Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Exhibition videos

In the final exhibition of the City and Lit Fine Art course 2012, I exhibited two videos. Ideas for both have appeared earlier in the blog. Picasso is quoted as saying "Bad artists copy and good artists steal". I am hoping that I have stolen a lot from William Kentridge, his work and approach has certainly been a great inspiration. What these videos demonstrate (I hope) is his belief in the malleability of charcoal drawing and the potential for narrative. I have brought some of my media skills to bear in the editing, but tried to stay true to the tentative and rough nature of the actual drawing.

The first is An animation made up of charcoal and pastel drawings and sculptured polymer clay. It shows three different representations of hands each of which explore the theme of mortality. In the first a hand floats below the surface in a river gradually disappearing from view. In the second the bones of a hand are revealed in the sand and in the final section an X Ray of a hand illustrates the effect of a dislocated finger. The second is a series of animated charcoal and pastel drawings that tell the story of three of the less hopeful aspects of my father's inheritance. The first is a fear of confined spaces that he experienced most vividly when digging an escape tunnel in the Italy in 1942. The second a loss of hearing which in my father's case was largely caused by the effect of artillery fire (he was a Gunner). And finally a surprising heart attack, which I am hoping to avoid.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

What has been happening since January?

It is not wholly insignificant that I have not written anything on this blog since January 30th. Of course it is partly laziness, but rather more it is a reflection of my loss of direction and decline in morale. The last few posts describe my tentative work using the copy stand to animate my charcoal drawings and experiment with the sculpted bones. It did excite me for a while, and yet, reading the blogs I already detect an uncertainty. I am clearly worried about letting my film making knowledge with its emphasis on carefully structured narrative and 'looking slick', intrude into my much less confident and certainly non-professional  art work.

I also went through a bad case of the "so what"s. It is the nature of the City Lit Fine Art Course that you are left to your own devices. The tutors do their best and I had a few good tutorials that gave me hope, but generally there is a little support to see you past the nihilism that overcomes you. And perhaps, nor should there be. If you have any aspirations to becoming an artist: it seems obvious that you need to get yourself through to a place where it does seem worthwhile.

At some point in the spring when I was feeling particularly down, I had a tutorial with Liz Ellis. She is very supportive (background as a mental health nurse!) and picked up on my interest in William Kentridge. She lent me a substantial catalogue from his big London show of five years ago. It was a hugely stimulating. Not only supporting my interest in his animation, but also some excellent material on his approach to art and making art. One particular quote stood out for me and had a significant impact on kick starting me into a more productive phase:

The pure light of inspiration, for me, is always to be treated with caution.
 Things that leap out as ‘good ideas’ are often best left at that. It is in the physical act of their coming into being, and in the form they finally achieve that they have to show their worth, and often things that start rather in the alleys and sluices of the mind, hold their own in the end.
 William Kentridge  Fortuna: Neither programme nor chance in the making of images 1994  

I had been spending far too much time on what I thought were 'good ideas': only to have them crumble under my clumsy hand. Kentridge told me to abandon that level of planning and so called creative excitement and instead get on and TRY stuff. Let its potential demonstrate itself in the doing: not in the anticipation.

Now I am two weeks away from the exhibition and about to go to the last session. I will promote my blog  at the exhibition so the next few posts will be by way of description and explanation of what I ended up doing and , perhaps more importantly, valuing  my work over the last two years.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Xray Hands and Dislocated Finger

A further attempt to create stop frame video around the theme of the bones in my hand. In this case I wanted to replicate the Xray view that had started this all off. In particular the Xray of my dislocated finger. As before I wanted the video to be as much about its making as about its effect. There are glimpses of the drawing hand to emphasise the connection I am trying to make between my hand as the facilitating element of my art and the art itself.

I came across the granular effect by mistake. I wanted to roughen the edges a bit and this filter seemed to do just that. In addition it added some very interesting textures to the charcoal image. In some ways the most interesting part of this video. My son feels that the Philip Glass music is overly loaded with meaning and undermines the ambiguity of the images. I suspect he is right, but it is hard to resist the momentum and layered quality of the piece.
I am still not sure whether this leading anywhere. I am not convinced it will play a part in the final show, although I will continue to experiment and collect pieces as I think it is possible that I could pull fragments of many of these together into something that would provide a meaningful backdrop to the the 2D work I am trying to do!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Hand Bones and Sand v1

