Some views of my work in a recent group exhibition which I was invited to take part in at the Pie Factory gallery space in Margate. The show was called ‘The Luminous and The Grey’. It also included work by Shona McGovern (who has recently found out that she’s had a drawing accepted for the Jerwood Drawing Prize!), Helen Brooker, Jane Kullman, Tina Atchison-Thomas, Graham Ward and Penny Watts.
Click on the ‘silverpoint’ category (to the side of this post) to read more about the sort of work I had on show in this exhibition.
Thank you to everyone who came to the exhibition and to the other artists in the show who invited me to add my work to the exhibition!
Here is a link to my facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1729139147345839/
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.
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.
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
This drawing is an A4 pencil drawing. This is from my ‘I Draw’ blog (https://www.a-n.co.uk/blogs/i-draw). “…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.”
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