May 24, 2016
At about twenty past six on the evening of 25th May 1917, a bomb was dropped from a German, Gotha, bomber which exploded in the midst of a queue of people waiting outside of Stokes’ greengrocers in Tontine Street, Folkestone. Scores of people were killed and injured. It’s a very sad story but I want people to know about it partly because it is such a sad story and partly because this story is similar to all those stories we hear all of the time about people caught up in bomb explosions. This story can stand for many, similar, stories.
Here are some images of a piece I made a few years ago. I continue to work on this project as time and money allow. My earliest exhibited work on this subject was shown as part of a solo show I had at Margate’s Marine Studios in 2011. It consisted of an entire wall covered with A5 pencil drawings and text about the people caught up in the various bomb explosions across Folkestone on that day. This led on to another piece called: “They looked like silver birds. The sun was shining on them…” (the title is a quote from an eye witness account referring to the sight of the German bombers high up in the evening sunlight). This is a framed work consisting of small silverpoint portraits and handwritten text on gesso boards. It has been exhibited in a number of places including: a gallery space on Margate pier (this was an off-shoot to the ‘Telling Stories: Hastings’, at the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, curated by Cathryn Kemp); The Jerwood Drawing Prize 2013 (shown at The Jerwood Art Space, London, and at various galleries across the country); East Kent Open Artists Open Houses (part of the Canterbury Festival); ‘Remembering: We Forget’ (The Sidney Cooper Gallery, Canterbury) and ‘Memory’ (The Pie Factory, Margate). I’ve had a lot of interesting feedback from people who have seen the work at these exhibitions and I’ve also been contacted be a couple of people who have family stories connected with the event. I dearly hope to include these stories in future work. I hope I’ve made a respectful work of art.
I have a lot to say about this work and I’ve written more about it on previous blog posts (click on ‘Folkestone’ on the list of ‘categories’ to find earlier posts).
Click on the images for a better view of them.
May 9, 2016
This is a very small (about 5 cm x 6.7cm) silverpoint drawing of ‘the lifeboat man’ statue which stands on the seafront on one end of Margate Sands (next to the Victorian shelter which has started to be called ‘the TS Eliot shelter’ by some). The Lifeboat man looks out to sea towards the site of the 1897 ‘Friend to all Nations’ surfboat disaster. It’s a familiar local landmark and it’s something I’ve looked at and half looked at countless times. But my drawing isn’t specifically about that event; it’s more a drawing about my feelings about that point along the seafront. It’s just a drawing.
The lifeboatman is the obvious central figure but behind the figure you can glimpse the Arlington House tower block (Margate’s ‘sky scraper’) and on the bottom left of the drawing you can see the top of the art deco fin of the Dreamland Cinema tower. These features occupy the picture space as if they too were figures (which they are in a way). I was careful to draw a separation between the figure of the Lifeboatman and Arlington House and the figure is drawn so that it can be seen as being part of the pictorial space and/or as a separate figure. A lot of ideas come into play as I draw and these all have an influence on the way my drawings take shape. Sometimes these ideas are sensed by the viewer and sometimes there are not: it doesn’t matter; it’s not an illustration of a view but more an attempt to create a kind of psychological souvenir of a particular place.
The statue was placed there over a hundred years ago (it’s been moved a short distance from its original setting but it still looks out towards the same point in the sea), Dreamland cinema was built a generation later and Arlington House a generation after that. They all presently share the same moment in time but only the statue was there when TS Eliot was here (he is known to have stayed in Margate for a time when he was working on his poem, ‘The Wasteland’). The drawing is fragmented by the unevenness of its surface and by lines of words which have been repeatedly re-written across its surface. The picture, then, is never a singular image of a view but a drawing which hints at other versions and other visions. The words scribed onto and into the surface of the drawing happen to be from that section of TS Eliot’s poem which mention Margate and which, according to recent local tradition, was partly written in the Victorian shelter just by the side of the statue (next to the modern public toilet block which has the word: ‘TOILETS’ impressed into its concrete walls.
All views include elements of the past mixed with the present. The details in this drawing bring various moments of time in company with each other in one little place. But this is a lot to write about such a humble little drawing and it is only a drawing after all. Then again, drawings are never just drawings anymore than poems are just pleasing lines of words or souvenirs just bits of bric-a-brac.
When I draw I like to use processes which bring unpredictability into the play. This drawing has been repeatedly redrawn and its surface has been repeated sanded back, scribbled over and written over (both in silverpoint and also with etching needles which scratch into and fragment the drawing’s surface). It’s a lot of work to put into such a little drawing. I’m never really sure what it is I’m really trying to draw.
