Monday, 30 April 2012

College, 30th April: project work

I started the day by making another series of ink drawings based on a scattering of the shreds of my paper, as I had done at home.  Oddly, they didn't seem to be so convincing, possibly because I was doing them on a bigger scale (A2), and possibly because I was getting rather mechanistic about it all.

This one (above) looks vaguely oriental, I did it with quite a big brush and slightly watered acrylic paint.  It bears no resemblance to my paper shreds at all, even though tried to put the marks where bits of the paper had actually fallen.

The next one looked more coherent, I think, and was done with the print-from-strip-of-card technique, but using bigger card than I had previously.

This third one was also done with card-print, but used thicker card and shorter pieces, and possibly much thicker paint.

This next one was done similar but I made a real effort to concentrate the prints in the centre, and to build up a very dense colour and rich, D texture., as visible in the close-up images below.

However, where is all this going?   I had a helpful (if a little painful) tutorial with Mark today, who challenged the direction I've been going for the past few days, with the drawings and painting based on the scattering of paper shreds.   His argument was, roughly, that while it is good that I've been getting away from the physical reality, and therefore the limitations of context, material and scale of the actual paper pieces,  I'm just going down yet another dead end - the 'drawings' are not taking me anywhere useful: they may be visually interesting (although I don't think he thought so) and tactile, but what are they saying?  Without some further explanation, he felt, they don't relate to my concept.

Hmmm.  I can see his point.  And while it has been quite fun to make these pieces, perhaps that is as far as I should go with them.

However, there is something about the method I was using in doing the first of the drawings - scattering the scraps of paper, and slowly making a marked line to replace each one.  There is a method and a rhythm to this process which maybe could lead somewhere.

Mark suggested I look at Marcel Duchamp and the use of chance.  Duchamp applied the use of chance to various contexts, including music (you can listen to the rather odd results here) Also to think about process and method drawing,  such as Sol le Witt.

Some of the work I'd done last week included being able to see the words themselves, and yesterday I had cut a lot more bits of recognisable text.  Mark referred me to have a look at William Burroughs, who worked with Brion Gysin to develop his 'cut out' model, where Burroughs would take a page of text, and cut it into four (or sometimes more) pieces, and rearrange them so you could still read a flow of text, but the phrases were broken and mixed up, and sometimes entirely new words were created from the joined-up fragments of half lines of text.  There is a filmed interview and demonstration of this on You Tube here.  I hadn't come across Burroughs in this context before, although I had been experimenting with other ways of rearranging, or distorting, or obscuring, or erasing the text, and thereby to remove or change or subvert its meaning.   So perhaps this is another route to explore a little further.

However, time is now beginning to press rather urgently, and I need to make some firm decisions this week about what I will pursue, and what I will leave aside.

College, 30th April: Art History

This morning was almost the last session we will have with Jo Kear, and she gave us a quiz, drawing randomly on some of the images and artists we'd looked at over the pats year.  All kinds of things came up, from the terracotta Army, to the Sistine Chapel, to Annie Liebowitz's photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, to the Thames Mud project.  Our team of (older) part-times came second, beaten only by not knowing the exact date of the terracotta army.  It was fun, and a good reminder of the huge range of things we've covered.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

More drawing and paper shreds

Among the pieces I made the other day, I rather liked the ones where you could still see glimpses of the text - especially obvious when I actually glued down, onto black paper, some of the cut up get form printed documents.   They looked good in photographs, because you can see snippets of the text emerging. They didn't look so good 'in the flesh' because I had assembled it rather roughly, you can see the glue, it just looks like a jumble of sippers of paper.

However, I liked the idea of mixing up fragments of text, so today I tried cutting strips of text from the CoI documents, and then scattering them onto the bed of my printer/scanner/copier - to see what kind of image I got when concentrating on random rearrangement of the words, or fragments of text.  This looked better than the glued version, but there are lots of shadows on the photocopied image, and I ma not sure how to iron these out.

The first few were done with scraps from my shredder, so the bits are very small and a bit crinkled from being squeezed through the shredder blades.

