Remember to test your process!

The film is in a light hearted way a reminder that it is important to test your process. I was revisiting Sequel II to test out that repeating the process was possible to make a large ‘Trace drawing’, and as a way of considering aspects in terms of its potential as a performance piece. I was being filmed in order to gather evidence when it became apparent that the lid had fused to the tin, probably in the charcoal making process. So clearly important to make sure the lid is loose before filming or performing! Equally, I suppose is checking all the aspects that you are intending to show.

The other notable thing that came out of this session was the cost of trying to get around the process. The making of willow spheres and the charcoal making process are quite lengthy, particularly with a reluctance to light the log burner on hot summer days. So I decided to try and make some drawings by packing tins with previously made charcoal and previously used sand- I’m not sure I should be admitting to this!- and the results were interesting because it just didn’t work- obvious you might think!

Trace drawing made with charcoal and tired sand- not really good result.

Trace drawing made with charcoal and tired sand- not really good result.

It was as though any charcoal dust on the sand had previously been used up, just putting the charcoal in with it didn’t make a difference. So, important lesson- the actual charcoal making process with the sand is a crucial part of the process of making a trace drawing with the charcoal dust.

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Working on Series of Paintings.

This follows on from ‘Planning towards a series of works‘.

I used the opportunity of a hot, dry day to prime the canvas boards with 4 layers of gesso primer- the limitations of my indoor space would only allow for me to do 3 at a time, so saving a lot of time. The greenhouse was a sheltered place for them to fully dry.

DSC_2620Once inside I could only work on 3 pieces at a time. My first task to sand each board before giving each a further 2 coats of gesso- I knew they would need a substantial base as my intentions included a certain amount of sanding back later in the process.


DSC_2621I started each piece with the photoshop ‘stamp’ image and the original photo of the shadow I was working from, along with charcoal I have made myself.


DSC_2622Working with these sketchbook images, I trans-scribed them onto the prepared canvas board in charcoal. As it is a multi-stage process it has been useful to be able to work on 3 at a time.


DSC_2646This detail shows how in making the lines the charcoal is liable to fracture leaving splinters and dust on the surface- this illustrates the uncertainty that is part of this making.


DSC_2649In order to fix the charcoal I have used an acrylic medium that I have diluted in water so that it can be sprayed through a small spray bottle (available at chemists or supermarkets). I use this to spray along the lines, which also spreads some of the dust, and goes some way to capture the moment. This is then left to dry for at least 24 hours.

DSC_2639These works are about absence-in the next part of the process I use sand paper to rub back the surface. The very nature of charcoal makes it quite textural, particularly once fixed with the medium, so I wanted to take away part of what one might expect. Again the nature of this process is full of uncertainties which is something ‘absence’ brings with it.

DSC_2652Whilst gradually working on other pieces that would make up the series, I lay them out to consider how they might appear together. I soon realized that the 2 previous works that had been part of my initial idea (at the bottom of the photo) and that I had intended to be part of the series did actually have a very different finished surface. It’s funny really because part of the idea was that there would be a sense of ‘wrongness’ about the work, but some how this felt too wrong. I decided I would go back and look at my archive relating to the willow sculptures that these 2 were based on and select other images. It did produce what seemed an interesting dilemma.

DSC_2659Another thing that I noticed was that by working on 3 at a time, each set I had finished to a differing degree which was very noticeable once they were side by side. The more I worked, the more I sanded back- I can remember thinking about the idea of charcoal being an embodiment of ‘absence’ through the way it is formed, and in some ways I was trying to remove the ‘absence’. There were moments when this made me quite emotional- the idea of physically acting out what is inside. However, this recognition made me think that I need to return to some of the earlier works and sand them further so that, what might be construed as expressive marks disappeared. It was this attention to the surface that also made me decide to order some more boards and make a selection of further works- there were one or two where the acrylic medium had pooled and despite sanding left marks that didn’t sit comfortably. I could then make the final selection of 11 paintings from these.

DSC_2668When I had 12 pieces (not all completed, I have to add) I laid them out as best I could to give an impression of how the grid might appear. I asked my 18yr old son to look at them- his comment was ‘is it a puzzle, do you have to match them up?’ I found this quite interesting in the light of my idea to make a work that has a sense of ‘wrongness’ about it, the fact that his immediate response was to sense that there was something that wasn’t quite right, but surly there must be some way to make things right. ( Do we all have an intrinsic need to create order?) My response was, ‘no, that’s just how it is’. I asked him what he thought of it- he said ‘I have no strong opinion, its art, it is what it is’.

