Tuesday, 31 January 2012

College 31st January: Enamel

after yesterday's concentration on assessment, everyone was pretty tired today - quite a few people didn't come in, and I had some sympathy with them because it wasn't fear why we were going to do - and the Tuesday afternoons have been very variable in content and quality, at times.

The to things on offer were digital work in the mac quite, or enamelling with Matt, which is what I chose - largely because I had almost forgotten all about enamel, and thought it would be good just to refresh my failing memory.

It was very interesting,  not least because Matt showed us how to work on small pieces of copper using a blow-torch for firing, rather than the kiln.  This method seemed far less fussy than using the kiln, although I think the actual firing process probably takes a little longer because the heat is not so immediately intense.  However, it doses have the advantage that you can see what is happening to your enamel, and can adjust the time to get a smooth result, or whatever.  The risk is that the powdered enamel, which you sprinkle onto the metal before firing,  gets blown about by the force of the flame, but that doesn't seem to be a major problem.  You hold the torch so that the flame is on the underneath side of the copper sheet - which of course needs to be counter-enamelled first to reduce the distortion and bending form the heated metal if only one side is coated.

Enamelled copper sheet balanced on wire mesh which in turn was balanced between two pieces of fire-proof brick

Matt demonstrating how to hold the blow-torch safely underneath the copper sheet, directing the flame upward to the underside of the piece, and showing how you can watch the enamel melt and fuse, and decide when to stop by simply looking at the quality of the enamel finish. 

I did some tiny test pieces,  (above,  with just the counter-enamel in place) and came away thoroughly inspired and thinking about how I could use enable for my final project.

Monday, 30 January 2012

College 30th January: the great assessment day

Well, the day dawned and I was at college very bright and early in order to hang my huge writing pieces on the wall.  But in fact we had lots of time to get ready, as the art history lecture was postponed so we could concentrate on being nervous.   Everyone put their work up on walls and on tables, so we could all see everyone else's work.

We were all of us  in two groups in the big life room,  rather than two rooms separately, because some of the rooms were too cold to work in, and some staff were absent too, so it was a bit noisy at times and hard to hear everything that was said.  We each had 10 minutes or so to explain our work in the two Pathway projects, and then a further ten minutes for questions and discussion, with points raised both by the tutors and by fellow-students.  The day was intense and long, but extremely interesting, as we had not seen much of each other's work over the past few weeks and it was good to see completed projects and hear people explaining their intentions, and the challenges and triumphs on the way.

Possibly because my writing work was so enormous, this second project took up most of the time in my slot (and the maps project rather less- although this had been 'peer appraised' a month or so ago).   People seemed to genuinely like what I'd done.

This was my huge piece, done at home, on the wall in the life room....

... and my accordion books also hung on the wall together.

I think the various bits of my writing project did, in the end, have coherence and purpose when seen together and with the range of approaches and scale.  The images themselves, especially the bigger ones, looked pretty good.

I'm not sure how much notice the tutors took of my sketchbook work or my research, which was extensive, because a lot of it was recorded in this blog.  I had copied quit a lot of it into my notebooks and files.  But I think I was able to explain myself fairly well.

I hope it all made sense to the tutors.  We will get written feedback next week, and until then must think about the other task for completion now, which is Portfolio Building.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Art I Like: more Tom Phillips

More research for the writing project, which took me back to Tom Phillips.

I came across this etching, inspired by musical scores. PHILLIS

 Moment Musicale,  etching,  64 x 51 cm.  From the Royal Academy 'Members Portfolio' of prints by 15 Academicians. London, 2000.  Image size 41 x 27 cms.   Image from the Red Grape Gallery website here.

The etching looks rather like some of the 'asemic' writing drawings by artists like Leon Ferrari and Marian Bijlenga, which I looked at a week or two ago - and which in turn influenced my own writing paintings and drawings for this project.  I hadn't previously come across these images.

I find it interesting that Tom Phillips has worked very constantly in the area of writing and words, from his Humument in the 1970s onwards.  I particularly like his writings in wire, and the way these have translated into 3D sculptures, made from wire or, more recently, from etched glass.

His several different manifestations of Wittgenstein's Dilemma all focus on this idea.

Wittgenstein/Cage, 2009 
90 x 90 x 90 cm / 35½ x 35½ x 35½ in  Image copied from Flowers Gallery website here.

Image copied from the Cass Foundation website here.

On this wire writing sculpture, the text is almost illegible: the title emphasises the irony of writing which cannot easily be deciphered and read.

The Calligrapher Replies, 1996 
182 x 115 cm / 71¾ x 438½ in  Image copied from Flowers gallery website here.

This Phillips collage also relates to the writing drawings I have been making.  The marks look vaguely like script, the layout looks like lines of writing, but it is not really writing or text at all.  The title, Rima's Song, however, suggests that there are lyrics somewhere in the script.