The later ones, shown below, were done with strips of text which I had cut out carefully, so you can see whole words or phrases...

I might try putting these into Photoshop and see what happens with various manipulations.  I could also think about enlarging al or parts of the image.   More to explore here, perhaps. 

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Thursday textiles group

As a spin-off from the U3A group in South Bristol, a few of us have started a textiles group, which held a preliminary meeting last month, and our first 'proper' meeting today, at Sally's house.  Six of us came,  bearing some treasures from our past efforts, some current projects, and lots of ideas for the future.

Sally shared some of her beautiful and very varied quilts, including some exquisite stitching on marbled cotton cloth - I had no idea you could amble onto cloth, but apparently it is pretty much the same process as for paper - the key thing being to whip the cloth out of the floating ink/dye bath extremely quickly.  Sally also had some astonishing sculptural forms made of felt, which we all admired and would like to learn more about when the weather improves.

Gaynor is a sock knitter, and we admired her tiny and expert stitching using beautifully soft but fine wool.  Celia was also knitting, and brought some complex and weirdly random 3D shapes of different wools and stitches, worked in soft colours based on photos she had taken in the North East of England and used to cover an interestingly shaped box.  Rosie had been busy making a canvas cover for the new sailing dinghy which she and Pete have recently acquired.  No pictures, but we were all deeply impressed by her ability to design a large and difficulty shaped cover, and make it single-handed on an ordinary sewing machine on the kitchen table.  Wendy brought tales of her embroidery work on past courses, and I was doing some stitching to accompany my 'leaving it all behind' project for foundation.

We drank lots of coffee and exchanged bits of life history, in true quilting-bee fashion.  And agreed that we would like to exchange skills in future meetings.  Lots of possibilities, including felt-making (Sally),
4-needle knitting (Gay and Celia), frame quilting (me), and an offer of a boat trip from Rosie.  But we finally agreed that, next month, those who can will teach those of us who can't, to crochet.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Final Project - new directions

Inspired by my last tutorial with met, I spent much of today playing around with shreds of paper, trying out some of the ideas which emerged on monday.

I tried various ways of stitching paper strips onto long threads - using both white cotton thread, and invisible nylon, and trying this out on some printed paper strips, and some strips torn from my hand-made paper.  Neither is easy to do.

Nylon thread is incredibly difficult to handle, and hard on the eye-sight too.   Here I have used nylon thread on hand-made paper.

This is cotton thread on hand-made paper but I was left with a double threads from the machine stitching.

The white cotton shows up more, but is considerably easier to work with.

This is cotton thread on a printed paper strip, but I cut the bobbin thread between each strip, so that there is only one thread visible.  This works better and if I continue with threading, I will use this method - it looks site good and is easier to handle than the invisible nylon.

 I don't have anywhere at home to hang long threads from, so I only made about half a dozen pieces at this stage.  I liked the way the shreds of paper twirled around once they are hanging, and a fair number of these, grouped together, would make  quite a strong visual impact.  but it might drive me insane making them.

I also tried throwing shredded paper onto a large sheet of black paper, and then drawing lines where the paper fell.

 I used various media - different pale-coloured pencils and then a gold pen.  I rather liked the mysterious quality of the lines themselves, and also the way, on black paper, the patterns of lines doesn't stand out, but is interesting when you get close.

I then covered a sheet of black paper with a thin layer of pva glue, and dropped the cut strips of text on to that - so I have a sort of collage of the trips...which worked quite well although the glue shows up rather too much.

.. and here in close-up.  I like the loose texture, the strips are not glued completely or firmly to the backing, but tumble over each other, preserving the sense of free-fall they had when they were scattered.

I tried a similar approach, this time dropping the small strips of printed paper on to a white paper base, and then drew the resulting marks with a black marker pen.  i liked the strength of the lines I got from this.

