The incredibly short summer “break” is already nearing its end. I have taken my head out of my research paper for a few days to see where I am on the practical making side of things, and start with a plan on where to go next. I want to go into my second year with a clear plan – the unit 1 experimentation has been fun, but it is time to stop floating about and focus down the processes and concepts I’m looking at. Well, that sounds decisive doesn’t it?
My hesitancy has been understandable I think: I enjoy using a range of different techniques and have never been particularly over-attached to any specific materials. How do you then start to narrow the field once you have been specifically encouraged to make it so wide? I got started thinking again about ‘my practice’ and what this means to me now – almost exactly a year since I walked out of my desk job and into the studio.
I like making quilts. I like making functional quilts that you can wrap yourself up in on the sofa or the beach on a cold winter’s day. Or as cushions. Surprisingly to myself, I have ended up liking the slow, hand-stitching techniques, particularly old english patchwork, paper piecing, hand-quilting, (although I like a pre-cut as much as the next person). What I feel though, is that ‘art quilts’, are not the best way for me to say what I need to say. I realise I am not a natural textile artist – fabric does’t automatically come first for me as a design medium, however well I can manipulate fabric and stitch. I want to just make quilts because I want to. Actual old-fashioned usable quilts, not just something destined for the wall.
Aside from cross-stitch, poetry and calligraphy were probably my first ‘art forms’ as a child. As someone who loves words and the expression of feeling through words, this is no surprise. What has surprised me is that I think I am quite good at it, and that I can get better at it with more practice. Paper and ink are always the first things I will reach for if have spare time in the studio to play….and as for all of these small books / book forms I have made on courses lately….definitely, definitely need to do more. I’m not excluding fabrics and stitch here, but I want it to be there because the work demands it, not as a precondition.
My new discovery – basket weaving, in an almost infinite variety of forms. I love the freedom you have to create sculpturally with these processes. What I also like is the raw human-ness of the making processes. Basketry has been around as long as people, they have a place in every aspect of our lives. If you extend this out to weaving in general, it is rooted in locality more than any other making process I know, a harmony of harvested natural (or processed!) fibres and human craft skill. Ok, I admit, I’ve been a bit taken by this! The one thing I have realised though my essay research (particularly into Chris Drury) is how the engagement with local can provide volumes of context to understanding your making process: A craft skill originating to a specific region (such as Cumbrian dry-stone walling) or a native material grown and used in a particular area (e.g Japanese Bamboo). Basketry is a naturally 3-dimensional medium, and if you can look at the fibres in the right way, they will tell you what to make with them.
So where does that leave us?
Well, for the purposes of my MA I am going to start to focus primarily on processes associated with basketry/weaving, looking also at how to incorporate and develop my existing textile/drawing practice. As part of my overall ‘professional practice’ I will continue to work on my calligraphy drawings & 3d poems, it will be nice to think they may eventually overlap anyway. My surface design skills and techniques can translate directly over into working with paper.
As a current statement of practice then, focussing on material and process (note, not the concept for once!) this is my first draft:
Predominantly, I like to work with fibres, combining the delicacy of natural plant fibres and papers with the cold hard edges of iron and steel. This embeds a strong sense of dimensionality, both in my drawings and 3D structures. My work balances the tension between here and there, between order and randomness: combining precision basketry and textile craft techniques with processes which bring serendipity and wildness into my materials.
More tomorrow on what experiments I have been doing lately…
My research paper is coming along nicely and I have at its core the work of walking artist Richard Long. I went on an expedition last Friday – a 6 hour return train trip and walk of 15.42km no less – to see the Time and Space exhibition currently showing at the Arnolfini in Bristol.
It was a fascinating collection of Long’s work in a gallery which first showed him in 1972, and which gathered together a range of works which link to Long’s childhood home in Bristol and showed the connection he has with the place. I have seem some of Long’s physical gallery installations before, but never seen any of text works shown alongside them. You cannot help but stop and think when you see the words imprinted in large font across the white wall, almost haiku like in its contemplativeness.
Standout pieces: Muddy Water Falls 2015, the latest in a series which Long applies mud directly to the gallery walls. This piece has been made with mud from the banks of the river Avon. The work is a record of a physical action of the dynamic gestures which are dictated by the nature of the materials being used – the splashing, fluid quality of the mud. This ‘mud wall’ is surrounded by a series of quiet textual records of landscape, many of them also referencing an experience Long had along the banks of the River Avon.
I also very much associated with another text work in this room, the “Red Walk” from 1986.
The rest of the exhibition had more of Long’s photographic works and two installations including Bristol 1967/2015, a series of concentric circles (“a cross between a tape measure and a perimeter fence”) which were taken to different places and photographed. The exhibition guide sums this up as “a reference to that simple but profound experience a person travelling through a landscape may have in realising that the centre of the world is wherever they happen to be at the time.”
Interestingly, my own photo of this exhibit was terrible, so I found a new one – this one sourced from an Independent review here. I was surprised how scathing this review was of the show, nearly all of which I disagree with. I have been musing on this, and know that Long has a bit of a marmite effect – people either get and love his work, or they really, really don’t. I wonder if it simply appeals to a certain mind-set of person. The quieter, introverts among us that have no shame in enjoying something so esoteric and untouchable. For example, the reviewers reaction to the text works was somewhat different to mine:
“Long’s text works…are short descriptive narratives, often quite baldly factual, telling us when and where he went and how long it took him…Very often these texts works strike the onlooker as mind-numbingly banal. Of course, we are very pleased that he went, but how exactly should we be responding to such bald records on a wall? Mildly unenthusiastically.”
