Final Major Project – push gesture water experimentation

Following my reflection, I wanted to explore the push gesture in water. I feel that I may be preparing for a performance at the moat at Berkhamsted Castle, but I want to develop my idea further before doing so. I chose to investigate the water butt in my garden, since being so deep it offered the same darkness/contrast in reflected light that the moat itself has. This limited the extent of the gesture I could adopt here, but it was interesting to explore the ripple effect and methods in video editing in Premiere Pro, since the uni have now had the Adobe suite made accessible from our home computers.

I chose to accentuate the effects on the water by slowing down the movement. The accompanying audio becomes quite mesmerising, and the shifting water creates some very interesting warped abstractions. Here are two videos I made of the footage, one in black and white, and the other in colour, zoomed in so that the edges of the water butt are no longer visible.

I especially like this decontextualised view of the water, further abstracting the reflected imagery. The light dances.

It would be interesting to repeat this on a larger scale – perhaps in the moat itself, though I am unsure if this would be possible within the current lockdown (or if it might break any rules more generally on site).

Water itself has some intriguing connotations – life-giving and preserving, cleansing, and appears in various rituals (washing of feet, baptism, blessing etc.) and routine behaviours primarily associated as women’s work, such as laundry, cleaning/scrubbing, washing up. There is also a sexualisation of water when applied to the body – think of wet t-shirt competitions and the car wash.

It too reminds me of the Pre-Raphaelite painting Ophelia by John Everett Millais, depicting the tragic character from the play Hamlet. She falls into the water but continues to sing, unaware or uncaring of the danger to herself, before drowning herself. The painting is rich and verdant, the figure appears floating and as one with nature, but it is eery too – her face pale and close to death, her palms upraised in surrender, mid-song.

Ophelia 1851-2 Sir John Everett Millais, http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N01506

Researching this briefly, I came across an article about the significance of water in this Shakespeare play, which too looks to where else this symbolism is seen (excerpts below).

Water has long been a powerful symbol in literature: rains denote cleansing, the equality of mortality, and the rebirth of Spring. Baptisms also denote rebirth, while rivers and oceans connect people, denote the unknown, potentialities, and broadly speaking, the unconscious. But here we have an eroding kind of water, the sort that might carve a canyon, or a body.

Repetition and action–perhaps in a trade–are ways of lasting, and of keeping out the water, during life and even after death. The great antidote to the will-eroding current of introspective consciousness and the paralysis, stagnation, putrefaction, and death which follows, is action. 

A river separates the land of the living from the land of the dead, in both Greek mythology and in the oldest story we have, the epic of Gilgamesh, wherein the protagonist’s contemplation of death drives him to the ends of the earth in an unsuccessful pursuit for immortality. The myth of Narcissus and the pool depicts the same danger of excessive introspection in a more direct and literal manner: Narcissus, enraptured with his own beautiful appearance in the pool, leans in too far and drowns.

Water is both a powerful danger to be feared as well as a necessary agent of changing ourselves. We don’t want to stagnate and rot like a corpse, after all.

It seems then that water is a very apt element for me to be exploring as part of my theme of self-expression, being a tool of introspection and something we both seek out and shun through action. It’s interesting this too should harken to the flaw of narcissism in considering the self too much.

Final Major Project – Reflection on pushing gesture

Following my experimentation with pouring paint/gesture, it took several days for the paint to dry. The colour darkened during this, and below the final result. As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m not sure this fully expresses, since I was concerned with the pour of the paint, and so a more vigorous gestural work in this vein might be worth doing. It also could have done with some sort of background? Though I quite like the stark simplicity of this.

I like the near symmetry of this piece, and that the marks suggest a pattern or symbol of some form. It reminds me somewhat of rorschach ink blots in this way. But too the fluidity of the paint and the arching imply a spring or fountain of water for me. I was interested too by the concept of bodies of water in themselves as an action, having visited my local castle ruin in Berkhamsted on one of my daily walks.

I was reflecting on the concept of a moat in relation to the practice now of social distancing and self-isolation that we are mandated to perform during this coronavirus pandemic. The word isolation itself deriving from the Latin word insulatus, meaning to make an island. The manmade moat of this castle is in a literal sense constructing an island (whereby the castle is the island, isolated from its surroundings), and making manifest then this idea of social distancing.