Next I abandoned using the actual paper strips, but instead I used slightly diluted black acrylic paint, and a strip of card dipped into the paint and used as a small printing device, to create a pattern of higgledy-piggledy overlapping short lines, but with a concentrations in the middle, to represent the heap of paper shreds.  I like the overall effect of this approach, and because the acrylic paint was quite thickly applied, there is a 3D texture to the finished image.

This is the image half completed,  with a relatively thin scattering of lines...

...and the same in close-up...

and even closer...

This is the finished version, with much denser drawing of lines...

In close-up you can see the rich texture of the paint...

and even richer here...

And then I repeated this approach using Indian ink and smaller strips of cardboard.  This also worked well.

I am pleased with these results - partly because I just liked the results, but mainly because this has taken me into a new dimension with the project itself.  It is still rooted in the torn or shredded strips of my 'old life' papers, but translates these into a different context - of drawing, and printing, and creating an image which is embedded in the concept but is separate from it and which has a visual identity, and an abstraction,  all of its own.

I did all three 'drop' drawings on a single long sheet of paper (wallpaper lining paper, strong, cheap and infinitely accessible) draped along my big kitchen table.  I rather liked the way the three related but different images work together.  This image doesn't do them justice, because they were still lying horizontally.  But hung vertically, I think they would look very good.  I might want to use this as a back-drop for my final show piece....

The marks I have been making today seem to me to be related to the mark-making I did in my second Pathway Project too - although that was 'non-writing' there was a similarly abstract quality about them, a rhythm which I seem to have got again today, and also the use of monochrome black and white, which I think emphasises the strength and interest of the liens themselves.

I think this is worth pursuing further, and tomorrow I will explore how else I could capture this idea in stitch and in other types of simple print.

Monday, 23 April 2012

college: final project - making progress

Today I had a very constructive tutorial session with matt about my project. I confessed to having got thoroughly stuck and talked about trying to get back to my original, indeed central idea.  Matt picked up on the dynamic of 'tearing it up' and 'throwing it to the four winds' and we explored various ideas for capturing this sense of change and movement, which might involve filming the movement of my shreds of paper, in some way.  He also urged me to get on and try doing something with suspended shreds, since that is what I keep coming back to.  There is actually only 6 weeks left, so not much studio time, nor time to work at home either.  So it is right that I need to plunge in now and do some real creating.  Full of ideas, so tomorrow I will make another start.  IN the meantime, in college I did some rather slow and laborious cutting of thin shreds of get - from old history essays again.   I tried scattering these randomly, and liked the kind of patterns they make.

I will do more on this at home later in the week.

Friday, 20 April 2012

College - getting stuck

On Monday we started our final term with an uplifting session from three former part-time foundation students who all seem to be doing wonderfully, on - respectively - a Fine Art BA course, an MA in Glass, and just working solo on lovely photos.  Made me inspired enough to dig out my MA application and dust it off a little - although I am still far from sure that I will actually apply - for this year, anyway.  But that is a discussion for another day.

The main part of Monday was a review, in pairs chosen by Mark, of our work so far on our final projects. I was paired with Maeve Anne.  It was a well-planned exercisse.  We each had a copy of the assessment criteria, and were asked to look carefully and thoroughly at everything that our paired student had provided - from Statement of Intent through to sketchbooks, research folder, project diary, samples, whatever.  This meant you had to really assess your own work, too, against the formal criteria, which most of us have been cheerfully ignoring until now.  And we had the reactions of our 'pair' to our work, as well as, later, a tutorial session.  

I learned a lot about my work... not all terribly positive.  One big thing, which I can put right but which will mean a lot more work of the finding, printing, cutting, indexing, commenting variety - is that, at present, my research and testing of techniques and samples is all jumbled up in one big sketch-cum-work book.  It makes sense as a kind of 'technical file' but not really as a research file, which I need in order to record my exploration of the conceptual basis of my project.  Nor, as it stands, is it a guide to my own creative thinking about how to deliver a final piece.  My exploratory work so far  seemed very tight and controlled, rather formal and unimaginative.  While none of us has got close to a final piece yet, some people have been much more ambitious/adventurous/uninhibited than me, and I was envious of their ability to just dive in and try things out.  Seeing several other people's work,  I realised I need to loosen up quite a lot, to play around more with my ideas, to think about influences from other artists more generally, rather than hugging too literally to those working in paper.  I also realise that I need to think on a bigger scale (again - this was an issue in my last pathway project too).  In my tutorial session, Mark kept pushing me about the conceptual framework, and what I was trying to say in a general rather than largely personal context.