This drawing was done for its own sake but it might lead on to other things. It has reawakened some a half-ideas I have to create panoramic drawings of Margate made up of various small drawings. We’ll see.
May 5, 2016
I haven’t posted a blog here for a while and that’s partly because I’ve been so unsure about the work I’ve been busy working away at lately; sometimes I think I’m on to something and sometimes that faith evaporates. So be it. Here is one of the things I’ve been working on.
This drawing is part of ongoing work. A lot of my work develops very gradually over long periods of time and this particular project began a few years ago when I bought an old post card at an antique fair near Nottingham. My friend Jill found it and saw that ‘Margate’ was written on the back of it (it’s also printed very subtly on the front as well) and passed it to me. Mt first impression was that it looked like a photograph from an ‘Empire Day’ event, and I imagined that the most likely venue for the photograph would have been in one of the large old hotels in Cliftonville (what used to be the ‘posh’ part of Margate and is now becoming ‘regenerated/gentrified’). The costumes the people are wearing don’t look cheap. I wonder who they are and why on Earth anyone, even back in the 1930s, would think it was funny to dress up as someone from the Klu Klux Klan!
I’ve been wanting to make artwork about this image for a long time. I think it’s such an interesting image – so telling. People are dressed as ‘types’ of people: exotic and funny foreigners and parodies of working class people (for example, there’s a man dressed as a ‘Margate Landlady’ and a woman ‘blacked up’ as a minstrel). This particular project has been off-and-on for a few years and I’ve probably spent far too long on this one drawing alone (I’m embarrassed to say how long but I started it in June last year!). It’s been repeated redrawn, abandoned, restarted, almost obliterated and redrawn. The original image is just the size of a small postcard but my drawing of it is about 21cm x 14.5cm and it is drawn in silver on gesso on hardboard. I would like to draw each of the people in the picture separately but this might never happen because of the cost of framing. Most of my artwork doesn’t reach the point of becoming finished works of art hung on gallery walls but we’ll see what happens with this – we’ll see.
The drawing is just one of many works which continue to come out of my ongoing interest in making art about people connected to Margate (and also Thanet and East Kent) but which also bring into play issues and ideas to do with the wider world. In this image people are dressed in costumes which express attitudes about identity and culture which are of their time. People dressing in fancy dress nowadays are just as likely to express something about the prevailing attitudes of this moment in time .
The work is on going
January 22, 2016
This drawing is an A4 pencil drawing which I worked on in odd moments whilst teaching a Life Drawing workshop at the Sidney Cooper Gallery Drawing Studio in Canterbury. This bit of writing is from my ‘I Draw’ blog (https://www.a-n.co.uk/blogs/i-draw). It has other drawings. They are all drawings of people, “and that’s all they are. They are drawings done for drawing’s sake (drawing as a way of thinking about drawing). They are drawings of people who were still (or fairly still) for maybe ten or twenty minutes. They are drawings of people but drawings of people are never just hand-made pictures of people. Drawings trace moments in time.
Hand-drawn lines take time and the moment of their making is subtly replayed each time someone spends time to notice them. There are heavy lines, sharp lines, long lines, feathery lines… the variety is endless and each of them implies the presence of a thought. We change our minds as we draw and our lines capture those moments of change. We look and we notice something and we try to track the gist of it on the paper. The time taken to draw even the shortest line is there to see in its entirety all at once (like seeing a tiny life-span played out on the page).
We pay attention to the simple presence of things whenever we draw. The drawing is always wrong. We look again and we make another line. Each time it is wrong in a different way but sometimes the mark is good in spite of its wrongness. Sometimes the line feels true or it does something interesting (something we couldn’t have predicted but which is more interesting than anything we could have predicted). It’s enough that just a small part of a drawing is interesting for it to feel good. As we make our mark we are bringing into play all our momentary perceptions, all our skill and memories of all the other drawings we have ever seen.
Eventually the time is up and the pose ends and all that remains of the moment, and of the protagonists, is the drawing. One day the drawing will be the only thing left of that moment. Perhaps we make ghosts when we draw.
I don’t get to draw people as much as I’d like to. These drawings were done quickly in Life Drawing groups of at odd moments while teaching Life Drawing (in Margate and Canterbury). I have about a hundred and sixty filled-up sketchbooks to date (filled up with drawings like these ones) and the drawings will remain in those books and one day, if they survive longer than I do, they will be in the hands of someone else. I wonder what will become of them.”