Rima's Song
Collage on paper
Acquired 2011.   Image from Oxford JCR Art Fund website here

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Essay writing!

I have spent the past two days working furiously on my essay, which is about the American artist Ellsworth Kelly, and the influences his work have had on my own.  The research was really interesting, and the writing not too hard, but a bit more challenging than I had at first thought.

Here are two of his paintings which I looked at.

Ellsworth Kelly, Colors for a Large wall, 1951, 96" x 96"

Ellsworth Kelly, Spectrum I, 1953

And here are two of my Spectrum-like quilts.....

I also really enjoyed thinking about the parallels, or not, between his work and some of my won, and how I have consistently used the colour spectrum in ways not that dissimilar to his systematic but also random use of colours.  A good exercise: don;t know why it took me so long to get into doing it!

But the pffaffing about trying to line up images and text, almost impossible.  I gave up with Pages in the end, and downloaded Word for Macs, which made it a whole lot better.

But then, of course, the finished file was enormous, and my e-mail refused to send it.  So I learned a few more tricks about compressing picture files and so on, until it would go.

I am so relieved to have got it down, and amazed at the stress and bother it caused.  I thought writing a short essay would be a doodle - after all, I've spent my whole working life writing reports, and also have done two post-graduate degrees.  But this was still a bit of a struggle, even without the technology issues.

But it feels very good to have completed it (although it is far too long, for which I may yet be penalised) and now I can concentrate on the huge pile of work I still have to do for the assessment day on monday.

And now my e-mail is playing up....

Oh well, on with the 'script' paintings ....

Monday, 23 January 2012

More Writing and Painting

I had some paint to use up after the wall writing exercise at home, so I decided to try a medium-sized approach, and drew a series of single 'characters' onto a heap of sheets of A4 cartridge paper.

It was interesting to do individual large designs, done rapidly so I didn't have time to consciously think and design' the outcomes.

I wasn't sure what to do with them, but brought them into college today anyway.

In the end I taped them together to make a series of accordion books,  which, if I can work out how to do it, would look good hung in vertical columns, rather like Chinese banner writing.

The books would benefit from some good binding and a handsome cover with a writing image, but I'm not sure I'll have time to do this before Monday's assessment session.

College 23rd january: pathway project

Today I took advantage of an almost empty room 04 to do some more 'writing' on a large scale.

I taped up sheets of A2 black paper onto the wall, and see white acrylic, watered down quite a bit, to make some big 'script' paintings, working vertically on the wall, and allowing the paint to drip a little.  I did two large pieces: this squarish one....

and this one, rather longer and thinner....

And some separate sheets (partly done as warm-up exercises: it takes a little time to 'get my hand in' to the non-writing script each time).

I liked the results, and got some very positive feedback from other people, including Matt who made a point of seeking me out to tell me, which was kind of him.

One of the interesting things which is emerging is that my 'writing' is acquiring a consistent style and form, all of its own.  My earlier drawings were each one different - perhaps because I was consciously trying to 'design' different script styles.  But as I've grown more familiar with the process, and more confident, I am thinking less, and loosening control, and the result is a flowing script-like, rhythmic line which is not at all like my 'real' handwriting.

Psychologists could no doubt have a field-day with that.....

I also had another useful tutorial with Mark, who had even more suggestions about other artists who I could look up - if I have time.  And a stern reminder about getting my essay done.  Oh dear:  where have my time management skills gone?

College: art history 23rd January

Interesting session today with Jo Kear on our emotional responses to art.  Much of this was influenced by the work of James Elkins in his book Pictures and Tears: A History of People Who Have Cried in Front of Paintings, (New York, Routledge, 2004).

Why do people clap at concerts and theatre performances, but not at galleries?  Why do people so rarely weep in front of paintings and other forms of art, but quite often at the cinema?  We talked about our own experiences and why these phenomena should be so.  Looking at art is a static, private thing (in spite of the crowds at big galleries), and the artist is generally not present. We do not witness the actual creation, the business of performance.  So there is no individual present to receive our applause, to be congratulated - whereas in a concert, the performers are there, and we are able to show our reaction immediately to them.

But there are some people for whom art makes no impact at all - and Elkins quotes Mark Twain who remarked, caustically, on seeing Leonardo's Last Supper (1495-97/98, at the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan)

"We don't know any more about pictures than a kangaroo does about metaphysics, but we decided to go anyway" but was then disappointed with the painting: "It is battered and scarred in every direction and stained and discoloured by time, and Napoleon's horses kicked the legs off most of the disciples when they were stabled there... So what is left of the once miraculous picture?  Simon looks seedy, John looks sick, and half the other blurred and damaged apostles have a general expression of discouragement about them"...."You wander through ... a mile of picture galleries and stare stupidly at ghastly old nightmares done in lampblack and lightning, and listen to the ecstatic encomiums of the guides".  
(From a letter written by Twain in 1867 and later adapted for his novel Innocents Abroad, 1869, quoted in Elkins, p 52, and reproduced in Jo Kear's lecture notes for us).