By the end of the day I felt rather deflated and a bit lost, and have spent the last couple of days agonising over where to take this next.  I almost feel like I could turn away and start over with something completely new - but I know that I don't really have time to do that, and also, I know from the pathway projects, that this feeling of hopelessness and failure is part of the creative process and will go as I move my thinking forward.  Well, I hope so, anyway.

It hasn't helped either that (a) in the week leading up to the session I had been sleeping really badly, getting rather stressed about the whole thing; (b) (possibly as a result of this) I had a mega-migraine which completely wrecked Wednesday and put rather a damper on Thursday; and (c) last weekend, after about 8 months on the waiting list, I was given an allotment - what excitement! - and of course I have been sitting around dreaming about growing runner beans as well as dashing down to the plot to admire, and plan, and do the tiniest bit of exploratory digging, in between the torrential rain showers.  This could be seen as highly creative, or as avoidance tactics.... I certainly haven't done much on my art for a few days, but perhaps I needed a break from it, and some distance so I can reassess.

So where next?  I am still keen on the basic concept, which is about deconstruction and reconstruction, about change and recycling.  It is rooted in the idea of 'tearing up' my old life (of office work, government reports, politician's briefings and speeches, committee papers, academic essays etc, etc) - and 'throwing that to the four winds' in the quest for my 'new' life in art and retirement.  In terms of influences,  Cornelia Parker's Cold Dark Matter is still high on the list.  Or alternatively, Martin Creed's screwed up sheet of A4, Work No 88, has a strong appeal.... 

Work No. 88 
A sheet of A4 paper crumpled into a ball
A4 paper
Approximately 2 in / 5.1 cm diameter

Image copied from Martin Creed's website here

My raw materials, such as they are, are therefore paper -  old Welsh government publications, old committee papers and reports, old essays, library lists, journal articles, etc.   I have so far played around with lots of ways to destroy/deconstruct/remodel paper in different ways - making fresh paper, making papier mache, cutting, tearing, stitching, folding, etc.  Much of this is recorded in earlier posts on this blog - and in my technical file. 

But somehow, it all looks so tame, so neat, so 'craft'-y.  And not at all like 'deconstruction'.  Even if I follow the logic of 'deconstruction' in terms of stripping back the layers of meaning, it doesn't seem to help at present.  It was that sense of erasure (pace Richard Galpin, q.v. here) which took me to various ways to obliterate, erase or simply to white-out or 'redact' chunks of text.   That would be meaningful to those who understood what these kinds of a papers were about in the first place - but most people have very vague understanding of what government policy work is like, so it would have limited impact.  

And I take Mark's point that my piece ought to have some wider resonance than purely my ow journey away from an office-based job.   On the other hand, I rather like the look and feel of some of the sheets I have altered with paint or thick strike-through pen lines.  And the reference to 'redaction' smacks of all those ridiculous published reports (e.g. the MPs expenses claims) where so much was 'redacted' that there was nothing left to read.  Hmm.  Not sure I could make this stand up - Martin Creed might be able to, but not little old me.

Another strong theme when I began on this project was the idea of exploding  - as inspired by Cornelia Parker

or Damien Ortega 

Damian Ortega: Do It Yourself | Institute of Contemporary Arts | September 18, 2009 - January 18, 2009  | “Cosmic Thing,” 2002, disassembled 1989 Volkswagen Beetle
Image copied from here

- and I have thought further about some kind of suspended installation, or kinetic, mobile, piece.  The trouble with this is that I am working with shreds of paper - and I am not sure that this would have any visual impact, nor that it would be clear what I was trying to achieve.  However, it is a route I still haven't really explored, and perhaps this is what I should do next.  

