Here are a few pictures of the private view at the Royal Drawing School of the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize exhibition. The exhibition has been at its present venue since the start of February but the private view was just last week. I’m glad I went to the private view and it was great to meet artists whose work I admire and who I’d only ever ‘met’ through the medium of say twitter or Instagram until now.
My piece in this show is a small silverpoint drawing which is one of an ongoing series of drawings called: ‘Displaced Portraits’. The drawings are of people seen in photographs taken in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s and found in a Margate second hand shop at different times. ‘Displaced Portrait no:3 (woman in carefully repaired image)’ is drawn from a photograph which had been torn in two and then so carefully repaired that you can’t see the damage at first glance.
The drawing is based on the photograph but it isn’t a straight forward copy. The piece has been repeatedly drawn, scratched-away and redrawn. These drawings are worked on over long periods of time and the process, of loss and re-finding, is unpredictable. The recurring focus is always the person I am trying to draw out of their snapshot image. There is no way of ever really knowing if I’m getting close but I hope the people I am trying to draw would see themselves in my drawings.
Drawing is always a medium trace. At it’s most fundamental level, a drawing is a surface with a mark on it indicating the passing presence of an though; it always says ‘someone was here’. The drawings are of people displaced from their place and moment. An image of their moment has found its way into my hands here in Margate in the early 21st century. Everything which lasts eventually becomes displaced.
Metalpoint drawings emphasise the quality of trace in the most beautiful way. A silverpoint line is the mark left when the metal is dragged across a prepared surface (imagine a key being dragged across an emulsion-painted wall and you get the rough idea). The mark is extremely subtle but it is also indelible. Silverpoint lines are extremely gentle mark; the line is not made any more emphatic by pressing harder and you are forced to work with the medium with its unique limitations and qualities. Drawing with metalpoint is an appropriate medium for my interest in making Art about memory and presence.
The exhibition continues at the Royal Drawing School until 21st February and then moves on to Drawing Projects in Trowbridge, near Salisbury.
See my post from 23rd August 2018 for a full view of my drawing.
One of my drawings is featured in a new book about metalpoint drawing titled: “SILVERPOINT AND METALPOINT DRAWING: A Complete Guide to the Medium” by Susan Schwalb and Tom Mazzullo (published by Routledge, IBSN 978-0-8153-6590). It’s just the one drawing, and there is just a brief mention of it, but it makes me happy to have it included in this excellent book. This book is the first complete guide to the medium and includes a history of the medium, chapters on materials and techniques and a section discussing examples of contemporary artists’ use of the metalpoint.
My drawing is one of a sequence of three based on a strip of found photo booth images of my mum. Photo booth portrait drawing 2, 2014-2016, silverpoint on gesso on board (21cm x 14.5cm) is one of an ongoing series of drawings which focus on otherwise unnoticed moments of life. These happen to be of my mum but others use photographs found in junk shops in Margate.
The pieces are repeatedly drawn, scratched-away and redrawn as a way to bring something unexpected into play in the drawings. They aren’t straight forward copies of pre-existing images. Through the repeated process of loss and the re-finding of the image I hope to draw out something which feels more real to me than a simple copy of an image. Drawings take time and the traces of that presence of the passing of time is as much the subject of drawing as the image I feel.
Silverpoint drawings are very obviously the physical traces of moments of touch. All hand-made drawings express qualities of trace, presence and time, but I think metalpoint marks bring these aspects of drawing even more to the fore than other drawing media. The touch of the metal on the prepared surface leaves an extremely subtle but indelible mark. It’s gentleness is one of the reasons I’ve become so interested in silverpoint drawing. The medium sits well with my interest in making art about memory and human presence and of our curious awareness of distances of time.
Beneath the portrait is a block of hand-written text. This text is made up of lines of remembered speech and family stories. As with the portrait drawing above it, it is repeatedly re-written (re-drawn) and each reiteration is slightly altered from the previous version. Certain fragments of sentences and words become more visible through the repeated retelling but always the stories are fragmentary: like memories.
