I was interested to become more performative in my exploration of infinite scroll and screen usage.
Taking a handful of paper clay, I shaped it roughly into something that would fit comfortably in my palm, and then began ‘scrolling’ it with my thumb, as I would a phone screen. The effect of this gesture on the wet clay was like a carving out of a groove that fit my thumb – i could have continued this until the block split into two, but I chose to let it remain a singular object. The grip I maintained while scrolling was also changing the shape of the clay, so that it became a rather strange form.
I decided to repeat this, now using a rectangular form similar to a phone itself. It was interesting here to see the ‘rippling’ at the base of the thumb groove, and the warping effect on the underside of the shape from the grip/scroll exercise.
We were introduced to different glazing techniques once our works had been fired to biscuit. I chose not to glaze the first object, feeling that it’s ‘rough’ appearance was in keeping with its abstract form. I was keen to explore a the application and removal of glaze and under glaze to achieve a warped sheen/reflective appearance on the phone artefact though. This has been somewhat successful, and has made the rippling effect of the clay seem almost like bodily mutilation of an organic substance (oozing) rather than a piece of warped machinery.
This repetitive motion carving out a form reminded me of a work I recently saw at the Dora Maurer exhibition at Tate Modern. This involved a girl performing a ‘parade’ with her feet painted red, walking in a circle over paper and scrumpled newspaper. Her repeated walking painted a circle and stamped down the newspaper to a pulp.
I think I like the destructive, irreverent and playful nature of this work. For a child to be performing this repetitive act in a fairly sedate and controlled way is an intriguing contrast to the tone of the work itself. The red paint is now only suggested by the red fabric the photographs are now presented on, the black and white images themselves instead more akin to the newspaper she had walked on. I like the very obvious agency that we see being demonstrated in the work. I am intrigued why the artefact of this performance was not itself seen as an artwork (or if it was, why would it not be preserved?).
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?
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
Painting or poetry is made as one makes love – a total embrace, prudence thrown to the winds, nothing held back
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.
I recently discovered the ArtRabbit app, which tells you about art events and exhibitions in your area. I was excited to get involved in more live art happenings, and a view into the art world outside Brookes. On here, I saw a half-day conference (free for students to attend) at the Ashmolean in Oxford related to their exhibition on A R Penck, and decided I would go along.
A R Penck was one of several pseudonyms for Ralf Winkler, which he first used in the 1960s to elude the authorities in communist East Germany (GDR), which has stuck. Self-taught, following an apprenticeship in advertising, he looked to masters such as Matisse and Picasso, prehistoric cultures, as well as popular culture comics and scifi to influence his work and style. He moved to the West in the 1980s, and lived in London for some time.
Shaped by the subversion of his early work (having to operate in secret with scant materials, smuggling his work to the West), his use of symbolism and repeated motifs is of particular interest to me, as is the fact that his work sought to communicate socially relevant narratives.
This exhibition focused on the development of his ‘Standart’ stick figures, which were used expressively as well as to form signs relating to the concept of man and social power systems. Often the Standart took on the form of a hunter, to play on the primal urges and timeless aggression of humans. Below we can see his exploration of this form expressively through various media (pencil sketch, printmaking, sculpture, paint and ink)
I think for me the more interesting executions here are the print and the painting, with the flat layering of colour accentuating this flat essentialised form that we still recognise as human.
I appreciated understanding a little more of the narrative within the Edinburgh mural from the curator Lena Fritsch, though I think a much lengthier talk would be needed to grasp all elements of this large scale work fully. She drew our attention to the elements featured which captured something of the zeitgeist from 1987 (when the painting was created on-site at the Fruit Market Gallery in Edinburgh). The middle image above shows two standarts (each holding a different letter) coming together – symbolising the softening of the cold war, with American and Russian interests meeting to discuss disarmament during this time.
The right hand figure sees a hunter, a dynamic figure covering much of the space, carrying a spear in two hands and a wheel in another (symbolising change/time?). He is breaking about a shape that hangs above the two conciliatory figures, with another letter falling out from it – perhaps to show the new phase coming?
The left hand detail was not mentioned specifically in the talk, but to me appears like figures falling out of a dinghy/life raft – perhaps a warning that this is yet still potentially unstable times?
I think in pictures before I think in speech. Before thinking in pictures I think in abstract motions. The content of such motions is abstract gesture. Such abstract gestures are what interest me.
A. R. Penck as quoted in the Ashmolean exhibition notes
I enjoyed his more abstract work, though I think it was most successful when working with a limited colour palette of only one or two, to help focus be drawn more to the gestural quality. I had not previously come across the art term ‘neo-expressionist’ but this is how his work has been described.