From this little encounter I decided that the series would be called, ‘That’s just how it is’, which in many ways relates to our lives too. I still have to go through all the works, recording them individually and making my final selection for the series, but currently feeling satisfied with what I have done.

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Working with Nature.

One of the things that came out of my research for my Contextual Review was recognition of the idea of working with uncertainty, and this is certainly something that rings true in my work with willow, in particular the living willow. Earlier this week I noticed that a number of specimens in my ‘plantation’ have been attacked by what I later discovered to be sawfly larvae. A few of the plants have been virtually stripped of their leaves. I set about removing the culprits by hand and making a note to remain vigilant. This incident though set me of a path to check all my other willows where I came across a variety of other small creatures, though none creating the same damage. I photographed them and later identified them as a Dark Dagger Moth caterpillar, a Vapourer Moth caterpillar, a ladybird larvae and a number of colonies of the black willow aphid. It was fascinating to see on one willow ants appearing to farm the aphids, whilst on another there was a ladybird feasting on the aphids. It’s fascinating to see these mini-worlds playing out and a reminder of the place the willow takes in the wider eco-system. And, in relation to my work, these incidents can impact on the nature of the growth of the willow: attacks to terminal growth can cause more branching, which will impact on the nature of the form I am able to create at the end of the growth year.

Wildlife Insight– a good site for identifying Butterflies, Moths and Caterpillars.

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Part of the journey.

It was the conversation with M. about the possibilities of making books as a way of collating the amount and diversity in my work that set me thinking also about my sketch/note books and how they, and in particular my A3 books, are a depository of words, drawings, notes, ideas, scribbles, tests, cuttings, post-it notes, that chart part of the journey. I have made a brief video that just gives some idea of the nature of them. They along with a number of larger sketchbooks will form part of my final submission.

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Thinking about Books.

In assignment 4 I spoke about the idea of creating a book, or several books, relating to the idea of absence/presences, and the possibility of it being a way to collate some of the many images, photographs, diagrams and notations together.

I spoke with M. about the ideas of Newspapers, handmade books and self published books through online sites.

Having spoken about sustainability in my statement it seemed important to think carefully about how I went about this -using recycled products or locally made papers.

With a little research I found that there is a local company that produces handmade artist quality papers- The Two Rivers Company. It seems they will make bespoke papers, which set me thinking about extending my previous attempts at paper making with willow bark.

For this current project, however, I started to look back through previous work as I thought more about the form this book might take. I came across sheets of willow leaves that I had pressed on Khadi paper– this is a handmade paper made from 100% recycled cotton rag in India. The leaves had left multiple imprints and stains from their forms on the papers. These immediately made me think of ‘absence’- the memory of the leaves remained on the paper.

Just to illustrate how ideas don’t always come from where you expect them to- I set about researching online the nature of artist books and almost enrolling on a bookbinding course, when I was also following up another thread to look at Dieter Roth’s work in relating to performative work when I came across his ‘unbinding of the book’; a book without a spine where the pages would remain loose and could be arranged in a number of ways. I immediately thought of the ‘absence’ of a spine- what else might be missing from a book? A book with no words? I then though of the phase ‘there are no words…..’ – These are words we heard repeatedly in the days and weeks following Jakes death. The book started to take a form in my head. I thought back to comments I had made in a piece, ‘further reflections on documentation’ about photographs I had of a selection of 8 leaves from each of the eight willow sculptures. I went back to these and decided to use them as a pattern to cut out there shapes from sheets of Khadi paper. These would then be inter-spaced with the other sheets that held a memory of the willow leaves.

An example of one of the cut-outs backed by the ‘memory’sheets.

An example of one of the cut-outs backed by the ‘memory’sheets.







A willow rose- the traditional knot used to secure a bundle of willow.

A willow rose- the traditional knot used to secure a bundle of willow.

I had considered the willow rose as having potential in creating a binding for a book before thinking of the absent spine, then thought about how I might bring the constituent parts of a book together- the pages, the spine, the thread, I thought of other parts of the willow that I might use. When I trimmed them down, however, they looked very much like a crucifix and took on religious overtones, which I didn’t want. It made me think it had to be simple, because the more additions seemed to add greater meanings, and in someway add to it ‘presence’, when it was intended to be about ‘absence’.