Moats for me though imply a sense of stagnation, of anxiety and fear, and protection. I took several photos on my visit as I reflected on this, but found it difficult to capture just one that fully encapsulated that this was in fact a moat, and not some other body of water, such as a river. The closest to communicating that is the first below, where we can see the path across, a piece of the castle walls, and the two fortification mounds, but to gain this perspective little of the moat itself is visible. I think use of a drone camera (or at least, a much higher angle) would best work to capture the full sense of the moat.

I think this sense of distancing/isolating ourselves is also reflected in this pushing gesture I have been exploring. Pushing others away, rejecting our former habits and behaviours, creating physical distance/space for ourselves, all for me can be implied by this action of extending the limbs forwards and outwards.

When thought of in the context of water – pushing against water perhaps – it is also reminiscent of swimming, i.e. the breast stroke. A means of propelling ourselves, harnessing the resistance of the water. In thinking about water I became interested too in this resistance – the forces that act back upon us when we act on the world, as in Newton’s third law – the effects of our actions, repercussions and consequences (foreseen or not).

This is particularly topical at the moment, as we are made aware of the consequences of our individual behaviour on others – the possibility of spreading the virus by unnecessary contact with others. This has been made apparent by the study of the spread of the virus in South Korea, where just one infected person accounted for the majority of cases – patient #31.

Many images/animations have been circulating online using this matches illustration for the importance of social distancing to prevent the virus spreading to others

Final Major Project – experimentation in floor based drawing/painting

I was keen to get started experimenting with linear gestural mark-marking. It was important for me to capture the process of this as potential starting points for performance too, but as I have been cautioned not to use the studio space in the university due to the corona virus shut down, I was presented with a challenge to make use of my home environment to do this in!

My first challenge was in erecting some way of filming the process from above, as I do not own a tripod or the special craning equipment that would be used by professionals. I discovered a DIY instruction for a cardboard cradle of sorts for my phone that could be affixed to the ceiling using masking tape, and used this for some drawing experimentation in my sitting room. This floor is carpeted, which would mean it less than ideal for paint work, but does give me the most floor space in which to work.

Having centred myself by completing a yoga exercise, and reflecting in my journal, I decided I would explore different modes of attack for my gestural drawings – from standing, from kneeling, and from lying down. I was also keen to see the difference between using a large graphite stick and large charcoal (i chose these large materials to more easily capture my gesture across a wide surface, and for greater distinction in pressure, orientation etc). I opted to do these with my eyes mostly shut whilst moving, so that my gesture might be guided from the sensation/from within, rather than aesthetic appraisal. I did allow myself moments in between marks to assess whether further marks were needed or not.

I think the standing piece is my least preferred, it is more chaotic and less readily understood in terms of being gesture. I especially enjoy the expression of the charcoal, the pushing/expelling nature, and how the paper in fact moved away from me and contributed to the mark itself. Kneeling seems to be the posture in which I can exercise more control of expression, and capture the full arcing of my arm movements. Lying down was intriguing for allowing movement that was not isolated to the arms as much, and for more chance to be involved (when the graphite was caught in my hair and made no mark on the paper).

While the cardboard cradle worked for this short experiment, i found that the masking tape peeled away and the camera angle could not be easily perfected. The sound of the tape coming away was quite distracting, so I decided I would purchase a cheap phone holder as an alternative. I reasoned that if I am needing to use my phone camera to document anyway then this is a worthwhile investment!

I decided to try a paint pour experiment using this holder, this time working on my kitchen floor (to prevent any spills marking my carpet!) and had the holder clamped on my kitchen table. This allowed for a more up close view of the work in progress, but less vantage of my full body movement. I think this shot though is better suited to the A1 paper size I am currently working with.

I chose Ultramarine colour to experiment with, as I believe it the nearest to the blue of Yves Klein. I wanted to repeat to some extent the gesture used in my charcoal piece – the pushing element I thought might be interesting explored in a more fluid sense. Perhaps in my execution I was more focused on the pour (I did not perform this with my eyes closed, though perhaps I should repeat this with them shut!) and so there is less forcefulness in my gesture. It seems more meditative.