If you’re interested in seeing my drawings for real you can one of my ‘Displaced Portraits’ in the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize exhibtion which is presently on show at the Royal Drawing School in London. Also, I have drawing on display at the Sidney Cooper Gallery, Canterbury, which is being used within Sound Artist Emily Peasgood’s art installation, ‘Sidney Cooper’s Living Room’, part of her solo show called ‘Living Sound’.
When I first moved back to Margate I was in a habit of going up to London as often as possible to look around galleries, hunt down books and exhibition catalogues on Drawing, and to draw in museums. I had gained a place at the Wimbledon School of Art’s Drawing MA course but I couldn’t afford to attend and so I decided to spend as much time as I could afford focussed on Drawing (as if I were doing my Drawing MA anyway). Whenever I felt unsure about my Artwork I would make myself draw in museums. I would get the earliest cheap train and walk or cycle to various galleries and at the end the day I would draw in a museum until it closed and get a late train back to Margate. Drawing for the sake of drawing does me good.
Museums are places made for gawping at things; drawing, we might say, is a process of purposeful gawping. To draw something is to pay careful and affectionate attention to the presence of something outside of ourselves. We change our minds as we draw. We become open to the possibility that there are multiple ways of seeing. Drawings do not have to come to conclusions; they are finished when they say: see these traces, they came into being in the presence of something which wasn’t me but which I paid attention to through an act of drawing.
I recently went to the V&A on a Friday night after being at the London Art Fair. I nearly didn’t go because I was tired and had a lot of worries fogging my mind and making me miserable. But I’m glad I went and I’m glad I drew. I drew until museum was about to close. I drew a plaster cast of a portrait bust by the 15th century Italian sculptor Benedette da Maiano. This is the photograph I took of it on the late train back to Margate.
Drawing in museums can feel like a performance; you become aware of passers-by looking over your shoulder at your drawing. I don’t mind. If the drawing is at a good stage then sometimes people will make nice comments. No one commented this time around but I was aware of at least three photographers lurking about and taking perhaps a few too many pictures of me drawing. Who knows, maybe someone was taking pictures of them taking pictures of me drawing that copy of a Renaissance portrait sculpture, thought to be based on a life-mask, of someone who hasn’t been seen alive for nearly five hundred years.
So anyway, this drawing was done for the sake of drawing. It’s in a 21cm x 13cm Moleskine sketchbook and it will stay there along with other drawings of people, a couple of drawings of other portrait busts and some pages of hand-written notes. I wonder what will become of my sketchbooks and who will look at the drawings in them.
Drawing is never easy but working on this particular drawing has been especially hard. It’s a drawing of Thomas Sidney Cooper RA (1803-1902). It took forty-five days of actual drawing. And previous to that there were two other attempts and lots of research before that. I’m not complaining; I think it’s a privilege to able to spend time making art. This drawing was hard work and so it should to be.
Cooper was born in the house which now forms the front gallery and offices of the Sidney Cooper Gallery in Canterbury. He was born into a poor family and had little education or encouragement. But he became a very successful and very rich artist and went on to set up what is now The Sidney Cooper Gallery. My drawing is a commissioned work for Canterbury Christ Church University to commemorate the gallery’s 150th year. Its first public showing will be as an object within an installation piece called ‘Sidney Cooper’s Living Room’ by Sound Artist Emily Peasgood. This installation might also include recordings of yours truly talking about the gallery, studios and drawing. Once the exhibition is over it will become part of the university’s permanent collection of artworks.
The piece is a silverpoint drawing containing a portrait drawing and hand-written text. The face is drawn from a mixture of images but it most closely resembles a photographic image from about the time his art school was built. Cooper bought his mum’s old house, and the land around it, and had the art college and gallery built but kept his childhood home intact so that the grand classical-style entrance to the gallery stands next to the house in St Peter’s Street. He gave it all to the town to be used as a place for art education. My portrait of Cooper will be hung in what was probably his mum’s front room. If Cooper’s ghost was to haunt the place I hope it would see something of himself in my drawing.