I decided it would be a book of 16 loose pages, which could be configured in any order and might be displayed in a number of ways- They could be displayed as a pile of sheets with only the top visible or they could be displayed as framed works. The piece would the called ‘There are no words…’

‘There are no words…’ An artist book with sheets of hand cut and willow stained khadi paper. Each sheet 30 x 21 cms.

‘There are no words…’
An artist book with sheets of hand cut and willow stained khadi paper.
Each sheet 30 x 21 cms.

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Exhibition, Event, Happening?

In many ways ironic that I should find out about Doug Aitkens project ‘Station to station- a 30 day happening’ that was to take over the Barbican , London from the 27th June through to the 26th July, shortly after reading about Kaprow. I was going to be in London on the weekend of the 10th/11th July with my family so we went along.

I didn’t really know what to expect other than what I had gleaned from the publicity- This ‘living exhibition’, brings together a fusion of leading international and UK-based artists from the world of contemporary art, music, dance, graphic design and film in a jam-packed programme., with more than a 100 free events over 30 days. It gave the impression of a lot happening. I was really interested to get an insight into the idea of a ‘living exhibition’ and how it might work, in particular in relation to my own work.

There is almost too much to detail, and many opportunities to be a participant. We were led through a darkened room, following laser beams that were somehow digitally recording the environment as well as our shadows that would then become animated and added to a film/video work that would evolve over the 30 days. We lay on beanbags in a space with wall to wall to ceiling screens showing Doug Aitken’s film ‘Station to Station’, and were offered pieces of Catcus omelette made according to a recipe by Ed Ruscha, as he appeared on the screen. We visited different enviroments housed in Yurts- a dark space with heavy felt walls that had words written on them, a bright light space with a double bed and many mirrors and a magical orange space. We witnessed a musical ensemble by the lakes and a smoke sculpture. In the galleries was a working print studio, a space with a dance troop working, Martin Creed was in residence rehearsing for a performance, there was an artist painting responses to peoples questions, a studio pressing vinyl records, a graphic studio producing album covers. I’m sure there was more that I’ve missed.

As a living project exploring modern creativity it provided the opportunity to witness the creative process of different media in action alongside each other, and the opportunity to engage in dialogue with some of the artist too. In terms of performative/ participatory aspects there were lots of examples of how this might happen. In relation to my own work I need to decide how it might work in such a situation, and weather it might entail enacting a process or deciding if there is space to allow for active participation of a viewer. It was of interest to see the documentation of Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Connecting across country with a line’ in one of the galleries. A drawing project on the ‘Station to station’ train, where he had created a drawing machine that held a round disc, it looks as though he inked up a ball which was then placed on the disc and the movements of the train took it on a journey around the canvas- a line taking a walk scripted by the movements of the train, resulting in line drawings that make a record of the journey. In the space was a selection of the drawings, approx. 14, the actual drawing machine and a short video of the drawing machine in action. In the narrative alongside the film Eliasson says,

Thinking into doing you make a work of art, it’s almost as if it is a thought from the future which you are just preparing to be thought- where does an idea come from?

Seeing this has really made me think about different possibilities for showing my trace drawings, both at assessment and in an exhibition situation. I’m really glad I was able to make this event as it has given me a real physical experience of what some of those possibilities might be and how they might be achieved.

Another thing that made me think about the nature of the performative was witnessing Olaf Breuning’s  Smoke performance. It was great to watch, but the fact that I filmed it made me realise it lasted for just over 1 minute, which in turn made me think about how you might define the performative in art practice. It seems to be about the action or activity, it doesn’t have to be lengthy, it’s about sharing it with others and seems to embrace elements of uncertainty. It has certainly given me food for thought.

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Thinking about Art and Life.

M. suggested looking at ‘Allan Kaprow- art as life’ in relation to the potential for perfomative aspects with in my own work. We spoke, in particular, about my ‘trace drawings’ and how they might be exhibited. The nature of the final works are so fragile that the energy captured in them could easily be lost through handling. It occurred to me that they could be made in the gallery- as they are made they could be hung directly. We had spoken about the idea of a living exhibition with aspects of the making as part of the final exhibition.