Unit 2 – Future of the Mind – Grid cell context/research

My research into AI and artificial minds took me into the latest developments of DeepMind, the research arm of Google. I was intrigued to learn in this article that the increasing sophistication of AI is in turn advancing our understanding of the human brain – specifically here in relation to how we navigate space. It particularly fascinated me this notion of there being cells specialised to certain sensations (a bit like the individual conscious agents that Hoffman mentioned in the interview I posted – the specialised cells all contributing to one seamless conscious experience of space) – one type acting as a ‘you are here’, one for the direction of your head, and another forming a grid for relative position/spacing.

This regular pattern of grid cells was especially intriguing for me – here it referenced a hexagon, though it could also be considered a tesselated pattern of triangles. It has previously been proven in rat brains, and only in the past few years have we seen early proofs it could too be present in humans.

I love this notion of a secret/hidden mental map that is created to help us navigate the world, that is underlying our visual interpretation of the world. I wondered too if there could be a future in which we could ‘hack’ this secret mental mapping system, to make familiar spaces that we are new to, or allow you to immediately understand the best route through a maze, for instance. Use of this regularised grid could help you to better predict or adjust to new situations, which of course the Future is the ultimate one.

This strikes me as similar to the dots used in motion capture technology – to help digital imaging ‘navigate’ an actor’s body/face in order to best map it to a 3D computer generated image.

That this should be in a hexagonal grid was also very intriguing for me. Instinctively, I imagine organic forms and shapes to be irregular, curved, amorphous, but hexagons are geometric, regular, straight edged. That said it is a form we do see in nature, for instance in honeycomb structure, or the basalt columns visible in places such as a the Giants Causeway. It is described as being the most ‘efficient’ shape, and hence why the cooling rock forms in this way. It is also described as the strongest shape – hence it’s use in the structure of the strongest known material, graphene.

Giants Causeway basalt columns

It was thus especially eery to come across this display in the Whitworth, just a day after reading of grid cells.

I was interested too to see what these grid cells might look like in reality. Unfortunately it does not seem there are specific electron microscope images of these in existence, so I instead looked to images of generic neurons.

These images, magnifying the molecular to amazing detail, show an intriguing textural quality, and complex intricacy of connection
I experimented recreating this texture using gummed tape and tissue paper, along with ink and paint. I could not quite achieve the level of intricacy I might have liked but it was an intriguing effect. I particularly liked using the gummed tape to make the 2D surface more structural
With another, less magnified image (the original here on the right), I found hexagonal areas within it and cut or drew over to indicate these, before overlaying it with a regularised pattern on tracing paper. I particularly like the effect this produced, the juxtaposition of the geometric and irregular, organic and structured.

Unit 2: 3D – Data Visualisation (pt 2)

I was interested to explore in greater depth the notion of ‘infinite scroll’ (something I touched on in my previous post on this project). I began exploring ways I could bring this to life, first in representations of infinity in physical form. I first explored mobius strips, which are like a 3D infinity symbol. I found in constructing them though that rather than create that figure of eight form (though that could be seen from some angles) I had more of a twisted loop. I think if I had shortened the length of my paper I may have gotten this effect more distinctly.

It was interesting to run the days of the week with their related screentime along both sides of the paper that I then formed into a mobius strip – meaning that now the sequence is neverending (it runs from Sunday back into Monday again). This had been explored by M. C. Escher, where he made it seem ants would be walking on this structure indefinitely (below).

But I was interested to explore more of the motion inherent in this scrolling on screens (particularly in social media). That the scrolling would be going on ad infinitum was interesting to explore. I therefore experimented with producing a perpetual motion machine. Generally however, this is considered to be an impossibility (at least in terms of the laws of physics on earth), since there is no way to ensure the perfect conservation of energy to maintain the motion indefinitely, without loss to heat etc. One of the more famous instances of a proof that such a machine would be impossible, is that of Leonardo Da Vinci. I sought to emulate his design to test this for myself.