January 10, 2016
This is just a quick A4 sketchbook drawing of someone. It’s nothing special but some of its lines have their moments. The model moved quite a lot but that isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. If a person repeatedly shifts their position I might work on more than one drawing and flit between them. A drawing is a sort of playing-field on which lines gather and trace the drawer’s changes-of-mind. The attention is repeatedly focused on what is momentarily present in the line of sight. The drawing is what remains of moments spent paying attention to the presence of someone else. I have about a hundred and sixty filled-up sketchbooks and this drawing is in one of the recent ones. I wonder what will become of all these drawings.
Anyway, posting this image also gives me an excuse to let you know that I now have a twitter account and that I’ll use it occasionally and you can follow it if you like. Here’s the link: #royeastlanddraw https://twitter.com/royeastlanddraw
December 20, 2015
Here is a blog post about the ‘Remembering, We Forget: Poets, Artists and the First World War’ exhibition at the Sidney Cooper Gallery, Canterbury, from last year. I didn’t post about this exhibition at the time because my laptop wasn’t letting me update this blog at the time. Just now, as I was sorting through old posts and pages, I came across it again and thought it might be of interest to some people out there.
The work referred to here is work I’ve been doing about the victims of the Tontine Street bomb explosion from ‘The Great Folkestone Air Raid’ of 25th May 1917. Andrew Palmer Lectures in Modern Literature at Canterbury Christ Church University and he specialises in poetry of the First World War.
To read his article, CLICK ON: ‘View original post’ (it’s at the bottom of this section of Andrew Palmer’s post). You can also click on ‘Folkestone’ in the list of ‘categories’ to find more about this work.
On 25 May, 1917, a German Gotha dropped a bomb over Folkestone. It exploded amongst a crowd of people queuing outside the Stokes Brothers’ greengrocer in Tontine Street. 71 people were killed, most of them instantly. Some died later of their wounds. This horrific event is commemorated in Roy Eastland’s work, ‘They looked like silver birds. The sun was shining on them…’, which is part of the exhibition Remembering, We Forget, at the Sidney Cooper Gallery until December 17.
The work takes its title from statements made by eye-witnesses – tragic in their naivety. It is made up of a series of 68 small panels, each one dedicated to a single victim, containing handwritten information and sometimes images, taken from newspaper reports and the remembrances of those who knew them. Eastland draws in silverpoint – that is, he scratches the word and faces onto boards prepared with gesso, a…
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December 19, 2015
Site of … 2004-2009, graphite, emulsion, tissue, gesso, varnish on board (13.5cm x 57cm)
From about 2002 until about 2009 I worked on a lot of panoramic ‘views’ of Margate. These drawings took the view of Margate (as seen from the high and low tide lines) as their starting point. The pieces were drawn into and written over and obscured with paint and sanded (or paint-stripped) back again. Most of the work never made it to any kind of completion (most were either destroyed in the process or were abandoned).
My 2004 solo exhibition, at Archeus in London, was mostly comprised of this kind of work. At about this time I had a lot of conversations, about my work, with the philosopher and academic Iain MacKenzie. I think his description of my work at that time is very good and so, rather than repeat some of the things I’ve written in previous blog posts, I’ll share the essay that he wrote for my 2004 solo show at Archeus Fine Art (Albemarle Street, London). By the way, the essay is also interesting in that it was written at a stage in Margate’s ‘culture led regeneration’ (or is it gentrification?), before Turner Contemporary was built.
Margate seen from the high tide line. 2007 graphite, ink, emulsion, varnish on paper (4.5cm x 20.5cm)
‘Roy Eastland: Art on a Line’ by Dr Iain MacKenzie 2004
Roy Eastland’s Art is an art of the line and in his artwork the line serves a multitude of purposes. His views of Margate take the line of the seashore as their predominant point of perspective, coaxing the gaze of holiday-makers and residents alike away from the vista of the open sea back to the Georgian geometry of the sea-front façade. The transformation of the sight-lines associated with this, the original, sea-side town brings a change of perspective that charts the changing nature of Margate itself. Margate is no longer the hotspot for Victorians seeking revitalisation and purification by the waters, nor can it claim to be the ‘East-End-of-London-by-the-sea’ that defined it through the first half of the twentieth century. Margate is looking at itself, at how it can redefine itself in a rapidly changing local, national and international environment. Eastland’s art not only reflects on this period of change it expresses it in every line of its scratched surfaces and taut execution.