This sounds very philistine, but perhaps only because we value Leonardo's work in a particular way, and forgive the ageing and wear-and-tear that a mural of this kind has suffered,  In 1867 people were perhaps a bit more literal about their expectations.  And it is true that the picture has been damaged so much that the images are not clear.  Perhaps Twain was hoping for something more photographic.

But his reaction is not so very different to that of very many people when confronted with art which they either don't understand, or which may seem old and unfashionable.  I'm not that keen on Constable, for instance - but I can appreciate that others find his paintings almost overwhelmingly beautiful, and I can recognise their technical merit, and appreciate the historical significance of their subject-matter an their place in the broader history of painting.  I don't have to like things, but I think it is appropriate to acknowledge and respect the value of artwork, even those one doesn't much like.

But there are also some pieces of contemporary art which, to my mind,  don't make sense and have little or no aesthetic appeal.   Quite a lot of conceptual art which is, to the 'informed' art world, established modern classics, don't make much sense to the 'person on the Clapham omnibus" (or to The Sun).

Is that ok?  Yes, of course.  We have differing tastes and differing perspectives, and everyone's view is valid.  The trick comes in being able to explain and justify one's likes and dislikes, while respecting the diversity of opinions about art (as about everything else).

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Writing and Painting

I've been working towards doing something on a bigger scale for my writing project, and today I suddenly realised that I had the perfect space to do this at home - on the bit of 'temporary wall' which is soon to be transformed into large folding glass doors to the garden.

I found I had about half a roll of decorators' lining paper.   I taped two pieces (using up all I had) onto the wall and then did some script writing using a diluted acrylic and a largish brush.  The process itself was both fun and liberating, and the resulting images looked good.    

I rushed off to buy another roll, and used this to cover the entire space, which is about 7'6" square.  It took a bit of patience to get the papers all taped up and together,  but was worth it for the exhilaration of doing the painting, using two chairs to stand on, and stepping from one to the other so that I could travel right across the 'canvas', working from one side to the other and back again, painting as I went.  Great fun!

I very much liked the results.  I don't quite know how or if I can transport them to college for the assessment session next week, but I will have a good try.

Alphabet writing

Wandering around I came across this delightful short film on You Tube of a father and son writing letters on big sheets of paper.

4:21Add to "abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz" — HDby xelor30,110 views 

art I like: Jaume Plensa

Today's Observer Review included a photo of a piece in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park by Jaume Plensa (whose website is here), an artist born in Barcelona in 1955 and now working in France, Spain and the USA.  The image caught my eye because if shows part of a large sculpture of a human form, made entirely out of capital letters in a sort of mesh, made of metal.  The YSP exhibition website is here.

A Guardian article about his work is here.  Lots more image, and interesting analysis of his works, is on this blog, Wanderlust. The link is here. I am making a link because the blog says things so well I don't want to try and repeat ...

His sculptures are made of letters and words, but the whole structure is transparent and also large enough to walk inside, and through.  When located outdoors, as in the 2011 exhibition at the YSP, the sculpture provides a kind of tunnel, with the sky visible through it.

Plensa has also made some installations using words suspended, letter by letter, in transparent 'curtains' on a scale big enough for the viewer to walk among the hanging texts.

This is a steel case he has made for a limited edition of a book about the art heritage of Catalonia. 

More about the work can be found here.

Friday, 20 January 2012

More books which can't be read

This time by Germna artist Anselm Kiefer, who has constructed impossibly heavy and un-book-like books out of lead. such as these.

Tannhauser, 2000
Lead Book with Thorns

Volkszählung (Census), by Anselm Kiefer, 1991, mixed media with lead books.
Permanent installation at the Museum für Gegenwart (Museum for Contemporary Art), Hamburger Bahnhof, Invalidenstraße, Berlin.

Untitled (Constellation Book), 2004, mixed media on lead, dimensions variable
His works are not about illegible type or script, but about books which while looking externally a bit like a book, are absolutely not like one - they are made of lead, they are huge and heavy, they cannot be opened and held in the hand, and - crucially - they do not contain writing.

I am not sure what, if anything, they represent.  But to my mind, a book which is not a book is something about the vast amounts of infomrtaton we either cannot have, or cannot absorb even if we can have access to it.  And some books, some information, is deliberately made obscure, so that some people can hold onto knowledge (power) which is denied to the majority.

Or maybe they are just immense and formidable book structures made, improbably, out of lead.  Finit.

Art I LIke: Taura Auerbach

 Some text-based art uses recognisable roman letter forms, or parts of them, but still doesn't make any kind of literal sense as a readable text.  Among artists I've come across who are working in this area is Taura Auerbach.