Various designs for perpetual motion machines in Da Vinci’s notebooks
Here see the spinning motion achieved from the wheel when no weights are added
Spinning with internal weights (per Da Vinci design)
Spinning with external weights shows a longer spin time
Final external weights experiment before completing construction

I liked that the turning motion of the wheel simulated a physical scrolling motion (relating to the cylindrical object that the scrolling motion on a digital screen is named after). The final object I produced still retained the internal segment holes that were created as part of my experimentation with the Da Vinci design – I felt that the story of my experimentation was an important part of it, demonstrating a scientific process in improving the length of motion, and also the impossibility of it being infinite/perpetual.

Unit 2: Fine Art – Dérive (pt 4)

On my first walk, I encountered fencing that separated two college car parks in the centre of town, which when layered with the gate of one of these car parks, produced an interesting grid form.

I wanted to explore this structure and so produced several studies, exploring the negative space and outlining of this form. I think the cut paper is particularly effective here with field-ground effect.

I decided it would be most interesting to focus the eye by enlarging one section of this image/simplifying the structure. I chose the mid-right section of the upper grid as this held an interesting combination of the two layers, and a symmetry in the gaps of one to give a uniform kind of pattern.

Section traced in outline using pen and tracing paper

Having done this I was also interested to outline my leaf sketch also – I was concerned that my work was taking me further away from the nature that had interested me so much in the second walk and wanted to see how I could continue with this theme also.

Overlaying the two traced outlines revealed a surprising similarity

I was truly surprised to find that the two forms showed a great similarity when I overlay the tracing paper. Striking especially in the primary diagonal and the bisecting verticals in the top right of the image. This, like the composition repeat that I observed in my photography, suggest that my mind is unconsciously replicating patterns and drawing me to these without my knowledge. I’m still not quite sure what to make of it!!

The Tree A c.1913 Piet Mondrian

Mondrian, in his first forays into abstraction, was seeking to simplify the form of a tree into geometric line. This is a fascinating project that he undertook, where he gradually became more and more abstracted, and one that is now used in machine-learning. He later went into pure abstraction, without recourse to objects in the world.

I’m interested to understand whether the fence-work itself has in any way been inspired by the proportioning/structures witnessed in natural forms – or is it purely coincidental that this should be observed now? Unfortunately St Peters college does not have information on the gate for it’s fellows car park online (!). But from my desk research, it seems that this is not a style of gate that is currently widely available (it would be a bespoke piece) so it is likely these gates are somewhat historic, though the modern design makes me think it is likely 20th century. The rust evident indicates iron or an iron alloy, though whether this is cast, wrought or rod I am unable to really say. Similar styles of design describe the pattern as either chevron or diagonal box section, and claim it to be an especially sturdy design owing to the diagonal supports, with no mention of the aesthetic itself. As such I think it may be more coincidental that it resembles the natural leaf form, though it is hard to conclude!

Below I experimented with masking tape, to gain a clean line for my grid system. I originally intended to cut away the edge so that the ends would not be visible, but in removing the tape, I found it tore away some of the edging of the lines, and that the ends of the tape produced an interesting tear, which juxtaposed with the uniformity of the lines and the strong black squares. I like the stark contrast of the monochrome here making the grid jump out. I am interested in exploring other masking approaches.

Acrylic on paper.

I decided to experiment with the form in the way I had done previously with crayon/wax resist (i.e. sectioning a piece of paper and completing several instances at once). I explored different marks and organic forms here, though I found the bottom right the most satisfying (where I quickly made expressive marks to form the grid). I continued this expressive form in various colour palettes using soft pastels, experimenting with the layering of the grid systems in different colours.

Unit 2: Fine Art – Dérive (pt 3)

On one of my walks, I was interested in drawing, and drawing with, natural forms and materials. This began with an interest in the trace I was leaving through my action of walking, the impact I was leaving – my footprint.

I then proceeded to print my muddy footprint on pieces of paper that I had brought with me, using different types of mud that I found around me (varying in their viscosity). Here I prefer the clearest print – the one from the path itself – and I feel this most clearly represents the impact of my walk. I enjoyed using the surface on which I was walking as a material in itself and transposing this onto another surface. It felt a fitting way of capturing the moment. I chose then to experiment with drawing one of the leaves I had been stepping on in the mud, using the mud itself. I used a dipstick to achieve a linear sketch, and printed the leaf itself. I found it interesting how similar the linear structure of the leaf came out in the print and my sketch.

