Since the end of the MA, I’ve been feeling drained and wondering how I’m going to get back into gear. I’ve been busying myself with many of the chores that were in the ‘after the course’ pile and it’s only to be expected that we all need a rest and a proper break.
But last week I visited three drawing shows which all offered my tired brain inspiration and ideas about what I might want to do next. The artists work in very different ways but that fits with my practice, which I do not see as based on a particular medium or type of mark-making, but rather on making the images I want using whatever methods fit. The other thing on my mind is that, although this might sound odd, during the MA there felt like little time to learn to draw better. I did learn lots of new things but I am also aware that there are things I left to one side, because I needed to focus on getting work done. But now – there are no deadlines!
The first show was Emma Stibbon’s Volcano at Alan Cristea in Pall Mall; it closed on Saturday so it’s too late to catch it. This was a series of large drawings, all bar one black and white, using ink with volcanic ash and dust, and executed during a residency in the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. She talks about recording her responses to the physical impact of this mystical environment depicting stark and lonely landscapes that ‘highlight the fragility of our existence’. Volcanoes are always shifting, changing the landscape around them. The size of the drawings puts you in Hawai’i facing the heat, dust, and steam, picking over the other-worldly lava rocks. What I’m taking away is a desire to make work which layers a landscape, rather than people, on a background of other imagery.
The next show, which is still on at Charlie Smith Gallery, Old Street, until next Saturday 07 October, is Eric Manigaud’s Service Special, a series of photo-realist drawings based on original photographs of a massacre of protesters in Paris in 1961. The police attacked a demonstration by pro-liberation Algerians, leaving many dead: the authorities acknowledged 40 but other estimates suggest 2-300. Some of the original images were taken by a reporter who happened to be in a photo lab working on his pictures for the next day’s paper when these events unfolded in the street outside. Part of the fascination of these works for me is the process through which a surface of areas of tone resolves itself into a group of people, or a van. But sometimes the tones resolve themselves purely into other patches of tone, reflecting the grainy quality of the originals. Manigaud wants to affirm the continuing importance of visual documentation and the power of imagery, and certainly there is something engaging about these images, drawing the viewer in perhaps even more than photographs would do. The idea of working on this scale is appealing to me, especially using a technique which is slow and painstaking, which offers its own tribute to the subject matter.
Lastly, there is an exhibition of drawings by Deanna Petherbridge at the Art Space Gallery in Islington. Places of Change and Destruction is a selection of recent work in pen and ink, pivoting round two monumental works highlighting the destruction of Homs and Palmyra in Syria. The drawings blend organic, architectural and ornamental forms, often involving multiple viewpoints and picture planes. At one level, these drawings are formal and could seem dry, but as soon as you look at what lies within they become more complex, and more humane. Petherbridge says that the large drawings are ‘based on the dynamics of excess both in the making and the piled-up imagery of the completed works.’ As with Marigaud’s drawings, the obsessive drawing of the ruined buildings, the debris, the bulldozed roads is a sort of homage to the erstwhile inhabitants of these cities, now reduced to skeletons and dust.
Another of the works reminded me of an old drawing I did of the Southbank, and the way that architectural forms can emerge from their environment, even perhaps an environment of destruction (as arguably, the buildings of the Southbank arose from the destruction of World War 2 bombing).
That’s another thing I would like to explore further. Perhaps the link between what I am taking from these shows is the idea of ‘do more/do less’: don’t dither around the middle. Going for scale or for lots of detail (or even for both) takes time. ‘No shortcuts’ was one of my take-aways from our British Museum project and perhaps this is a good time to be reminded of it.