The hand-written ‘text’ is made up of lines transcribed from the first chapter of his autobiography. It recalls the poverty of his childhood years, various anecdotes and his repeated references to his sense of an absence of a father he never knew and who deserted the family when he was too young to have formed any visual memory of him.
He writes that his mother was ‘overwhelmed’ by the effort to care for her family. He also recalls his habit of walking in the countryside, alone, and how he would often feel a sense of ‘depression’ in the presence of natural beauty. On one occasion he thought he heard a voice calling “On, on; come on” but he looked about and could see no one. This moment was to stay in his mind and seems to have become a kind of personal motto for him throughout the rest of his life.
Both the image and the text have been repeatedly re-drawn and scratched-away so the that the drawing has changed in each re-working. Fragments of earlier versions are present alongside subsequent iterations. I hope the viewers are drawn into the piece and spend some time with it. The text began as a much larger block of writing but each subsequent re-telling became shorter and the text more condensed. All of the words are Cooper’s own words. I want the drawing to create the feeling of a person being present with his memories.
I love that this man gave this wonderful art school building to the town. I love that the building has preserved his childhood home. All of the drawings, artworks, exhibitions and all the chance meetings and good things which have ever taken place at the Sidney Cooper Gallery and studios are down to this man taking the trouble to have this place built and to have given it to the town. I think there is a lot to like about Thomas Sidney Cooper. I hope he would have liked my drawing of him.
Here’s an image of a drawing I’ve been working on for about thirty-four days. It’s for a commission for the Sidney Cooper Gallery, Canterbury, and it will become part of Canterbury Christ Church University’s permanent collection. I want it to be good.
The drawing is based on a number of not-very-clear images of Thomas Sidney Cooper, the 19th century painter. Cooper set up, what is now, The Sidney Cooper Gallery a hundred and fifty years ago. I’m using various images of the man as a way to get closer to ‘seeing’ his face. It’s hard to imagine his ‘look’ and so my portrait of him keeps changing. I get a feeling that I’m getting closer but how can I really know?
The drawing also contains hand-written text. These lines of writing are transcriptions from his autobiography. Certain themes are emerging through my repeated re-writing of his words. The amount of text is gradually reducing with each reiteration. The blocks of words are scratched away each time before the following version is added. The lines of text also create a sense of spacial depth.
There’s still a long way to go but there will be an end to it soon. There has to be an end to it because it has to go to the framers in about a week and a half’s time. I hope it’ll be good enough!
This is one of my ‘Displaced Portrait’ drawings. I’ve been struggling with it for ages but now I think I might leave it alone.
The piece is part of an ongoing series of small silverpoint drawings based on images of people seen in old photographs which were taken in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. All the photographs were found in the same Margate junk shop but they were all found separately and at different times. There is no reason to suppose the people in the various images ever met each other, but then again you never know. And likewise there is no way of knowing how their images made their way to this secondhand shop. These are drawings of unknown people found in old photos and brought into our presence through the act of drawing.
This drawing is called ‘Displaced Portrait no:7 (woman from Myslowice/Myslowitz)’. The photograph is dated 1944 and was printed in Myslowice. Myslowice is in Silesia in Poland. Silesia had a sizeable German-speaking population and it became part of an expanded Germany during The Second World War. At the end of the war the ethnic Germans were expelled.
My drawings come about through a process of continual revision and redrawing. The drawing process becomes a meditative act of concentration and focus upon a single, unknown, and possibly forgotten, face. I hope to make these people seem present again in our own here and now, a time with our its own worries about the future of Europe. Everything will eventually become displaced in time.
Number three of this series of drawings will be shown in The Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize exhibtion in a few weeks. The Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize is the new incarnation of what used to be The Jerwood Drawing Prize. I’m thrilled to taking part in this and I’m looking forward to seeing the other drawings and looking forward to hearing what people make of my work.