Top: Dipstick drawing with mud of leaf, Bottom: Mud print of leaf
I repeated this exercise using drawing ink back in the studio
I repeated this once more with the remains of a pine cone that I found at the base of a tree, which had been gnawed and deconstructed by a squirrel. To the left, I experimented using ink wash as well as drawing, and on the right I also used pencil to sketch the pine cone, to gain a more in-depth study of tonality and shade.

This exploration of structural forms in nature, and their linear form, is interesting to me. Most interesting for me in the printing is how it reveals hidden forms that might otherwise be missed by the eye – particularly in the pine cone above. It was also interesting to see the transition of the printed image from when saturated with ink to after several prints – the big contrast and interesting silhouetted shapes created in the saturated images are very abstracted and intriguing I think.

Half term research and experimentation: Abstract Expressionism

Over the half term weeks I enjoyed taking a break and slowing down the pace of my practice. However I still found myself eager to engage in research!

So I started reading this book I had taken out of the library – a heavy tome so I am still only part way through – and have been really captured by the characters Mary Gabriel introduces from the New York art scene in the 1920s onwards. I was moved to read the book to pursue a deeper understanding of Lee Krasner (whose retrospective at the Barbican this summer I had been bowled over by), but too in hopes of learning about the other 4 women the book biographied who were also innovators within the Abstract Expressionist movement (and regrettably overlooked in the art history): Grace Hartigan, Elaine de Kooning, Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler.

(Below: works included in the Barbican Lee Krasner exhibition – I found the gestural quality and sheer scale of her work breathtaking)

I have found it particularly interesting so far to understand more about the context of the inter-war period for American artists, their sense of being onlookers from the European art scene that dominated, and the driving need for these artists to pursue abstraction. For Krasner, this was greatly guided by her tutelage under Hans Hoffmann.

You cannot deny yourself. You ask, am I painting myself? I’d be a swindler if I did otherwise. I’d be denying my existence as an artist. I’ve also been asked, what do you want to convey? And I say nothing but my own nature. How can one paint anything else?

Hans Hoffmann

Some other quotes contained in the book have been notable too

I found that I could say things with colours and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things that I had no words for

Georgia O’Keeffe

Painting or poetry is made as one makes love – a total embrace, prudence thrown to the winds, nothing held back

Joan Miro

Though I find this contextual background really interesting, I wish that it was accompanied with greater emphasis on the works they produced. I suppose I would like this to be an exhibition of its own (though it would need to be a really big one!!). I am interested to go and find works in the flesh for each of these artists (I know of a Krasner in the Tate Modern but I wonder if there are others in the UK, or of these other women?)

Anyway, I was inspired by reading about these intrepid women to experiment for myself with expression. I have til now adopted a swooping style not unlike that of Krasner (though perhaps more akin to a doodle). As yet I have not ventured into paint or proper layering, only sketches thus far as I feel I need to refine the vision before doing so.

I experimented here with using my left and right hand simultaneously to generate this gestural mark, with graphite first, then with willow charcoal. I am interested by how they differ between my hands – the left hand marks seem more erratic, staccato feel – almost vibrating with energy. I like this frenzied effect and I think it is to do with the strongest/most defined lines being straighter, more repetitive and generally within a similar axis/plane. Contrastingly, my right hand marks are more concentrated and looped, though not exactly restrained. For me, here the energy seems constrained instead – caught up inside itself. I think this perhaps reflects more of the intention I had had but it’s interesting that I find the left hand marks more pleasing. Altogether I think the charcoal most effective

I was keen though to try a different expressive technique (one that I thought of when lying awake one night). I conceived that this would involve rotating my arm through almost 270 degrees – starting behind me and swooping over my head and down onto the paper. This was to deliver some force in the contact with the paper, and also to some extent eliminate my control over the mark. Using this forceful hitting also seemed something that could be rhythmic and expressive – not necessarily violent but certainly with an element of physicality to it.

I was surprised by the tailing of the strikes on the paper. I especially like the indents of graphite that can be seen in the paper, and the contrast between the tone of the struck marks and these tails as I lift the graphite back up again. As I had seen in the Chance workshops (in dropping pieces of paper) some order did seem to be produced, as the marks appear to cluster and be heading off together towards the top right corner. They remind me of tadpoles or perhaps sperm, certainly life potential, which is interesting as I had not anticipated this connection (though in reflection now I notice how ‘alive’ this experiment made me feel).

