Sidney Cooper

“On, on; come on” (silverpoint drawing of Sidney Cooper)

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.

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Difficult drawing.

Silverpoint drawing work in progress.

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!

Opening of the 2018 Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize

Some images from the opening event for the 2018 Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize.

The opening event coincided with the 20th anniversary celebrations for Trinity Buoy Wharf and was held in The Chain Store. The show is now at The Electrician’s Shop (also at Trinity Buoy Wharf).

My work in the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Displaced Portrait no:7

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.

Displaced Portrait

Displaced Portrait No:9 (from Irina to Feliz). Silverpoint on gesso on board.

Another of the series of ‘Displaced Portraits’ – a series of small silverpoint drawings based on the images of people in photographs taken in Germany inn the 1930s and 1940s and which have found their way into my hands via a Margate junk shop.

There is a handwritten  message on the back of the original photograph which says (in German): “My dear Feliz. To remember happy times with. Irina. 19th July 1942”

Another drawing from this series will be exhibited in the upcoming Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize which opens in September.

I also have a solo show running presently at The Young Gallery, in Salisbury, called ‘People Being Still Somewhere’.

My work selected for the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize 2018

‘Displaced Portrait no:3 (young woman in carefully repaired image), silverpoint, 21×14.5cm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My silverpoint drawing has been selected for the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize 2018 and I’m very pleased about that!

The Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize is the new incarnation of what was The Jerwood Drawing Prize. It’s the main, yearly, Contemporary Drawing exhibition and I see it as a kind annual survey of Contemporary Drawing practice in the UK. It is always worth seeing.

My drawing which has been selected is one of a growing body of work which ‘resurrects’ unknown people (unknown to me at least) from found photographs which were  taken in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. All of the original images were found in a junk shop in Margate. I came across them all at different times and most of them seem to have been taken in different German towns.

‘Displaced Portrait no: 3 (young woman in carefully repaired image)’ is based on a photograph which had been torn in two and then very carefully glued back together again. This woman now has a kind of afterlife as an art object. What can we tell about a person from the way they appear to us? The fact that the photograph was damaged and then carefully repaired is intriguing.

My drawings are based on photographs but they are not simply copies of them. Details have been altered, tones have been modified, and each has been repeated scratched-away and redrawn and worked on over long periods of time to get to something which feels real to me.

I’m not quite sure what it is I am attempting to do with these drawings. I sort of know but I can’t really say beyond that it has something to do with our experience of time and of human presence. I realise that’s a bit vague but it’s the best I can come up with for now  (I might rewrite this post later). I like to think of my drawings as moments of connection between moments in time. Drawings take time. Hand-drawn lines are traces of presence and of time, and of a mind engaged in the act of looking and thinking. Perhaps in drawing these people I am drawing ghosts.

The selectors for the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize 2018 are the artist Nigel Hall RA, the art dealer Megan Piper and Chris Stephens, Director of the Holburne Museum in Bath.

The exhibition will open in September in London and will tour various galleries across the country for the best part of a year. Look out for it later in the year.

I presently have a solo exhibtion at the Young Gallery, Salisbury, which runs alongside the 20th century British figurative artists exhibition, curated by Peter Riley from the Arts Council Collection.

Silverpoint photo booth portraits at The Young Gallery in Salisbury

 

‘Photo booth portrait one’ (the first in a sequence of three silverpoint drawings).
‘Photo booth portrait two’ (the second in a sequence of three silverpoint drawings).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m having a small solo exhibition at the Young Gallery in Salisbury where I’m showing eleven silverpoint drawings and sixteen sketchbooks. The work is on display in two, large, museum cabinets.

In one cabinet is a line of silverpoint portraits based on photo booth images of my Mum. They were most likely done for bus passes. The photos I’ve drawn from are the mistimed and unflattering ones which were never used. I like them because they capture familiar facial expressions and the hints of personality which better posed photographs would not have caught.

The photographs are starting points; the drawings are not straightforward copies. They slowly emerge out of the painstaking drawing process of repeated loss and revision. The works are scratched away and redrawn so that the results are traces of time as much as they are drawings of people.

I’ve also included handwriting, which too is a kind of drawing. The texts are made up of lines of remembered speech and familiar stories repeatedly rewritten and altered in each retelling. Some phrases and words become more prominent over time but complete sentences are hard to see and the presence of all is fragile, like a memory.

These drawings condense moments in time into traces of touch. They take time to do and the sense of time is subtly replayed whenever someone spends time to look at them.

A note about silverpoint drawings:
Silverpoint drawings are made by drawing a point of silver wire across a prepared surface onto which tiny traces of metal are deposited. These traces are extremely subtle; pressing the point harder will not make the line any darker or its presence any stronger. The lines are permanent but they can be scratched away (think of mark left by a key dragging across an emulsion-painted wall and you get a rough idea of the medium’s qualities). The delicacy of silverpoint makes it an appropriate medium for an art about presence, trace and memory.