Artists’ Books

This week I had a sudden urge to revisit the poetry of T S Eliot, which I first encountered in undergraduate English Literature; I recall feeling baffled by The Wasteland and unable or unwilling to get to grips with its imagery and layered, fragmented meanings. Now, all of a sudden, Eliot’s snapshots of the realities of daily life speak to me; I don’t get the whole picture (am I meant to?), but phrases leap out at me from many of his poems which seem to articulate some of the ideas I’m grappling with and trying to represent in my work – physical presence, process, thinking made visible, fragments, memory. 

I have also been exploring the idea of artists’ books; the versatility of this medium seems to be a fitting way to capture both the fluid nature of what I want to express, and my ongoing obsession with writing by hand. 

I’m still struggling to put into words exactly what is inside my head, and I don’t feel that my writing is doing my ideas much justice at the moment; but I’m hoping you’ll stay with me whilst I try and figure it out.

Footfalls echo in the memory

Down the passage which we did not take

Towards the door we never opened

Into the rose garden. My words echo 

Thus, in your mind.

From Burnt Norton – first of the Four  Quartets by T S Eliot.

Inner Child

Last night I relaxed after a nightmarish day at work by completely unplugging for an hour. I put John Coltrane on the stereo and sat on my living room floor with a sheet of lining paper and some marker pens. It started off as an exercise in intuitive, expressive mark-making; but after a while I became immersed in the sheer child-like joy of scribbling. Literally. Pure process, pure freedom, not caring where the next mark went or fretting over composition. I used both hands, which I am noticing is becoming quite an integral part of my emerging practice… 

Although I cheated a bit afterwards to do some image editing.

Show & Tell

Yesterday was the first session of the second phase of the Artist Teacher Scheme. We met at the School of Art in Margaret Street, and looked at the MA final show before sitting down in the basement to share some of our 100 pieces of work and talk.

I’m still attempting to get my head round what it is that I’m trying (struggling) to express, and I have no idea where I’m going with this, or what my practice will look like when I finally manage to locate it… all I can say is that I feel like an avalanche has been released in my brain (not that it was an tidy and uncluttered place beforehand) and I am frantically trying to capture thoughts and ideas and write stuff in my notebook and record things, and try to find ways to record things I’ve never even thought about before – trying to catch hold of it all before it is carried off like a wisp of smoke in the wind.

This afternoon I suddenly decided to wallpaper a large piece of packing cardboard that has been sitting in my living room for several weeks. Don’t ask me why. I don’t even know what I’m going to do with the bloody thing when I’ve finished it – it’s actually too big to fit anywhere. I am veering between amused exasperation with myself, and a niggling sensation that this is something to do with the emergency blanket piece that I’m trying to make for Sketchbook Circle. It’s about the physical manifestation of the process, the idea that it was inside me all along and all I had to do was look… or something.

Something below the surface is fidgeting to be let out, and all of a sudden that doesn’t frighten me. All of a sudden I think I want to take a look.

More Physical Drawing

Today I have been doing some more large scale physical drawing on lining paper. This time I used well watered down acrylic paint as I wanted to be able to continue exploring large, sweeping, gestural marks. I really enjoyed the physical extension that the paintbrushes gave to my arms (I used both hands again), allowing me to stand back and use my whole body. I had to move the table and the furniture to get right around the painting! I had to submit to happenstance, as the watered down paint and the sweeping nature of the mark making meant quite alot of splashes and unpredictability – I found it both exciting and liberating to relinquish control of the outcome; I particularly enjoy working in this fluid and intuitive way.

Physical Drawing

Having very much enjoyed the physical involvement of drawing on a large scale during the Drawing in Space workshop last week on the Artist Teacher Scheme, I have been experimenting with gestural drawing at home. This piece is the size of my dining room table (120 x 58cm – not quite the full width). I photographed it in two halves. Below are two smaller pieces made with pastels and charcoal on A3 recycled cartridge paper, which has a nice tooth. The larger scale piece, also in pastel and charcoal, was made on lining paper.

100 Pieces of Work

So this month, as well as working, parenting and Sketchbook Circle, I have to produce 100 pieces of work before 3rd September, when I go back to uni in Birmingham to start the second phase of the Artist Teacher Scheme. I have chosen to work in an 8×8 square sketchbook, purchased at New Art Gallery Walsall, where part of the summer intensive was hosted. I don’t feel that all my work has to be contained in this book; last week has opened my mind to ways of working which I have never considered before. Rather I am treating it as a diary or visual journal where I can record my journey. I have already taken lots of reference photos, and done some pieces of writing, both of which I have done before, but not really considered to be ‘part’ of my artistic practice. I have written copious amounts of post-it notes, which I intend to stick into my book. I am, after all, fascinated by the process, by making my thinking visible, by what it is that draws me time and again to the same things. I am reminded by this task of the poem written by Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the pioneering preschools in Reggio Emilia, Italy:

The child is made of one hundred.       The child has a hundred languages      a hundred hands                                        a hundred thoughts                                  a hundred ways of thinking                    of playing, of speaking.                           A hundred always a hundred…

I am reminded to grasp this opportunity to be childlike and engage in play.

I’ve even cleared my work table.