I found completely the opposite – as you look at the text, you know it is real. You know it describes an actual walk, a physical movement in the world that you cannot help but imagine as you follow the journey in words. I see them more as a poetic record which offers a different way to look at the world, seeking for something deeper than just the footsteps on the land.
After the gallery, I wandered off on foot to find the outdoor piece commissioned by the Arnolfini for the show up on the Downs just north of the city. On the way I walked the long way round to take in the magnificent views of the Avon Gorge from the Brunel-built Clifton Suspension Bridge. Wow. You could see instantly how a young artistically minded Long could not have helped but be inspired by this place. The tidal range of the Avon is massive and I was lucky to hit it at low tide, when you could see vast edges of mud exposed alongside the river channel. Looking at this, you can see exactly what Long is embedding into his muddy wall work – physically and emotionally.
After that revelation (which will be going into the essay!) the Boyhood line, was unfortunately almost a let down. The Line is a collection of stones in a line across the Downs where Long played as a young boy. The line itself was nice enough to see in person, but better was seeing how the land beneath has stared to react to the stones. The stones were laid along a desire line, “one of the many tracks which criss-cross the Downs, created by commuters, dog-walkers, runners, traders, farmers, and ancient Britons; those that remain visible, and those that have faded away”. And that sums up so nicely what it is I like most about Long’s work.
It is refreshing to visit an exhibition when you don’t know much about the artist, and however famous Barbara Hepworth was – I had to admit general ignorance on any specifics of her work. What I found however was a fascinating insight into sculpture and the artist’s path to abstraction.
Hepworth was celebrated for her ability to synthesise organic form, light and colour from the landscape to produce compositions of extraordinary elegance and clarity. Her early works were more figurative, explicitly exploring the human form, and some of her works (particularly later in her career) relate to ancient stones and shapes within the landscape. This exploration of our relationship to the natural world, drove her to examine ways to open up sculptural form in order to involve the viewer. She wanted her work not only to be looked at by to be experienced.
“I cannot write anything about landscape without writing about the human figure and the human spirit inhabiting the landscape, for me, the whole art sculpture is a fusion of these two element – the balance of sensation and the evocation of man in his universe.”
Studio International 171’ – June 1966, p. 280.
Hepworth was interested in expressing the physical experience of being in the landscape – for example, the push and pull of the wind, the changing shapes and contours as you walk or the varieties of textures and patterning on rocks and vegetation. She preferred her work to be shown outdoors and said that sculptures need natural light and air “‘to breathe and grow”. Hepworth said there is an inside and an outside to every form. Many of her sculptures explore this tension, carving through the material or hollowing out the forms to explore the inside and outside of the form.
“Piercing through forms became dominant. Could I climb through and in what direction? Could I rest, lie or stand within the forms? Could I, at one and the same time, be the outside as well as the form within…?”
Barbara Hepworth, A Pictorial autobiography, New York, Praeger Publishers, 1970, p. 283.
And a longer fascinating extract from Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, London, 1952
“This thought has recurred again and again ever since – and has developed my greatest interests; the reason why people both move differently and stand differently in direct response to changed surroundings; the unconscious grouping of people when they are working together, producing a spatial movement which approximates to the structure of spirals in shells or rhythms in crystal structure; the meaning of the spaces between forms, or the shape of the displacement of forms in space, which in themselves have a most precise significance. All these responses spring from a factual and tactile approach to the object – whether it be the feeling of landscape which one feels beneath one’s feet or the sensitivity of the hand in carving, or in surgery, or music, and they have an organic and perceptual purpose.”
So from 2d to 3d. That was the overall theme of the day using the papers we made yesterday. The tutor showed us some ideas and basic structural techniques to make different book forms – based on folding, rolling and scrolling. It was really interesting how everyone took very different approaches to putting their books together. Some worked with a “traditional” idea of a book – cover, content, pages etc. And others were keener to use the idea of a book as object.
I tried to make a range of samples, using each of the techniques the tutoe demonstrated and expanded on them with my own knowledge. I carried on with my theme of mapping and ended up with a loose series on “which way is up?”.
First one was reinforced paper with some scrolls. This would be great for old fashioned book covers as well as more sculptural stuff.
Next were some samples using concertina folds, my favourite was this one with little pockets.
We also got the sewing kits out and did some basic bookbinding, I did a sample based on a set of clock prints. This came out a bit fan-like but is a neat technique. There are a range of different stitches that would work well here.
The next set of samples were rolls, one I did with some weaving (I really like this one) and another based on navigational ideas.
My favourite piece was my final one – which I am calling a 3d poem!
August has arrived and with it my annual pilgrimage to the Festival of Quilts. As this is the first year I have not needed to take time off work, I am making the best of it and attending my first 2-day masterclass before the show starts.
The masterclass is focussed around paper, led by Cherylin Martin – mark making / surface design techniques first, then book forms and sculptures using folding and scrolling. I thought this would be a fun thing to do, but I will also see how I can use my overall MA topic as a backdrop to just ‘being creative’. Today we got stuck into mark making, using a vast range of collected papers we brought with us. Of course I had a collection of old maps to play with too! It was a bit of a roller coaster of techniques, most of which I had done before, but were still fun. I ended up having a bit of an indigo day colour wise, I wanted to keep all of the work themed rather than just have lots of bits of brightly coloured paper I can’t do anything with…
Today’s work so far….tomorrow we go onto structures!