SAW-‘Skills Unearthed: The Art of the Blackdowns’

DSCN0002I was drawn in particular to this exhibition for the work of Jon England. I have seen his work previously at similar events and was very taken with his use of materials and how they relate to his subject. Much of his works focus is on WWII. Previously he had work in collaboration with a veteran who had been a prisoner of war and had an archive of related work, in particular many portraits of fellow POW’s. Jon had made work in response using materials like rusty nails, milk powder, boot polish, poppy seeds and others- materials that related directly to the experience of the POW’s.

In this exhibition his focus was a group of medics of the 101st Airborn Division and the links between the history of the war and the people who live in the Blackdown, including the exploration of the WWII airfield site on the hills. England has used found WWII iodine taken from medical packs as his medium. The iodine fades over time leaving only the slightest traces of a transient figure. The related text makes the connection to the process of healing over time. The work has been presented in the form of a time lapse photographic sequence, which illustrates this gradual fading. It was also presented as still photographs of the original iodine drawings and the actual drawings themselves, in their faded state, which had been made on what looked like dressing packs. They were exhibited in an interesting way, each mounted on what appeared to be a shallow draw that had a recess containing a stick or tube of iodine, I imagine from a medical cabinet, and suspended above an old canvas stretcher. These works were accompanied by a larger drawing/painting of two airmen made from boot polish and iodine on parachute silk. I really like the way he makes the connection between his subject and his materials. The challenge is to translate this idea into my own work. I think the connections give greater depth to the work. Something that is apparent too is how central drawing skills are to his work. Many of his works are portraits of service men; I will never forget the airman made from rusty nails- from a distance a perfect portrait but close up what seemed like an abstract arrangement of rusty nails. A video made about the collaboration between Jon and Ted Milligan, the POW, gives a moving account of the power of drawing  and shows many examples of his archive along with recent works made, and also give further insights into Jon’s approach to materials in his work; forging a physical link between the past and the present.

Tim Martin’s work caught my attention as a response to his chosen landscape. It interested me as it acknowledged the many aspects of landscape that one could consider and in a way brought them together to give a deep intimate insight to that landscape. Over 10 weeks he documented 50 points of public access along the longest transept line from one side of the Blackdowns to the other. At each point he systematically recorded information about the geography, geology, biology, and human activity at the location. From this information he has created a video installation and a number of framed wall-hung works. There are 5 grids (5×10) which illustrate the different perspectives he considered- photographs, i-pad drawings, grid reference, associated words, and photos of a stone placed on the ground- this could be the geology or perhaps a sign of human presence. The video installation allowed for the inclusion of sound as part of the experience. This interested me because during my recent visits to the levels, sound is something I have become more aware of and have considered taking a recorder with me, it seems sound can be very evocative of place and sometime at odds with the visual information before you; like when you might appear to be in the middle of nowhere, but you hear a dog barking or plane fly overhead. It also mirrors in someway how I have been documenting my visits to the Somerset levels in my sketchbook. There is certainly food for though as I continue to think about how to approach my major project.

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