The action itself felt freeing and I was keen to continue experimenting. Here again I tried to see if there was a difference between the marks of my left and right hands. I saw here that the left handed marks were less clustered, less ordered, with greater diversity in the marks made. Again here, I prefer the effect of the softer charcoal, and I am intrigued by the use of colour with this technique, as I think it evokes a vivid liveliness that is not communicated by the charcoal alone.

I am interested to move these experiments into paint, though I am nervous about making a big mess. I think it would be really interesting to try hitting a field of wet paint to see the effect of the impact in this reversed sense.

Colour in the Everyday – my work

For this workshop, we were to bring in a photo demonstrating an interesting combination of colour, texture and pattern, based on the everyday that might otherwise be missed. I chose to bring in this photo I had taken of different surfaces in a car park.

We then had to mix 8 or so colours from this photo using gouache and paint A5 samples to create a palette – here they are ordered by tone.

I enjoyed engaging with the paint in this way, though did find it tricky to mix the darker tones (we were not allowed to use black in our mixing).

We experimented with identical colour swatches on different coloured backgrounds, to see how the interaction changes the perception of the swatch colour (after Josef Albers).

The dark blue swatch in the top configuration appears somewhat greyer and flatter than in the bottom configuration, where it appears sharper and brighter (in fact seeming closer to the background of the top configuration rather than the swatch to which it was identical).

We then had to fill an A1 sheet with palettes experimenting with these different samples that we had produced. Below my work – I enjoyed playing with composition here as well as colour, and since my I had some colours that were near enough primary I produced works that seemed quite modernist and almost Mondrian. That said I think the variety achieved in the palettes that repeated one composition at the bottom of the sheet were perhaps the more successful in exploring the colour combinations, since you can more clearly compare between them.

I enjoyed this exercise and think it could be something I would repeat to help isolate a palette for further work, or that I could develop further in e.g. graphic design.

Henry Moore Gardens/studios – Research pt 3

Finally, I enjoyed on my visit attending the exhibition of his drawings, to see how these had a changing role in his creative practice through his career, which lasted 7 decades. The exhibition was organised chronologically by decade, starting in the 1920s with his life drawings, and finishing with the works he produced towards the end of his life. It was interesting to note that it was in light of his drawings in the Second World War that his career really took off, despite this not being what he is best known for today. (Pictures below are taken from a book as no photography was allowed in the exhibition)

In the 1930s he began developing his own individual style and used drawing as a tool for developing ideas for his sculptures.

In the 1940s, the war effort meant that he worked almost exclusively in drawings, and was commissioned to document the London Blitz, producing sketches and large drawings of Londoners sheltering in the London underground. I like the use of perspective in the below tunnel, emphasising the sheer volume of people down there (barely perceptible as figures) disappearing into the distance, they seem unending – quite evocative and haunting. This motif was repeated in the portrait beneath.

This was a technique I saw him using in many instances – multiple studies/idea development on one sheet for a sculptural work. I like this idea of trying out lots of things in sequence and having them laid out next to each other like this.
Here we can see how the ideas developed in drawing were translated into sculpture.
Head, 1958

The above work is one of a triptych of Head studies shown in the exhibition from the same period. This was during the phase where he was now using maquettes primarily to develop his sculpture ideas, so drawing was more for creative release. As such his approach was more experimental, and took him into printmaking and tapestry. These Head drawings were done with crayon as a wax resist against watercolour and ink – I find these very effective and am interested to give this a try myself.

I also liked the linear effect in his charcoal pieces here above – the tendril-like branches in silhouette are very effective here. I believe that ‘The Artists Hands’ is one of his more well-known drawing motifs.

Drawing, even for people who cannot draw, even for people not trying to produce a good drawing, it makes you look more intensely. Just looking alone has no grit in it, has no sort of mental struggle or difficulty. That only happens while you are drawing.

Henry Moore, 1978
Here I have experimented with abstract forms using the wax resist of crayons as Moore had done. It was also quite pleasing to experiment multiply on one page in this way. I would like to repeat this exercise when I am needing to generate ideas as well.