17 Feb 2011
I thought I might begin to use this space to track my thoughts and experiences in this last year of my PhD.
I’m finding it really difficult to begin writing although I know I have to – I really should have been writing months ago. It’s been a difficult year health-wise, which hasn’t helped, but there is something else going on. It’s one of two things – or it could be both at once.
Firstly, I’m terrified – I feel as if I have the barest hold on academic writing and just the thought of doing it interferes with writing anything. So that’s FEAR.
Secondly, I am circling around something – something is about to emerge and I have a feeling that I just have to give it a little longer to make itself known to me. I hope that then all the work will make sense and a structure will present itself so the way to write will become clear. And this is the process of EMERGENCE.
Of course, the essay is less than half the story (40% to be precise) – but it feels a large part at the moment. The thesis must be led by the practice, so after months of reading I have left the books for now and am back in the studio. This time I have ordered the work in a logical way – not my usual following my nose style, and things are happening.
Line seems to be at the heart of the marks I make. What’s in a line? Well, it seems that the world can be there. My lines are made from observing movement. Line is the most economical and dynamic form to use to represent movement. It flows naturally from a kinaesthetic response to the subject, it is a consequence of movement itself. The first images we make as children involve lines as a result of having a marker in our hand that touches the ground (as in a receptive surface) as we move. Our first marks are for themselves, are a result of that joy in moving and engagement in seeing the trace of that movement left there to revisit visually.
The lines I make differ from those pure kinaesthetic engagements in that they are observational drawings. They are an attempt to connect as closely as possible the experience of observing movement with my eyes to the act of mark making with my hand. In the act of drawing I attempt to be one with the observed, to merge, to flow, to lose myself and find the other until observing and drawing transforms into communion.
This is intense work and I find it has a time limit. I work in short bursts of concentration, building up to it, acting then recovering and reflecting.
Interestingly, the work is becoming ever more abstract. The more I work with staying in the moment, staying with observing the subject, the less recognizable is the image. The recent works are pure movement drawings. Will the viewer be able to read them? Are they of any use beyond my studio?
It’s difficult to let go of the image and stay with the act, but it seems important to do so at the moment.
I’m drawing using video footage I made of the seals and a seal pup on Ynys Enlli last spring. First I project the video onto paper as a screen and draw straight into the video, directly on the paper. One of the effects of this is that as the ‘screen’ becomes saturated with the drawing, the video appears to disappear behind the drawing, giving a feeling of the seals hiding behind the lines.
Next I go to the easel and set up a third camera and a video mixer then draw with my hand mixed into the projected image. I am about 2-3 meters away from the projected image but can see my hand and where I am mark making. This allows me to see whether I am still with my subject or whether I have disappeared into the memory of what I was just looking at in the desire to make a drawing of it (therefore a figurative representation). I have to be vigilant with myself and keep to the task of drawing movement. I have to ignore the physical drawing and focus on keeping my hand and eye with and on the subject.
The drawings have a distinct quality, but they are abstract. I worry about that – although I love the process of making them and I enjoy the pure marks, and although I know the marks have integrity, which I think reads in the images, I notice a frustration in myself for figurative elements – for a more representational image. My work is usually figurative. However, I set myself the question ‘how do I draw movement?’ and in following that through – with the aid of digital technologies – I have arrived at abstract images. I find I have created a paradox. In using photographic and digital technologies that could enable me to make representational drawings I have ended up using them to draw out the abstract elements of observing movement. I have made drawings that do not seem to relate to the observable world, yet they are the most accurately observed drawings of movement I have yet made in 30 years of drawing movement.
Perhaps because I am so acutely aware of what I am looking at in representational terms as I draw into video or through the mixer in live situations I am fighting my own conditioning? Abstract images usually come about through other processes. Either an artist takes themselves away from the subject and together with an interaction with the materials allows a distillation process to access the essence of form, colour, line, shape and so on; or the process itself demands an abstract response – drawing music, drawing from touch or from (the artists) movement.
It is usual to aspire to and attain a figurative image when working closely from observation. Perhaps my own training and expectations are getting in the way of simply allowing the work to work? I think I need to put my frustration aside and keep doing the work, to see what happens.