It is funny one of the first notes I made on reading was-

‘ephemeral, performative and notational practices increasingly central to art of the late 20thC and early 21stC’.

It became apparent quite quickly that this was very close to the ideas I was wrestling with for my Contextual Studies Critical Review. And when I read that in many ways his ‘action collages’ were a way of reconciling the work of Jackson Pollack and John Cage- the painterly and conceptual, the physical and theoretical- this set me thinking about the work I had just done around Eva Hesse and John Newling. The connection between art and life was also something that cropped up during my research.

P23- Kaprow was fascinated by moments when art and life became one-

An artwork made out of impermanent, disregarded, and expendable everyday materials that ‘will pass into dust or garbage very quickly’ he explained, could exist as something much more suggestive than ‘a fixed enduring object to be placed in a locked case’. Its essential mutability, its truthfulness as a phenomenon caught up in a larger cycle of creation-decay-creation’ was partly determined by the realities of the modern world of consumer capitalism- a world of junk and throwaway products. But it also had to do with a deeper sense of temporality, an ephemerality that subtended the very fabric of everyday living and thinking.

 It seems quite strange coming to this writing so shortly after completing and submitting my Critical Review, and in many ways it highlights for me how challenging it can be to really embed new or changing ideas into ones own thinking, but also the importance of working through them in a physical way.

In relation to potential performative aspects within my work, Kapprow’s ‘Happenings’ are described as lying in the gap between 2 verbal articulations-

  1. The scenario or projection of the happening- a written score or description that narrate it.
  2. The recollection or commentary afterwards.

It is interesting to see the many examples which will hopefully help towards finalising my thoughts around how to present my ‘trace drawings’.

Meyer-Hermann, E. Perchuk, A. and Rosenthal, S. (2008) Allan Kaprow- Art as life. Thames and Hudson, London.

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Looking at A. Tapies in relation to planned charcoal paintings.

M. suggested taking another look at the work of Antonio Tapies in relation to my planned series of paintings. I was quite surprised to find that when I tapped, ‘A Tapies, Charcoal Paintings’ into google and pressed the images button, I found an image of my ‘charcoal trace drawing’ on the same page.

I am familiar with his work and visited Fundacio Tapies in Barcelona some years ago, but it was interesting to look and remind myself of the texture within many of his works. I watched an interesting documentary about him and found much relating to my recent work. He said ‘the materials I use- it’s full of dust. This grain of dust may contain a whole universe’. He referred to it as a material in flux, ever changing- he said ‘Everything changes, Nothing ever stays the same’. This seemed to relate closely to the ‘trace drawings’ I have made, and work relating to absence and the impermanence of materials.

In relation to my planned series it was interesting to consider the texture. As I reflected on one of the paintings that inspired the initial idea I wrote these words-

‘I built up layers and then rubbed them back, kind of battling with the presence of these lines and their erasure, gradually building up a kind of history’.

And, in fact, as I have already worked on some of the paintings for the series the element of ‘texture’ is one I have physically worked with. The nature of charcoal has an uncertainty to it- it is fragile, liable to fracture and break up, creating unintended marks and gestures. I will expand more on my ideas of how I have worked with the textural nature of charcoal, as I consider notions of absence, when I reflect on the making of the series.

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Further reflections on peer engagement.

I am thinking about this again as I start to pack up my work ready to submit for my final assignment and the requirement to show evidence of peer interaction. Much of what I wrote in my post of 12th November 2014 remains true. I haven’t linked every post I have made on the OCA forums, though have tried to where I have received help or feedback of some nature. I was quite intrigued to find that I am currently listed on the site as a ‘frequent poster’.

I recognise that as I start work on my Professional Practice module this is an area that I will need to place an emphasis on. In many ways is has been in these later stages of the course that, in order to somehow bring my work together, I have had to reflect more deeply and I have found myself making connections with what has happened in my life- the lost of my son, and this has been emotionally challenging. I think this adds to my caution around having to discuss and articulate what is going on in my work, but know it is something I will have to negotiate.

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Thoughts on Decollage

I just wanted to add in some brief notes relating to the de-collage works I have made earlier and a post by fellow OCA student, Andrew Howe, who has cited my work in his contextualization, and has made some experiments of his own. Like me , it is a technique he has enjoyed, and although it may not play a prominent roll in his current work, his intentions are to re-visit it.

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