paxson 1, and within the first few pages I feel she is talking about me and to me, and I feel comfortable acknowledging that I don’t yet, and maybe never will, know what it is I am trying to say, but that I am merely able to capture emotional responses to a subject, idea or event, in two dimensions.

In describing her practice she talks about an energy that ‘shifts out of sight’, if she attempts to describe it.  She refers to marks that appear as being ‘..beyond what my conscious mind could have, or would have, worked out by means of conscious reasoning.’, and what New York painter David Reed referred to as ‘..a double consciousness, a switching back and forth between a subjective and an objective state of mind.’

I want to record here my practice for a particular piece, relative to Paxson’s recording of a similar piece.

img_1304

The scene had been set with a model, Evelyn, wrapped in her coat, with a backdrop of twigs to the right in a plastic sack, to the left standing on the floor, and entwined in each bundle were squared paper rods.  We were instructed to focus on ‘resist and release’.

My first drawing was an exercise in mark making.  I didn’t fully comprehend the instruction, but proceeded as if I did.  The dominant square above the large black form of her waist and legs, represented her upper body and echoed the square form behind her.  I drew what I saw in a simplified way.  Resist and release were not consciously part of my thought process.

img_1305

Still not fully understanding the task, even though I had undertaken similar before, I concentrated on the shape, using the rigidity of the square shape to inform the body, and the twigs to inform the model’s hair.  All was undertaken at a conscious level, grappling with the logical requirement of the task.

img_1306

For this exercise we were given pieces of photocopied marks and asked to work with as many or as few as required.  I found a face in the left hand piece of paper and a feeling of twigs in a sack in the piece on the right, and worked from there.  This work was less conscious.  There were fleeting seconds where I seemed to ‘permit’ myself to step beyond conscious, the ‘crackly’ marks on the right for the hard plastic sack, the square in the centre that wasn’t drawn as such, but appeared to reflect the square rods.

img_1307

The final piece I approached at a conscious level, but as soon as I realised that two copies of the same marks could be combined to form the upper body, I disappeared into a trance-like state, working with and over the collaged pieces until I felt I had captured the form, mirroring the delicate collaged marks for the softly inclined head, and the deeper marks for the lower torso, unaware of time or space.  Evelyn echoes the twigs in a delicate and totally meaningful way, something my conscious mind would have rejected, or at best, undertaken in a clumsy and obvious manner.

It is evident that my conscious, logical mind creates a barrier to creativity, and that I need a ritual, much as Hachiro Kanno uses a tea ceremony before undertaking a calligraphic performance, to move from consciousness into an intuitive and meditative state.  Here I had been guided through the process, alone I would need to replicate a stepped way in, or  similar ritual.  I am finally learning that it is ok to not be ‘word perfect’ at the outset, that an authentic voice requires the ‘whole body’ commitment, and  does not come easily, even for Giacometti.

1  Paxson, P 2011, Art and Intuition, Xlibris Corporation.  Paxson is a painter and completed her Ph.D comprising theory and practice at Goldsmiths, London, in Visual Arts.

Writing Workshop

The creative instinct, after all, acts at the bidding of the unconscious, which also decides to a considerable degree the exact nature of human relationships.  But Giacometti did not feel that any rapport whatever existed between a portrait and the individual nature of the model.  Not in his work in any case, ‘I have enough trouble with the outside without bothering about the inside,’ he said.’ A Giacometti Portrait, James Lord p38

We were asked to write an introduction to an essay, based on the quote I identified as meaningful to my practice.

‘Taking this comment at face value, we would be accepting that the energy and emotion, that Giacometti unquestionably poured into his portraits, did not come from the artist’s ability to connect with his sitter at an unconscious level, but solely from his process and impassioned approach to his materials.  My own work seeks to capture the essence of my subjects, what Bomberg called ‘spirit in the mass’, delving deep into the character to extract their very thoughts, much as Giacometti succeeds in achieving, without, it would appear, acknowledging.

Working with found black and white family photographs, I seek to weave my memories into the work.’

An inspiring lecture by Joanna Lowry, a theorist and lecturer at Brighton uni.  Description, context, theory, significance, the elusiveness of the work.  The importance of finding the right set of ideas, to enhance my work and deepen it.

There was much in her lecture that resonated and that I can take away into my own writing.  I particularly enjoyed Susan Morris’s writing Drawing in the Dark http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/18/drawing-in-the-dark .  Whilst much of the piece was over my head on first reading, I could see the structure, the argument and the ease of transition between illustrative points.  A skeletal that I can build on.

Joanna suggested that the essay should be approached as pleasurable, an extension of my work as an artist, beginning with an enigma and end with a suggestion of more.  reassuring and supportive advice.