Talking about all this with Charlie the other evening, produced the idea of creating an installation which might replicate, to an extent, my former working environment (desk, screen, files, etc, etc) but using re-formed old paper as the construction material - either in papier mache, or modelling in some way.  It would be a sort of ghost office, a shadow of my old world (thanks to Maeve-Ann for the idea of shadows in this context).

I am also conscious of the maxim that 'less is more' and that I need to avoid trying to over-engineer my piece, nor to over-state the underlying concept.  It should be there for those who choose to look for it, but the piece should also have some visual or sculptural aesthetic attraction of its own, I think, so it can stand as a piece of work even if the viewer doesn't take on board the conceptual underpinning.  One idea I have been playing with is simply to turn a whole box of the old paper into new paper - some elements of the old would remain, e.g. in fragments of text - and leave it at that.  This idea didn't find favour with Mark, but I am tempted, a bit, to work on this further - I like the idea of having  something very bland and simple.  

Another of the thoughts I have had about my old world, in working on this project, is how hugely ephemeral most of that kind of work is. You sweat blood and tears in endless meetings, and stay up half the night writing some great report, checking every reference and smoothing the language to get just exactly the right nuance... and for a few days or perhaps weeks it is the only thing that matters.  And then, like gossamer or dandelion heads, the problem passes, there is a new fuss about something else, and it is gone - we've moved on to something new, no-one is interested anymore, the papers get filed and forgotten.  And sometimes even when the thing seems to have some permanence, the reality of the political world is such that, next year, someone has a new idea, and the wonderful policy you worked and worked on, is no longer wanted and we all turn around and invent something new and different.  Like inventing, fiddling with, and trying to reshape (or demolish) the NHS, year after year, government after government, civil servant after civil servant.  Or the school curriculum. Or (re-)(de-)nationalising the railways.  Or whatever.  

And indeed, when someone leaves (like me, after 35 years in the same organisation, I know, horrible to contemplate) it is almost immediately as if they had never been: other people move into your old room, job, desk, team - and the work keeps on turning and your name and all your efforts and small achievements slide into oblivion.  

Ephemeral.  Transient.  Deconstructed.  Decomposed.  Wow.  What a life.  I am realistic about this: it isn't anything personal, it's just the hard facts of the world of work.  The work is just as ephemeral as the people who have done it.  I am sure it is just the same in other professions and organisations.  But it is this sense of transience, of the ephemeral, 'here today and gone tomorrow', in terms of both the subject matter and the people, that I want to capture in this project, as well as the physical deconstruction of all that old paper.   

Perhaps that gives me a title, anyway, something which Mark has been chivvying me about.  I will ponder on this: "Here today, gone tomorrow".  

So, this has been rather a long ramble, and some clearer thoughts have emerged, I hope, about what I'm trying to convey.  But not much progress in terms of how I will achieve this, and I'm still not sure where to go next.  I think the best thing will be to just plunge into my sketch book, stay away from computers and books and research folders for a few days, and just draw, doodle, play around with a pen in my hand, and see what emerges.  I tend to take shelter in my comfort zone (the written/printed word, of course) when what I should be doing is closing the books, turning off the computer, and letting my right brain, the instinctive, creative, visual, tactile bits, do some work for a while.  

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Looking at Art Group

I'm a member of the U3A in South Bristol and we have started an informal group of people who are interested in looking at art (but not necessarily very knowledgeable about it).  We had our first proper meeting today.  Eleven people squeezed around my kitchen table, and nearly two hours of lively discussion on the four recent shows at the RWA.   Someone started the discussion on each one, rather like a book club, saying what they had liked, or not, and why.  It was a surprisingly good experience.  Everyone had something to say, and it was very interesting how we had seen and remembered details and specific images in different ways.  The Ravilious and the Fashion Photography got the most attention, and the most interest.   

Tim Walker, Lily Cole and Giant Camera (2004)

Image and further info from the RWA website here

Next month we are going to meet at the local Grant Bradley gallery and look at the show there, and then discuss it in their cafe.  We will also have separately been to see what's on at the Spike Island Open Studios on the weekend of 5/6/7th May.  And there are about 6 other people eager to join us for the next session.  

