This was an experiment in making a series of images that narrate, and which also relate to a text. I felt I had to avoid the images being “illustrations”, which means, to me, that they should stand alone as a series. I’m not sure if this has been achieved or if they would work better accompanied by extracts from the poem “The Four Quartets” which is the inspiration.
Coming back to working on paper, after making images with a slightly more three-dimensional nature, using cloth, initially felt limited, and I was also undecided as to how the images would be arranged or shown- in a book, or in a series. I worked on the assumption that a book format would be best, and so took care to preserve the same page size and orientation.
What was unusual was that, for once, I had a good array of materials and equipment to hand, as I was working in my own space in France, and so could choose from a number of techniques.
I was aiming at creating a reflection on a rose, exploring it in terms of different meanings and associations, preserving a certain analytical distance. It was a conscious effort to mirror what Eliot was doing in The Four Quartets, i.e. constructing a narrative for life’s journey, based on an “objective correlative” of the rose. In Eliot’s poem, he is searching for meanings why seem to be inexpressible in language, even though poetry gives him the tools of metaphor and figurative expression. Similarly, I was trying to explore the representation of a rose, while also considering the impossibility of doing so. The first section “Air” is highly abstract, considering image-making, signs and symbols. Part 2, “Earth” is meant to relate to a pragmatic material aspect of life and decay. The third part “Fire”, should be a reconciliation of the two- the real and the symbolic, the abstract and the concrete. But I really have no idea if these images work without all the explanation and narration. I have shown them to people and they seem to get it.
The other thing that bothered me was the lack of stylistic coherence- using different techniques in every image seemed to be bitty. On the other hand, in order to explore different expressions of meaning, this seemed to be necessary- line drawings when delineation was the subject, calligraphic lines when text was referenced, solid shapes when positive and negative space was being considered. But they lack visual depth, as sometimes they are neither satisfactorily representative or sufficiently abstract, and I don’t think I achieved a coherent visual language overall.
This is no doubt due to a lack of detailed consideration of the visual quality of the images- I worked by intuition based on my thoughts on the poem. It’s all a bit “first draft”. My planning was more verbal than visual. I have difficulty sketching in pictures- I do it in words. But it seems to me that a great deal of the art that has been produced under the heading “conceptual” is like this. I went to the Conceptual Art exhibition in Tate Britain this summer, and got it, but found a lot of it tiresome and dull, and wouldn’t want to go far down that path. What bothers me is a lack of visual impact of a lot of that type of work.
So, to sum up, I feel the images lack power- except the copperplate “what is is what is not”, which is my favourite. I think the challenge is to get both the conceptual and the visual working better together, but this was probably too ambitious given the time I had to work on it.