Lines in Eastland’s art do more than create new perspectives of space. They are also a way of incorporating an historical dimension into the work. Technically, this occurs in the careful layering of different stages of the work, each layer marking the previous one and leaving a trace in the one that follows. The result is an art of memory, trace and recollection in two senses. First, the artworks contain, within themselves, the traces or their own production to the point where it no longer makes sense to demarcate in Eastland’s art the process of production from the point of completion. Each artwork is complete in itself only by virtue of being a product in perpetual process, a feature that binds the different artworks themselves into a unified but open- ended and on-going artistic project. Secondly, Eastland’s art is thematically guided by the complexities of memory and recollection in that it represents the conjunction of past, present and future as an on-going process of deconstruction, reconstruction and , pure and simple, construction. Moments of intensity from the past (the passing of a Zeppelin over the Clock Tower) seamlessly blend together with significant events in the present (the fire that left a gaping void in the sea-front façade) to create a new Margate, Margate with a new future.
But lines are also the basis for writing and it is no coincidence that an artist of the line chooses to mark each layer of the artwork with text. Fragments of text are drawn from overheard conversations, family reminiscences, maps and thoughts to create interpretive resonances and dissonances within the work itself that put paid to any easy or overly simplistic attempt to express what Margate is becoming. Iconic names stand out amongst the text: the Nayland Rock Hotel, site of Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall’s wedding banquet in 1990 and now a holding centre for ‘asylum seekers’; The Droit House, once the home of the Harbour commission now housing the displays that announce the building of the Turner Contemporary art gallery: and, perhaps most of all, Dreamland, the once famous but now derelict amusement park whose name itself captures the mix of landscape and imagination so important to Eastland’s approach to art itself. Indeed, the language of Eastland’s art is at its most evocative and expressive when it uses simple descriptions and names of markers of intense change.
And yet, for Eastland, the line is not simply a compositional, processual or representational device, it is also a way of creating a relationship of intensity between the work itself and the viewer. As well as seeing the lines of his work as a means to redirect our gaze, or the traces of a layered process of production, or the representation of people’s movements along the sea-front façade (those who are dead, living and not yet born), the sheer intensity of the deep scars that punctuate the vistas he produces direct the viewer beyond the superficial rhetoric of ‘art-appreciation’ towards a process of reflection on art and life, The repeated reworking of lines through the depth of the surfaces he creates full-stops in the rhythms of the text and images that unsettle any attempted harmonisation of the artwork with the viewer’s expectations of both Margate and ‘Margate-art’. When the artwork itself is so deeply scored with the trajectories and movements of life any understanding of the work as art must express these trajectories and movements in itself. The result is an artwork with life that creates a moment to reflect upon one’s own life as a work of art. Indeed, it no coincidence that his life-drawings capture this dynamism in its purest form as each drawn and re-drawn human curves brings depth and movement into the often shallow and lifeless practice of portraiture. Eastland’s art, we might say, is an art of the line that gives a new impetus to the line of life that runs through us all; as individuals, as communities, as people with a past, present and future.
In this way, Eastland’s art does not refer to a critical tradition of aesthetics based on refining the regimes of judgement; the modern Kantian tradition of art criticism is simply inappropriate for grasping the intricacies of an art of the line as sophisticated as Eastland’s. Rather, his art calls upon new and emergent vocabularies of aesthetics that decentre the process of judgement and bring categories and affect to the fore. His art is less a matter of taste as judgements and more a materialisation of taste as sensation. It brings to mind Deleuze and Guattari’s definition of art as that creates a ‘bloc of sensations’ such that the work of art is ‘a being of sensation and nothing else: it exists in itself’ (What is Philosophy?, Verso, 1994, p164). On this criterion, Eastland’s art is not to be simply appreciated or judged as art (or not). Instead, it composes sensations in the artwork itself that change our experience of the subject of his art (Margate becomes a Dream Land) which in turn transform the subjects who view his art through intense affects of dislocation and punctuation) in ways that resist prescription and dogmatism (by bringing the potential for change and chance into the process of production and, crucially, of perception). All of which can be said to bring the sensation of chaos into being, but it is a chaos that is composed, organised and, therefore, truly transformative of settled habits of opinion. As Deleuze and Guattari summarise it: ‘the artist brings back from the chaos varieties that no longer constitute a representation of the sensory… but set up a being of the sensory, a being of sensation on…[a] plane of composition that is able to restore the infinite’ (What is Philosophy?, p202/3). Margate is not simply whatever we assume it to be and Eastland’s art manifests this intense critical gesture by creating a new sense of the infinite possibilities within this sea-side town coming to terms with the fact that it is always on the move. Eastland’s art expresses this in every movement of its being: the infinite as a line into the future composed by an exemplary artist of the line.
Iain MacKenzie lives in Margate and is the author of The Idea of Pure Critique (Continuum, 2004).