These images are from her website here.

Art I like: Josef and Anni Albers

Yet more wandering around on the internet and I came across the Albers Foundation, set up to build on the work of Josef Albers(1888-1976)  (a colourist)  and Anni Albers (1899-1994) (a textile designer/weaver).  Both born in Germany, they met at The Bauhaus in 1922,  married in 1925 and moved to the US in 1933.  They were involved in the newly established Black mountain College in North Carolina, later moving to New England.

Lots more information about them, and their work, is on their website here.  The images below came form here.

Anni's textile weaving caught my eye partly because some of her colours and patterns are similar to one of my recent priced quilt tops., but also because some of her weaving relates to the kind of illegible line work I have been exploring for my Pathway project on writing.  Here are two of her pieces.

She also did drawings of marks rather like writing and letter forms, such as this one

Josef Albers work is all about colour, and his paintings are simple, bold statements about colour and the relationship between different colours and scale.

Avon valley mud art

Yesterday I went to the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath where there was a very nice show of works by Peter Burke called Earthworks.  More information on the gallery website here.  Peter Burke's website is here.

The show consisted of a series of works made of earth, clay, mud dug from the ground at various locations within a 20 mile radius of Bath.  These had been used to make a series of masks, based on (I presume) the artist's own face.  The ways in which the different clays dried and cracked, and the bits of other material, grass, leaves, grit, etc, in the clay/mud mix, gave each one a unique colour and texture. Arranged together in a long line on the gallery wall, they looked a little like a sort of 3D 'rogues' gallery' or a police identity parade line-up.  The colours were lovely, ranging form chalky white to almost black, tar-like clay.

A second tranche of work was made in California, and consisted of several installations based on mud casts of feet of forest rangers and people who worked the land in a mountain nature park.  Thee feet were very evocative, the casts were so fine that you could see the lines of veins and bones on the feet and toes.  Some were arranged in circles, the endless walking we all do, going through life getting nowhere muh.

A third set of works were all about hands, and arm-spans round a circle or across a square, based on steel frameworks. These were, to my mind, less interesting and less visually compelling, as if the artist's original die was being stretch a little too thin.

There were also some small-cale models of the human form, which were interesting for their careful exploration of scale as much as anything.  Some were still attached to a steel grid ro framework, which I rather liked.

Overall,  I thought this was a good exhibition and I liked much of the work.  The colours of the clay were especially lovely.  It was good to also have a geological map of the area on sow, making clear where each of the mud samples had come from.  Astonishing variety of soil in a relatively small area.

Art I LIke: Cy Twombly

Yet more research for my Writing Pathway project, on Cy Twombly, American b. 1928, d. 2011, who has made a whole series of generally very large paintings which concentrate on mark making which resemble scribbles or perhaps writing.   His website is here and contains a huge range of images of his work since the 1950s.

Some of his work just looks like scribbling, but the overall effect is impressive, not least because of the enormous scale of his works.

Untitled, 1974, 68" x 85"

oil based house paint and wax crayon on canvas 
48 x 55 in. (122 x 140 cm.) 
Painted in 1967. 

Some of his works are smaller and done on paper, like this one,  Roman Notes: one plate, 1970, 34 x 28"

The following images are Untitled, 1971, a series of six lithograph 22 x30".  This is the first, the rest follow below.

Images copied from here.

Twombly also made assemblages of works like this, grouping several sheets together, as in this example, Roman Notes (Bastion 21-26) where each sheet is 34 x 27". 
Some of his pieces are absolutely massive.  

Notes III, 2005-2007, 96 x 144"

This one, Untitled, 1970,  is 13' x 21'.

The MoMA gallery website has a very illuminating description of how it was hung in MoMA, Mew York, requiring a whole team of 'roadies' and a hydraulic lift to get it into place.  It looks pretty fantastic once up, too.
(the link is here)  and the MoMA site describes it thus:

Twombly is a key member of the generation of American artists immediately following the Abstract Expressionists. Between 1967 and 1971 he produced a number of works on gray grounds. The largest in the series, this monumental painting features terse, colorless scrawls, reminiscent of chalk on a blackboard, that form no actual words. Twombly made this work using an unusual technique: he sat on the shoulders of a friend, who shuttled back and forth along the length of the canvas, thus allowing the artist to create his fluid, continuous lines.

Here is another image of some of his later works in a gallery setting, with an indication of their huge size.

Cy Twombly Sensations of the Moment, MUMOK exhibition view, Foto: MUMOK, Lisa Rastl, © MUMOK.

There are obvious connections between his works and the a-semic writing panels which I have been making for my project, although I had not until today really looked at his work.   In particular, I am interested in the scale of his pieces, something i still have to think about for Monday's college session.