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Final Project - work in progress

Tomorrow we start term again and will compare notes, and report, on where we're going and what our final plans are.  I've been working hard this last fortnight to extend my research into other artists, and to try out different ideas and techniques.  Phew!  It's been hard work - but I now have a sketch book full of ideas and possibilities, and today I will focus and try to make a firm (-ish) plan for the last stage.  Completion must be by the end of May - which seems like a long way away still, but I know it will fly by, and we don't have so many days in college because there are lots of Bank Holidays still to come.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Paper works, Peter Ford

I went tonight to the opening of the 75@75 exhibition of Peter Ford's paper works at the Off Centre Gallery  in Bristol.  This was both retrospective and a show of recent work, including some lovely watercolours, both abstracts and landscapes,  with strong and vibrant colours, and abstracted shapes and forms.  Also very interesting etchings and collagraph prints, some into his hand-made paper, others on thick papers which enable him to create physical depth, indentations, and texture as well as colour and form.  He has a large number of book plates on display, commissioned by private individuals as well as public institutions including a number of Chinese libraries.  An inspiring collection.  I was also interested to see information, at the show, about the International Association of Hand Paper-makers and Paper Artists, (IAPMA) (IAPMA web-link is here) with information about exhibitions and paper artists of all kinds. A really useful resource.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

final project: progress and experimentation

I have been beavering away, over the past couple of weeks, experimenting and exploring for my final project.  The raw material is plain, old, paper.  I'm presently using old history essays, copies of learned journal articles, library lists and archive catalogue references, from my days as a part-time MA student and researcher.  This is for the exploratory stage.  I have been in touch with my long-time former place of work and hope to receive from them, soon, a decent sized bundle of old documents which I had a hand in producing.  I will use these for the final construction.  Most of what I used to deal with never went further than A4 printer or photocopier - not much reached 'proper' print-for-publication quality.  So I'm concentrating on using that kind of paper for my art-work.

I'm still not sure what the final piece will be.  I started off thinking about Cornelia Parker and the idea of, quite literally throwing the scraps of my old paper-based life to the winds, in some kind of explosion of hanging threads and pieces.  I haven't entirely given up on that yet, but I think there are other ways, too, of using the paper in ways which preserve the essence of its 'paperiness', while removing or obscuring the text, and creating distinct forms, rather than an amorphous 'cloud' of fragments.

So while my ideas mature and settle, I've been playing, trying things out and wandering the web, and the libraries, thinking about ways in which I can use my paper to represent, or to convey, in some way, the sense of liberation I have felt at leaving behind the old world of the written and printed word, in favour of creativity in textiles, art, music and much else besides.

I have made quite a lot of paper, with results improving over time as my equipment, and technique, improved.  I've also made some passable papier mache articles - mainly bowls in various shapes and sizes.

I've tried weaving with torn strips of printed, and hand-made, paper.  This produces some interesting visual effects and textural depth.

 And following on from my earlier attempts at knitting with paper strips,

I've tried using the strips in other ways - rolling them up into a bundle or ball (this piece done with strips cut from hand-made paper, extremely fragile to handle in this state.

I've produced some further pieces of strip work - piling the paper strips up in a heap,

or coiled loosely in one of the pier macho bowls - it looks a bit like printed spaghetti, with tantalising glimpses of words and phrases, but nothing which makes any sense.

Or making rings, like extremely loose chain-mail


And I've tried stitching lengths of narrow strip together, pulling the strips into curved shapes which begin to curl up a little like simple canoes.

Where this will lead, I do not yet know.  But it feels quite good to be making and doing, experimentation wil lead to new ideas, and is a good way of testing out what can be done, and what I'll feel happy about concentrating on for a few weeks to make the final piece.    We have a tutorial session on 16th April, when we're expected to bring in all our work so far, and present a coherent plan for the final stages.  So there's still rather a lot to be done, and decisions to be made.