Signs and Narrative in Art: A R Penck – Research

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.

Curator Lena Fritsch gives us a mini tour of the A R Penck exhibition at the Ashmolean after the various talks, in front of the Edinburgh (Northern Darkness III) mural.

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.

Survival Strategies/a call to action: Research & my work (pt 4)

I started by experimenting with an alarm clock visual with the Extinction Rebellion slogan ‘Time’s Up’. I like the naive graphic style employed and have continued on this theme – the use of felt tip on paper also feels child-like and in keeping with the idea of our children’s future being at stake. I was experimenting with the use of yellow as contrast to black/grey but found this hampered legibility

An alarm clock seems a highly relevant object to be depicting here – alarm and a sense of urgency is precisely what is needed to drive action, and you do not allow an alarm clock to keep on ringing once it goes off – you act.

In my first drawing of the clock, I considered what time to show on the face. It immediately occurred that in depicting an analogue clock face, I could show the doomsday clock as it stands in 2019 (at two minutes to midnight https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/current-time/ )

Here, I experimented with use of different colour and creating a 3D effect with the text to aid standout, and now adopted my own slogan of Wake up. I liked this slogan/text effect but felt more could be done to increase the focus on the doomsday time. I also experimented with blue/red as an alternative but this didn’t have the same sense of alarm for me.
Here I dropped the alarm clock motif and focused on the doomsday clock itself. Using red here for the clock face, but a grey/black for the hands did help highlight the message, but it seemed a little more static now that it wasn’t an alarm clock. Experimenting with green/blue with the text felt a bit confusing for the eye.
Here I experimented with further graphic detail in the icons. I adopted the globa background in my doomsday clock (adding back in the alarm bell element of the alarm clock) and i think this was highly effective. Also using red/yellow for the text reinforced alarm and a sense of heating that could help carry the message. Below I experimented instead with the Extinction Rebellion symbol and a melting ice cap imagery within it, but I think this was less successful (though an interesting idea I think)

Personal Cartography: Peer Critique

Topographical hand map of Oxford Brookes campus 09/19: Unknown FAD student

I was interested in this piece for several reasons.

Firstly – relief shading (a convention in geographical maps) has been used here to good effect, to indicate the ‘hills’ and ‘valleys’ of the artist’s own hands, and can be immediately recognised and visually navigated without need of a key.

This has been applied with perhaps watercolour in careful layering to provide the subdued colour blocking necessary for this style, as is typical in printed maps.

This juxtaposes with the use of biro for the outlining of the hands, and the marking of landmarks and instructions on the hands themselves. The pen itself is central to the depiction, which denotes it’s importance to the narrative of the piece – i.e. that this is a map in two senses. It is a map of the hand topographically, but it is also a map of Oxford Brookes campus as the student learns to navigate this new environment. It is commenting on the common behaviour to scribble crib notes or key routes on your hand to help guide you later on.

Looking closely at the notation, it tells the story of a day spent at Brookes, including the time the alarm will go off, their route in ‘Don’t be late!’ and key landmarks they travel to in their day.

The use of hands as maps is also symbolically interesting for me. As this was created in our first week of the course, it was interesting to situate this early mapping of a new environment on hands, which are typically characterised as something we know intimately per the idiom ‘I know it like the back of my hand’. Hands are also something we naturally look to as one of the key ways we interact with places and objects, and one of the first means by which young children discover.

I would be interested to consider more about the symbolism of hands