I have continued to work on ideas for the stop frame animations based on my hand the bones I made last term. In this short piece I have introduced the idea of the sand and archaeology as a way of exploring the theme of mortality. Some of the sequences work well whilst in others the pacing is laborious and loses momentum. My plan is to make a series of these and then work them together into a longer sustained piece that will complement my other art work on the hand:

Back to the portraits

After a very fallow Christmas and New Year period when I found it really difficult to engage with art at all, I was dreading the the first portrait class of the year. I was fearful that any gains I may have made in the first term would have been washed away by the festive miasma. In fact it wasn't quite as bad and I did appear to have retained some of the lessons learnt, although there was the usual pain and anguish before producing one half decent drawing:
This was actually a half way reasonable likeness although I was in the end dispirited by the fact that my charcoal drawings are starting to all look the same. I apply the same techniques, go through the same tortuous process and end up with a very similar looking picture. So I want to address the question of how to get a fresher look, something a little more risky perhaps: less formulaic. I intend to broach this with James and perhaps try some other media as well.

In the meantime, I was motivated to try some more portraits at home and saw a display of Lee Jeffries fine portraits of homeless men and woman. I have since started to do charcoal sketches of one of these a day. So far it seems to be a useful exercise. Each of his characters are full of rich and quirky detail (he also jacks up the contrast which helps). Here are the first three:

Monday, 16 January 2012

Animation Part 2: Hand and bones

For my second attempt at an animation piece I have brought in the sculpted bones and worked up a short piece that tries to link the bones and the hand. There are a few (gratuitous?) special effects to emphasise the transitions. I have also added a little low key music.

Although I get some satisfaction from the superficial appeal of this short piece, it has rather made me wonder whether this is a productive direction to go in. I feel it is a little too obvious and 'on the nose' as a script writer may say. I am not sure whether this is a medium that will allow for a 'malleable' piece of art. Perhaps I am fighting the film maker in me again. 

I will persevere with a few more ideas and then perhaps think about how I could pull them together in a single piece. Nevertheless I can only explore this work in my own time with the copy stand at home, and I find I am rather daunted by the prospect of another day in our rather cramped studio as I am very unsure where to take my 2D work.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Animation Part 1: my drawing hand

During the first year my nephew Jesse Ash , an accomplished artist and art theorist, introduced me to the work of William Kentridge, the South African artist who spent some time working on sustained animated charcoal drawings. Jesse felt that it combined my enthusiasm for charcoal drawings (that had been instilled largely by Tony Hull's first session on this course) with my background as a film maker. I have been resisting any connection with that part of my creative experience on the grounds that I was not much taken by video art and I felt that my professional sensibilities would get in the way of anything authentic in the way of art. However, the Kentridge videos did get me excited and I had always intended to give it a try.

Following my investment in my hand, its injuries, its bones and, I suppose, its eventual mortality: I thought that I wanted to explore the role my hand plays in my art in general and then, in particular, its role in my struggle to draw and make art. So, it seemed that a charcoal animation might be the way to develop this idea.

I knew enough about the process to know that it is very hard to do without at least some sort of solid stand and lighting and to my intense surprise, I found myself locating and buying a professional copy stand on Ebay, closing the deal on a very reasonable £75. I decided that I was going to restrict myself to still images on a stills camera, rather than use a video camera. These images would be edited in a very basic Microsoft editing programme Windows Live Movie Maker.

This was my first effort:

The wooden hand was one of those artist models that I had been using to help me draw: (actually they don't help much as they don't really resemble a human hand at all, more the hand of  rather poorly constructed robot!).The struggle to draw it was all mine! I resisted the temptation to 'tidy it up', it felt like the odd appearance of the drawing hand itself had a useful foregrounding effect. It does not look like the work of a film maker, and that feels right at this stage.

Sculpted bones

To my surprise the next step in exploring the bones in my hand was to start sculpting them out of polymer clay. It was chance activity, I had the clay for another purpose entirely (making prints), but stuck for something to do in the studio session. They results were surprisingly satisfying. Initially I was concentrating on representing my dislocated finger:

Then I thought I would link the sculpted bones to the still swollen finger. It was strangely disturbing process. To have such a strong reminder of what had happened to the actual bones gave me a strangely physical jolt.
When I showed this image to Tony he was very struck by its potency which surprised me as I felt there was little meaning aside of my own very personal reaction. It caused me to think more about the development of really personal art. Thinking of Tracy Emin and her personal fragments that only resonate in the context of her particular history.
I decided to pursue the idea of sculpting the bones in my hand and although I only had a limited amount of clay which meant that I could not maintain a consistent colour, I did make all the bones in my right hand. Once pieced together they created another promising image: