Reflection and building the Portfolio

I would like to present this work so that it reflects the coherence I personally feel, now that I’m coming to the end of it.

Landscape: change and process (Assignment 1: Landscape: Observation) (Not included in Portfolio)

I started off preoccupied with a theme of disintegration: this was reflected in my quite depressing study of landscape, based on the fact that construction work had led to the cutting down of all the woodlands surrounding me to be replaced with a concrete highway and series of junctions, all connected to a tunnel through to China. All negative connotations there, which I explored using words from the poetry of ST Coleridge, Frost at Midnight, a hymn to nature and an attack on life cut off from the natural world, “mid cloisters dim.” It is also of course a blessing on his new born child, that he will grow up in the natural world and will thus speak “God’s language”.  As I was limited in terms of equipment, this work was done using monoprinting techniques. The visual language I started to develop involved the representation of process, by creating images in a series.  This was inspired by the work of Xu Bing, specifically his woodblock “5 series of repetitions” which commented on the change in land use in rural China. I won’t include these images in the portfolio, as they were quite exploratory, even though I found them quite satisfying in themselves, combining representational patterns and shapes with abstraction.. I was pleased with the scale of these- much bigger than anything I’d tried before in printmaking, and achieved using multiple impressions.

Later I learned new techniques, very different ones:

Copper plate etching, essentially a corrosive process; and

Photopolymer etching, which uses light to create etched plates on different surfaces. Inspired by this, I went on the practice other techniques related to printing with light, and focused on Cyanotypes.

Abstraction and Chiaroscuro: time passes, things fall apart (Assignments 2 and 3)

Portfolio piece 1: The enquiring mind (copperplate etching)


Portfolio piece 2: Forgetting (copperplate etching)

Close up
Forgetting: copperplate on Fabriano paper scroll.

Portfolio piece 3: Greying (intaglio and photopolymer etching: series of five)

These two topics merged for me, as I was using starting to use techniques of printing with light, and corrosive/ destructive techniques, around a particular motif of the moon, the brain and the theme of aging and degeneration. This also had personal significance related to my mother’s decline due to dementia.

The images I will choose to represent these ideas are made using copper plate etching- whereby the copper has been etched to the point of near disintegration. This creates interesting visual effects, linear, shaded, textured and embossed. I will also include the series “greying” which recapitulates the idea of a series as discussed, showing progressive decay and destruction. This was made using photopolymer etching on Perspex, a brittle material which lent itself to the process. The word “greying” in reverse, became the object in this series, and became obliterated as the images progressed. Again, the work of Xu Bing was inspirational, not only the “5 Series of repetitions”, but also the exhibition “Metamorphosis” which was constructed around a narrative of transformation. It also included a biographical piece referencing his father’s death from lung cancer, a collection of pieces including a book made of tobacco leaves, which were presented in glass cases, as newly constructed “museum” pieces.


Portrait of my mother: “a photograph is a certificate of presence” (Assignment 4: Portrait, segueing into Assignment 5 A print from memory)

Portfolio Piece 4: This is in two parts- a suitcase which serves as a museum object, and a print which serves as its label.

Contained: Suitcase containing photo and objects, quilts and pillow book (cyanotype, mixed media)

Only through time: cyanotype and photopolymer


With my mother moving further and further away from the present, I was beginning to search back history to remind her of who she was/had been. Photos were important for anchoring her to her own past. I was interested in photos in connection to the light-printing techniques I had been learning, but also philosophically in terms of how they “fix” the past. With image manipulation so rife now, this is not such a sure thing anymore, but at the time the old photos I was using were taken, this was the case. They were phenomenological to a degree that is no longer true. Again, I was using text and image and explored philosophical statements from TS Eliot’s poetry about the nature of time, and passing beyond time into a timeless “present”.

The techniques used here were photopolymer and Cyanotypes. I made images which combined the two, photopolymer printed over cyanotype, and explored printing on cloth, to go further into creating images as objects. Relating to my mother’s condition, I created multiple versions of her portrait from a photo, all exposed differently in my prints, and stitched them together. I made two of these collections and turned them into quilts. These are the kind of “heirloom” objects that evoke a connection with the past, but their size and texture also relate to a mother and child connection, to tactile links. At this stage I realized that as well as exploring a visual language, and considering the “truth” value of images such as photos, I was now using art as a kind of therapy too, as a way of dealing with what was happening and a way of responding to it. Still using cloth, as the soft tactile nature of these pieces were also resonating as “presences”, things to be interacted with, handled, used as comforting materials. The quilt with its set of images was also a reassurance of having been present. The other cloth piece to be included is a book, “the book of sleep and dreaming” which is also like a pillow, and again is meant to have a comforting quality. It is a book of images of space, distance, dissolving, release: letting go of the present.


After listening to an artist’s talk by Kate MccGwire, in which she spoke about her collecting cases to contain her sculptures, I realized that the idea I had been playing with, to put the pieces related to the portrait of my mother into an antique suitcase, was the right one. It collects these items and makes them one piece, a container of emotions and memories, a repository for the past, and an invitation to participate in viewing.  The case is labeled “baggage”, which is just stating the fact, but with overtones of “emotional baggage”, and a suggestion that opening it will release something. The case contains the quilt and the book, inviting them to be unfolded, opened, handled.

It also includes the still life photo I took in a frame, and the real life objects in this photo, including objects imprinted with my mother’s image. This draws attention to the relationship between the “real” and the photograph, the way the photo operates a “certificate” that these things really existed at some time. The packaging of all these objects also serves to illustrate the practice of curating the past, selecting and saving what fits our “nature morte” imagery, and the imprinted doily and handkerchief hint at fetishisation. Finally, there is a cyanotype print inside the case. It includes a quote from Eliot’s Four quartets, about a moment out of time, of being and not being, of an existence between the material and the non-material. I think it serves to “explain” the relationship between the objects in the case, and is included as the last piece to be found when unpacking it.

This suitcase then, is presented as a kind of miniature museum, and the portrait of my mother as something fragile, a material object needing to be preserved against loss. The acts of opening up the container, exploring, refolding, sorting, arranging and repacking act as metaphors for memorialising, and adds an edge of uncertainty to the process of selecting what memories to keep, and repackaging them.

Here is a video showing how the pieces could be unpacked.

Finally, the print with the text “Only through time, time is conquered” will sit outside the case, helping to introduce it as a kind of “time capsule”. This text has a double edge- it refers simultaneously to “baggage” that is hoarded like treasure, but is subject to decay as is all material, but also to “presence” as a non-material phenomenon, as the knowledge of “something having been” lives on.

The Rose Garden (Assignment 5)

Portfolio piece 5: The Rose Garden: images in a series: mixed techniques

This series of images was an exploration of image, word and symbol, relating to the poem “Four Quartets” by TS Eliot. Apart from the link via the poem, this was a thematic and philosophical development from the work on my mother’s portrait. That study had been about history and materiality. This one proposed demateriality, a spiritual sense that eludes representation in image or word, that exists outside time. I started off thinking if these images as a series, and put them in a linear order, to create a narrative. But I realized that they can interact with each other in various ways, that there are cyclical relationships between them (as is the case in the poem), and that putting them in order would limit that. Unlike the earlier series “greying”, which had a particular order, this one could be looked at in various ways, so I propose it be viewed in such a way that the images resonate with one another.

At first they were arranged in groups on cardboard mounts, in twos and threes, but I was unsure how best to lay them out. Each juxtaposition creates a different set of relationships, yet, if they are stuck to a card, they are fixed in their relationships.

Finally, I decided to keep them as loose papers but package them inside an envelope. I used a handmade paper with dried leaves, to envelop the “leaves”  of the prints. A quote from the opening section of the poem “Four Quartets” introduces the Rose Garden as a place that was undiscovered in the past  but which now reveals itself, a foreshadowing of the theme of the poem and of this project, about new meanings being discovered from familiar texts.

Footfalls echo in the memory

Down the passage which we did not take

Towards the door we never opened

Into the rose-garden.

(T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets, Burnt Norton, 11-14)


Emotionally, this is, to me, a quite satisfying piece, as it moves through the same emotional stages as in the earlier work, using some familiar visual language of disintegration, and fragmentation, the dissolution of language, and it moves into pure symbolism, abstraction and nonmateriality. This work was inspired by rereading and reinterpreting the poem by TS Eliot, and finding altogether different meanings from those I found in the past, when influenced by a Judeo-Christian culture. Reading it again, I was instead finding strong links to the Zen traditions evoked in the work of Xu Bing. Like the poem, I hope the collection of images “The Rose Garden”  leaves the way open for a viewer to find symbolic sense.

Moon Baby (Assignment 6)

Portfolio piece 6: Moon baby: cyanotype on cloth


This final image is joyous, surreal, fun. It reverses the connotation of the earlier “moon” images, positing instead newness, perfection, blank slate, but in a lighthearted way. There’s an edge to it, though, literally, with the inclusion of kitchen utensils, which adds irony, or threat, slightly unnerving. I guess it’s like a cartoon, but I like it, and like the symbolism of something new emerging into the light, but with the acknowledgement of an “alien” presence too.

Going forward

I would like to explore alternative photography techniques, and develop my technical skills more in etching. I’m sure life is going to provide the thematic stimulus with lots of new beginnings coming up.


Assignment 5: Rose Garden Reflective Commentary

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.


Assignment 4: Reflective Commentary

In this assignment, I have been facing up to difficult subject matter, and attempting to deal with it in several ways: to explore photographic images in philosophical terms, to use art and creativity as a way of dealing with difficult emotions and to search for meaning, and to seek resolution to the problems of making that I had in the last assignment.

The outcomes are that I have considered the photograph, specifically of a person,  as a meditation on states of being, and this has led me into reading that has helped with the second issue. In addition, my research into Xu Bing has led me to consider the application of Zen Buddhism as a method and a purpose in art, and this has helped with the third issue too.

The choice of my own mother as the subject clearly ran the risk of being too personal, but I think by the end that the meditation into the photograph as an object, even a “museum object” moved this well into the realms of the general, and I feel that I have “objectified” the image in various ways, and transformed it into pieces that make sense. The objects-  comforting ones, wishes and hopes, memorialisation, also meet my own emotional needs.

Thinking in a zen-like way, to the extent that I am capable of it, is obviously therapeutic when facing loss, but I think the biggest effect of this influence was in my own way of working. I have struggled with photopolymer plates in this assignment, and sometimes wondered why I was bothering: at times I made lots of errors, through rushing, or trying to do too many things at the same time. Because I am now away from school, it is possible to concentrate, to practice and to care about quality. I’m not saying I have achieved that- the Japanese master printmaker I watched at work had been doing the job for 17 years and was still considered a junior –  but I do feel that working more slowly, in a calmer way, not trying too hard, helps  the works emerge. Also, the idea of function played a part here- I tried to think, when making these pieces, what their function would be, rather than seeing them as “pictures”, which suggests decoration. It felt important that they should function in some way- not that they will necessarily be used- but that their purpose is defined. (This is not a statement that everyone would agree with.)

The final images, “Moment in the Sun”, are combinations of image and text. I had tried this earlier with “The image remains”. Any use of text can be problematic, and it’s necessary to question the nature of the text and what it adds. In this case it is a commentary, but I think in the final images it avoids the “telling not showing” that was definitely a weakness of the “image remains” set, with its rather obvious commentary on fading sights and the onset of darkness. The final piece uses text that is much more tangential, much richer in its allusions (it assumes, as Eliot always does, a knowledge of context) and more leading as interpretation of the image. The fact that it is “caught” through exposure to the sun is also fitting the context of the text, and the image, so I felt the process and the form were appropriate.

I now wish to move on to explore the idea of “the rose garden”, inspired by TS Eliot’s Four Quartets. I would like to create a series of images, and explore further the concept of “becoming”, and need to consider appropriate materials, forms and techniques  to express a relationship between concept, form and material. I see this as a fitting summary of the work for the course, as it will start with observation- a rose bush in my garden that I have just planted- and develop into abstraction, and analogical thinking about the rose, with the rich layers of symboli that it comes with.

Critical reflection Assignment 3

Stepping back a bit and trying to take this assignment as a whole, post-tutorial,  I can see themes and preoccupations emerging.

Art and Science

Firstly, the continuing association of art and science, through the use of chemical procedures, such as cyanotypes and photo polymers, and etching in different salts. There’s also the links to photography which are emerging more and more. 

These connections are coming out both in images and processes, with a key text being Kemp’s “Visualisations”, on the subject of the importance of and influence of analogies in understanding the unknown. The images I made of “moons” in the previous assignment morphed into Newton’s Apple, using the technique of chiaroscuro as created by lateral lighting, and inspired by 19th century photography of the moon, and of textured close up objects, a wrinkled hand and a wrinkled apple. These were photographic images as objects of scientific enquiry, whereby analogical thinking led to deductions about unknowable phenomena. (I’m thinking ahead to an enquiry into the appearance of a brain damaged by dementia as part of the “portrait” assignment, in which I plan to focus on my mother as a subject)

Image as object

This has led to the beginnings of an exploration of the unreliability of images, of images as objects whose form and meaning is determined by the processes of seeing and producing. After going through a series of images of a historical/biblical story, the interpretation of which is so open to biased representation and contextual understandings, I made a small model of a sculptural image, “facets” which links together ideas of media representation, conflicting lenses, the idea of “the gaze”, with connotations of feminism, distortion and self-regard,  which I would like to develop further. After discussion with my tutor, I understand how scale, shape and form of the sculptural piece would invite a viewer to engage with it in a particular way- for example, if it were scaled up to the shape and size of a body, it would invite that type of engagement, whereas it could be a landscape, a feature of a landscape such as a cave, or if dropped on the floor, scrunched up newspaper, and if hanging, then other analogies would come into play. This comes back to the power and influence of analogical thinking when interpreting the Unknown, and emphasises the role of culture in perceiving messages, thus leading to a theoretical stance that an image is a cultural object.

Xu Bing Parallel Project

This brings me back to the work of Xu Bing, and his appropriation of objects, signs and materials as a commentary on and creation of new cultural objects in his works. Text as object as a key feature of his work, in his use of tobacco company logos for example, although he works on a grand scale, creating his own languages, and challenging the way we read cultural signs: in his square-word calligraphy, he is also taking a swipe at mainland Chinese suppression of ideas by making the texts (characters)  “meaningless” in that culture. 

I continued the process of degrading materials, as I’d done earlier with copper, by creating a series of prints involving the staged destruction of a plate and the signs written on it, as a reflection and commentary on deterioration and loss, inspired by the work of Xu Bing, specifically the woodcut Series of Repetitions, but relating to the concept of metamorphosis, and the way that new objects and new signs and meanings emerge from the remnants of the older ones. The idea of process in these works would lend themselves to presentation in series, even, if I had enough images, as animation, although those are contrasting narratives. Xu Bing ‘s animation of the evolution of the Chinese character for “one” turned that into a history of the country and its politics, and could run on a loop, thus perhaps hopefully implying the “power of one”, whereas the Series of Repetition derives its pathos from the finality of the empty woodcut in plate 12. My own final image in the “greying” series is ambiguous, as it could be seen to have metamorphosed into a hopeful new sign. 

I’m contemplating whether I could make this sign a starting point in a portrait, linking birth and death in a cyclical progression: thinking of the Wordsworth quote from Intimations of Immortality:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:  

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,

        Hath had elsewhere its setting,  

          And cometh from afar:  

        Not in entire forgetfulness,  

        And not in utter nakedness,  

But trailing clouds of glory do we come 

        From God, who is our home:

I’m also channeling TS Eliot’s Burnt Norton from The Four Quartets: “in our beginning is our end…” and the notion of linear time as an analogical construct, as a way of exploring portraiture as a mark made in time, and as a way of interpreting the world my mother now inhabits. 


This was my first real experience of collaboration , when working with students on cyanotypes, in which they turned themselves into signs, using their bodies as objects, from the perspective of the sun, that block the light, and cast shadows. They are reduced to empty outlines, although movement can be “captured” through the manipulation of shadows. This is another way to explore portraits as a mark made in time, with the bodies as variants on sundials. 

Themes to develop

Destructive processes

Text and image- text as image

Cyanotypes bodies

Sundials- passing time

Ideas to develop- progressively evolving images- perhaps a film or animated series.

Reflection on Assignment 3

This has been very long and dragged out, and I have become quite obsessed with a few new techniques, to the extent that I’ve had little interest in cutting wood or Lino, or in making monoprints. I think it’s the relative sophistication- or so it seems to me- that can be achieved using these techniques- the possibility of layering in so many ways, and the use of photographs, always a bit of a thought to do, as they have to be justified and defended, even with their status as “ready-mades”.

That’s all very well, but they need a press to print, and that severely reduces the chances of working and experimenting.

I have been studying other people’s prints, and despite admiring their technical expertise, have at times felt bored with them… I really liked the work of Marc Quinn though, that I saw at Art Central in Hong Kong recently, and this was what made me want to experiment with photos, as I was doing recently, using portraits of my mother, but that’s for the next assignment as it falls under the title of portraits. I’d really like to nail the process of putting photos onto photopolymer plates, but without all the gear, it’s really hard. Even though you’re  not looking for technically high standards.

What interested me was Marc Quinn’s etchings from photos of meat- I believe he used laser printing from photos though. I also loved his etching of the frozen wave, made by embossing.

Anyway to get back to this unit- it was called chiaroscuro, and therefore invited exploration into light and dark, black and not-black in print, with all the practical technicalities and metaphorical imagery related to that. In terms of print-making I guess the “solid black” is the holy grail. I have managed it, using copper plate etching, with aquatint created using an air-brush, and a deep etch, which can create a velvety black.

What was interesting was to use my practice plates as a mezzotint layer and smooth them back into white. Photopolymer is much harder to get blacks with. They are so delicate, and I am still working on details such as whether to expose a plate in the sun after developing, or whether to clean with vinegar, as I have had disasters with both. Climate and other variables also make a difference. I’ve now got a bee in my bonnet about this process, and although I could probably get on with something else more successfully, I won’t until I’ve got somewhere with it.

I know I haven’t resolved the images of David and Goliath, and the idea of the truth and perception gaze. I’m just stuck, and have had to move on. There’s a worthwhile idea there somewhere, but it needs more work. I am reasonably happy with the “Facets” piece though, and think there is definitely something in this sculptural approach.

My earlier prints, the Newton’s apple and hand, were getting to know the materials and processes, and were much closer to a traditional interpretation of chiaroscuro. But even here, the connection to photography was latent.


Moving on from here

I am feeling very dissatisfied with myself at this stage, and feel I need a radical rethink of my ways of working. I have been far too obsessed with thinking and not involved in enough making. Everything is in my head, and part of that is the need to conceptualise what I’m doing, which is something mostly done in words, but it’s also because of embarked on techniques for which I don’t have the materials to hand. I am going to have to step back, sketch more, make more, find ways of making substitutes. I’ve signed up for a weekend workshop in Japanese woodcut printmaking- which has a focus on the printing process itself, including preparing paper for hand burnishing. At long last I hope to get to grips with what the paper is that’s for sale here, and what it’s good for, how it can be treated etc.

One of the more fun things I did as part of this was the Cyanotype project with students- the issue there being that it’s difficult to have control over the output, while still respecting their rights to self-expression… This is something I will have another go at in the coming autumn, as I’m planning another project week on the theme of printing with light… but it depends on whether the school is going to actually get an exposure unit, which would mean we could be more ambitious. Without one, it will still be sun exposures.


Assignment 2 Abstraction

Non- rational abstraction: trusting to intuition could give rise to several processes and outcomes. You could let the materials work, and be the amanuensis. You could maybe succeed in not having to think in words. But could it be a purely automatic process? Unlikely. You make choices at all stages. You just might not acknowledge the reasons for those choices. You might be channeling memories, maybe referencing other people’s work without trying or being aware. You might produce work that provides insight into unconscious motivations and concerns, like dreams. You might just do what’s easiest. Or maybe bits of all of these.

Science has given us ways of thinking and knowing that are held to be superior to mere intuition, or to faith or emotion. Since the Enlightenment, reason has been the highest level of thought, the way of thinking and arguing that defeats all others. On the other hand, in recent years, the practice of mindfulness and the influence of Buddhism among educated Westerners has posed some credible alternatives to the mere superstition and credulity still evident in certain parts, all of them challenging the supremacy of reason.

“The History of the Inevitable warfare between Science and Theology” is a 19th century book title- I don’t remember by whom, and I haven’t read it- but I liked the title. It was one that leapt out because it suggested itself as a title that fit this series of images. The images came first and the title came afterwards, but clearly it echoed the thoughts I had been having along the way. This is a kind of interplay between reason and intuition, between the objective and subjective, the things that can be explained and the things that are harder to understand, that are personal, deeply emotional, and which you obsess about even when there seems no point, because you think there is an explanation for them, or a solution to them, or a cure for them or an escape from them. In the past religion would have provided all of these.

The instruction to work in abstract, to eschew representation, to avoid the limitations of one object = real/ iconic significance, opens the doors to multiple suggestion, interpretation, and ambiguity. It also creates problems of finding a stimulus, and working with observation or concepts, or emotions, or whatever. What it seems to suggest first to me is the exploration of formal properties of things, the lines, the shapes, and therefore techniques of whatever medium we are going to be using. In this assignment I have been struggling with the tensions of mastering craft- in this case also science- of photopolymer, of chemicals- all things which are quite new to me- and making meaning. I have not sketched, or barely at all. The work has all been in my head, and has been jumbling around with a lot of powerful emotions just lately.

The main focus of this assignment for me has been to experiment with new techniques. At times, that has meant that the work has been about process and it has lacked any emotional heft. But out of that has emerged some pieces that reflect themes and emotions that have been dominating this time, and these pieces make sense to me. The theme of the moon, and the idea of influence, gravitational pull, and the feminine principle, links for me with the strong emotional issues I have had to deal with recently about my mother and about myself as a mother whose only child just recently got married. The themes that emerge here are of orbits, splitting, floating away, loss and the emptiness of space. I think these are the feelings that have subconsciously shaped the images I have made.

I started by considering the meaning of abstraction, looking back to historical developments and identifying rational and intuitive approaches: the former I then pursued as abstraction by distance, the latter I broke down into gestural, and process approaches. In exploring process approaches I experimented with different materials and the processes that naturally go with them, exploring how to degrade, damage or decompose the materials. My chosen artist for the parallel project, Xu Bing, is undoubtedly an influence here, as his series of woodcuts “5 series of repetitions” is an inspirational use of process in reduction printing.  I was interested in making process match meaning, as he has done.

At the same time, my personal reading and practical research were talking me into the realms of science- with new processes involving chemicals, metals, photopolymers and light sources. This was all very new and presented a number of practical problems of access to resources, as well as opportunities to practice. It has meant that this assignment has been a long time on the go, very fragmented and interrupted by life events. These life events have fed into the emotional meanings that I’ve made though- by going for an intuitive approach, I believe that themes and understandings have emerged that reflect key events of my life recently. A powerful theme has emerged, linking me, my mother and my son, and these have metamorphosed into topical images of the moon, which at the time I first designed these plates, was both full and being eclipsed. The final image, of degeneration, is very poignant for me, and I am considering combining the print with the plate itself- a beautiful thing when it starts to tarnish and grow verdigris- but as a reminder of both the deception of images, and the process of irretrievable loss. The blank space on my final scroll may be inspired by Xu Bing, but anyway, emptiness is a factor to be included here.

Technically, two new processes in particular have inspired me in this assignment. The first is cyanotype printing- which is simple but beautiful, and I love the irony whereby the light of the sun creates such cold moon-like blues. An added irony is their sometimes impermanence. Something I need to research a bit more. That was particularly apt with my “Herschel 1Q84” cyanotype, where “a new planet” swam into my “ken” and soon afterwards disappeared again, making it a special moment. Doubly apt that Herschel developed this cyanotype process too. I have experimented with large scale printing on cloth, and am interested in developing something more along these lines- a mixed media approach perhaps, for Assignment 3, using this sun-printing process involving nothing but light and shade, as my take on “chiaroscuro”.

The second technique is copperplate etching using ferric chloride. (I have another chemical in the house which also might be a non-toxic etchant, and still need to try it out). I have focussed on the aquatint process, as I like the depth and granulation, and multiple shades of grey. Obviously, I am very much a novice at this, and have not explored the creative potential very far, as I’m still very focussed on the “how”.  But I feel that I have taken an important step forward. When I started I was playing with monoprints, printing at home, and nothing much more. I now have the ability to work in many more ways, have a press (albeit in the wrong country) and feel fired up to move on to more professional ways of working.


Thoughts for moving on

Looking back on the topics of the first assignment, and looking ahead to the next: what was the thinking behind this choice of subject matter?

Starting with observation: nice to do, it makes you look carefully, if not “properly”: we see what we are disposed to see. The artistic heights of looking and seeing were probably achieved with Impressionism, whose painters gave us a visual language for seeing the landscape, all about the effects of light, the subtle depiction of perspective, the poetry of complementary colours. But you look at a landscape like this one below, and you think, the subject and the approach somehow don’t fit: even the romantic blur of Turner’s steam trains would be, well, romantic, when applied to trains which run past every three minutes on their network of lines. So, just as quickly, you are transported forwards into futurism, vorticism, attempts to combine geometry and angularity into the impression of movement and speed, the celebration of precision, hard metals and engineering, not the blur of trees and hills the trains slice through.

IMG_2949 IMG_1245 IMG_2947

So how do we interpret this “scene” before us? Taking a picture, instead of looking and selecting, is a way of getting another point of view on it, one that doesn’t omit the untidy details, the clutter that distracts from what we have settled on as the “subject”, not always the same as the “focus” in a photograph. Soon you might want to discount the evidence of your own eye entirely, as being too particular, too partisan. I did this with this assignment. The word “landscape” itself conjured up a way of looking, and seeing, that didn’t gel with the evidence before my eyes.

Ludwig Meiner (Art in Theory, p. 171) in the second decade of the 20th century pronounced that landscape was an unsuitable subject for painters, and exhorted artists to paint the metropolis “what is right there in front of us”, but describing its “roaring colours”, “singing electrical wires” in the language that romantic poets used about nature, a claim to beauty in the urban, somewhat the same point as Turner was making with his trains. By the same argument, if this is what “is right there in front of us”, it should be possible to make the same kind of claim for “ugly beauty” in this landscape of electrical transformers, trampled clay, concrete towers, steel mesh, plastic, tarpaulin, worker’s gloves, thrown away polystyrene lunch boxes, water bottles, cigarette butts. But how?

Malevich’s answer to the Vorticists was to denounce their adherence to “subject matter”, and advocated an art of  geometric floating shapes in relation to which the painted surface is the “life form” and contains no realism. This all becomes rather sterile though, positioning oneself on the very far reaches of the cline from “specific”, via “general” to way beyond abstract. Those who traditionally supported non-elitist forms of art have tended over the years, but particularly during the sharp bourgeois/ proletariat divisiveness of when communism was still viable, linked representational art with craft, honesty and other sons-of-the-soil virtues. But some element of abstraction is necessary, some way of selecting from all that information you see in the photograph, reducing it/ enhancing it in the process. By what process?

Am looking the the section of “Art and Theory” on the subject of “Abstraction and Form”. Still looking for some way of judging…

Hans Arp: “The works presented here are constructions of lines, planes, forms, colours….”

Man Ray: “The artist’s work is to be measured by its own vitality, the invention, and the definitiveness and conviction of purpose within its own medium.”

Viktor Schlovsky (p 279-): philosophical ideas about art, thought, language and poetry:

“Poetry is a special way of thinking…. ” “Art is thinking in images…” Art is poetry, and poetry is art. Art is the making of symbols. Language is the vehicle of thought. Art is about perception, the defamiliarisation of the object. Art and poetry share the same aim of making seeing, and making understanding language difficult, slowing down the process to stop it being automatic.

Theo van Doesburg

The work of art is an independent artistically alive organism in which everything counterbalances everything else. (Impressionists had done this earlier with colour relationships)

Piet Mondrian (1920) Neo-Plasticism: The general principle of plastic equivalence

Mondrian opposed Individual against Universal, descriptiveness against purity, changeable against immutable. An analogy with Plato’s cave suggests itself, of representational art tragically blind to the world of pure form.

Malevich:” Everything that we see arose from the colour mass transformed into plane and volume. Every machine, house, person and table, all are pictorial value systems intended for particular purposes.” (Could be a quote from The Matrix)

“The artist too must transform the colour masses and create an artistic system, but he must not paint pictures of little fragrant roses since all this would be dead representation pointing back to life.” (Ironic that that’s what he had to do eventually.)

This is all a highly rationalised view of art.  I will consider less rational approaches in the next post.